After a year of injury, how good is Dante Exum?

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — July 6, 2015.

That's the last time fans saw Dante Exum play in a Jazz uniform. 444 days of not watching the Jazz's highly-touted, expected-to-be-franchise-changing, silver-lining-of-a-horrible-season, still-maybe-a-future-superstar 21-year-old point guard. Making things even more difficult is just how well Exum played on that date, scoring 20 points and picking up five assists in 28 minutes of play.

On that day, Exum showed what had made him so hyped in the first place: offensive potential. He got to the line 10 times, moving aggressively after a passive season. He showed off court vision once he was in the lane, giving easy baskets to Jack Cooley and others. And then he tore his ACL on August 4, 2015, in a friendly game with the Australian national team, on an aggressive drive to the paint.

Since then, he's spent most of the 444 days rehabbing, only being cleared for full-contact basketball activities in in late May. Besides that, though, he's been working on the parts of his game he can work on with an injured knee: upper body strength and his shooting form.

David Locke, on his Locked on Jazz podcast Friday morning, reports that Exum weighed in at about 205 pounds, a big jump from his previously listed weight of 190. That's much more in line for what you'd expect from a 6-foot-6 player.

His teammates are noticing the change as well. When asked about what he's seen of Exum's game, Gordon Hayward spoke first about his size as well. "He's really worked on his body. Obviously, that's what he's been able to do," Hayward said.

"He's really good at using his size already, for being such a young player. He's a big guy, he's got a lot of weight on him, and he uses that to his advantage."

The next question is whether his feel for the game has developed to an NBA level. The season off gave him an opportunity to sit next to the Jazz's coaching staff for much of the year, learning the game and dissecting decisions from the bench. That's good, because Exum really struggled as a rookie on the offensive side of the ball: in the pick and roll, he picked up a turnover on 46 percent of pick-and-rolls he finished, according to Synergy data relayed by ESPN's Zach Lowe. That's the highest individual rate ever recorded.

Hayward says that's noticeably improved. "Just seeing him play, he's really picking up the feel for the game, that's something that's hard to learn when you're 19 and playing point guard. He's seeing the game a lot better, it seems like it's slowing down for him. He's making the right passes."

But even when he didn't turn the ball over, the shot wasn't there. On those aforementioned pick and roll situations, Exum shot just 15-58 from the field, good for 25.9 percent. On shots from 3-9 feet, he shot 28 percent. Shots from 10-15 feet? 11 percent. 15 feet to the 3-point line? Just 22 percent. It's all pretty ugly, actually.

That's why the Jazz tried to rework his shooting form during the extended rehab. As Exum told the Salt Lake Tribune, "The biggest thing was making sure I didn't have two hands on the ball as I'm releasing. That was a big issue with my shot last year. The shot's been straighter, for the most part."

Whether the new form is working hasn't really yet been commented on, and I suspect no news is probably bad news in this case. Quite frankly, if it were working well, I'd expect to have heard more positivity publicly and privately about Exum's shot.

And that gets to the heart of a dilemma the Jazz will face with Exum: for the first time in years, the Jazz have both high expectations (Vegas' newly released win total over/unders project them to be the 4th best team in the Western Conference) and consequences for mediocrity (Hayward's impending free agency this summer means a bad season could see them lose their best player at the NBA's weakest position). But Exum's still just 21, and perhaps the player with the highest potential on the roster: the Jazz's best chance at a game-changing superstar that catapults them to true contender status. Is it best for Exum's future for him to get big minutes?

Remember, the Jazz are also deeper at point guard now. George Hill has come into Jazz workouts and blown players and executives alike away with his talent level, sources say, even above and beyond the high expectations of a team that gave away a lottery pick for him in June. Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto were part of one of the most effective starting lineups in the league last year, proving adept at not taking away from the other players on the floor.

But those sources also say that the newfound competition has lit a fire under Exum. After starting 41 games his rookie season, Exum has tasted that level of playing time. He knows he'll have to show a higher level of play to get time this season. Hill is also serving as a mentor to Exum, taking him aside during and after workouts to give quick lessons on reads and seeing the court.

Overall, as Locke says in his podcast, "There have been plenty of times in practice, defensively, offensively, in open gym where you see the flashes." Multiple sources pointed to one workout moment: Exum sprinted down the floor in one game, moved past the defense, and jumped off his injured knee to throw down a dunk.

After nearly 500 days of being in the dark, a highlight-reel flash of light.

Most recent Sports stories

Related topics

SportsUtah Jazz
Andy Larsen


    From first downs to buzzer beaters, get’s top sports stories delivered to your inbox weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast