“This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.”
- Virgil to Dante, Purgatorio. IV, 88-95
The Utah Jazz basketball team is nearly complete.
In a league filled with small-ball rosters, Utah built around two dynamic big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, paired alongside versatile wings Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood. Hood’s breakout year has alerted the league to the reality that they are a reliable point guard away from having one of the most complete and dangerous starting lineups in the NBA.
The player meant to fill that void this season is Dante Exum; unfortunately, during international play this summer for his native Australia, Exum tore his ACL and was sidelined the entire year. During Exum’s rookie campaign, he struggled to consistently score, especially at the beginning of the season; however, down the stretch, he showed glimpses of white lies past his rookie wall.
With promising flashes of passing and playmaking ability and a 6’5” frame with wiry explosiveness, Exum is a graceful athlete who looks like a gazelle when running in transition. What was most impressive during his rookie season was his ability to be an above average and, in fact, impactful defender at the league’s premium position: point-guard. Thrown into the Wild West through a gauntlet of elite point guards (i.e. CP3, Westbrook, Lillard, Curry, etc.), Exum held his own as a pesky defender with elite quickness, good feet and quick hands. He’s built like an athlete – here’s a physical comparison of each of the current Jazz point-guards.:
In a league that places a premium on position-less lineups and versatility, Exum’s size, length, and athleticism will allow the Jazz to insert him into multiple roles offensively, and defensively. One can envision Exum, as he puts on weight, to seamlessly switch between 2’s and 3’s on defense and hold his own.
The loudest critique of Exum was predictably his shooting, or rather, his lack thereof. However, as his rookie season progressed, he showed increased consistency in catch-and-shoot 3’s. This skill will be vitally conducive to the Jazz’s success because it will allow him to capitalize on opportunities created through his teammate’s diverse offensive skill sets: From kick-outs during Derrick Favors’ double teams in the post, to drive-and-dish corner 3s from Haywood like the one below:
[KGVID width=”1000″ height=”563″]https://www.almightyballer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Exum-from-Gordon.mov[/KGVID]
Exum has the speed and explosiveness to add a quick pump fake to his game which would bode well in the aforementioned situations. Polishing this in his arsenal would allow him to attack gaps and get into the heart of the defense, where he could use his jumping ability to finish over the defense or use his underrated feel of the game to find open teammates.
This year they threw fellow young guard Raul Neto to the wolves and asked him to take over the starting point guard duties after the Jazz finally realized that a sub-40% shooter like Trey Burke should not be get starting minutes. Over the deadline, the Jazz front office went out and acquired veteran guard Shelvin Mack from the Atlanta Hawks to provide some stability and leadership at the position as they began their playoff push during the post all-star stretch. Mack has had an undeniably positive influence on the team, not only by helping guide the young roster, but also by offering a solid combination of stellar defense and consistent three-point shooting. Going forward, they will have Mack under contract for the 2016-2017 season, but Exum should be on track to rejoin the team in full effect starting in training camp next season – Coach Quinn is happy to have him back:
“Dante, to me, he’s going to keep getting better. It’s not going to be an exponential jump where all of a sudden he comes back and he’s the most improved player of the year…. It’s not a position that you walk into and all of a sudden you figure it out; it takes time, and over time you get better at it. That, to me, is how his development will look offensively. We saw it some last year. I think it will just continue to improve, (and we’ll) be patient with him.”
- Coach Quinn Snyder, to John Genessy of Deseret News
There were discussions over the deadline of the Jazz seeking to cash in on some of their young assets (i.e. Alec Burks) to acquire a mid-tier point guard – Jeff Teague’s name came up more than once. My strong belief is that it’s far too early to give up on a young top-5 pick with so much potential: they run the risk stunting his growth by acquiring another PG who would limit his playing time. It’s well worth finding out what Exum added to his game over a full season of observation from the sidelines and the film room. Another year of Exum helps the Jazz organization to more definitively access his value in their long-term plans. Even with an exploding cap, the Jazz will have some pressing financial decisions to make in regard to paying Gobert, Favors, Hood and eventually Exum. However, they have positioned themselves to have a team that they can watch grow together over an extended period of time, an opportunity that’s rare in today’s NBA. Jazz fans want to see the team confidently hand the ropes over to Exum and see how far his svelte 6’5 frame and charming Australian accent can take them.
My guess is that, with patience, that can be pretty far.