Utah Jazz: Dante Exum’s Stellar Play Creates A Problem For Front Office

Feb 19, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum watches warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Exum is out indefinitely as he rehabs following ACL surgery. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum watches warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Exum is out indefinitely as he rehabs following ACL surgery. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

Dante Exum is coming off a career-high 22 points in Saturday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This performance has exemplified his stellar play of late and if this continues, it could force Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey to make big moves this offseason.

After the Jazz failed to strike a deal with George Hill to keep him in Salt Lake City long-term, his future in Utah could be in doubt which is largely in part to the promise that 21-year-old Dante Exum is currently showing. Hill’s agent turned down Utah’s original offer because according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, he was advised that he could receive a much bigger pay check at the season’s end.

With a myriad of young Jazz players headed for a huge payout in the near future including Gordon Hayward, Utah’s front office might have to get a slight bit stingy with Hill’s contract in order to keep a contending team. Paying George Hill upwards of $25,000,000 this offseason could make it much harder to hold onto players like Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles, Rodney Hood and Exum himself just to name a few.

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I don’t think letting Hill walk is a step in the right direction for the Jazz, especially with how he’s played to this point. But you still have to be able to hold onto the rest of your roster to keep talent around Hayward and Gobert, and with the money that Hill may be demanding, it could become very difficult.

Something else to consider is the possibility of Deron Williams coming back to Utah. If he decides to at the end of this season, it could make for a much easier choice to cut George Hill because Williams would provide both consistency for the Jazz, as well as leadership for Dante.

So the big question is will Exum be good enough next season to shoulder the load at point guard on a team with title aspirations? A fortnight ago, even Jazz fans would have snorted derisively at this. Now, Exum is making it hard for Quin Snyder to keep him off the floor when he attacks the rim like he has in recent games.

Getting to the basket was something Dante struggled with in his rookie season, he was settling for jump shots at an alarming rate and shied away from contact wherever possible. This year, it could not be more different. His number one priority is getting to the rim where he has the length to finish over defenders and I have a theory as to why.

Back when Exum had that ACL tear in the 2015 offseason, he may have thought that with the possibility that a career ending injury is looming at all times, there is no point in being passive and he did not want to leave any stone unturned. I know this may seem a little farfetched, but while this particular injury took a year of development off a potentially illustrious career, it may have turned him into a different and mentally stronger player.

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Utah Jazz

Exum’s 22-point game has been well publicized and it would surely be strange to the average NBA fan to see such an unorthodox player have such a tremendous night. He shoots most layups off his wrong foot and most things he does around the rim are just unexpected. Most people see this as strange and even detrimental to the team at times. I see it, however, as being innovative and special.

He is just capable of doing some things that are so rare and he does everything at breakneck speed. His first step is just unbelievable. I’m going out on a limb and saying that it is the fastest in the NBA. There are times where the defense knows Dante has no interest in pulling up for a jumper and knows that he wants to get to the rim however possible. But even with that knowledge, Exum is still just too quick and there is really no stopping it.

One thing that Exum has to learn as soon as possible is how to fall correctly after contact. I can not stress enough how important this is for the modern-day NBA player. When Exum goes to the floor after contact, his limbs are flying everywhere and he lands awkwardly more often than not. I’m not talking about flopping or anything of the sort, I’m talking about rolling with the contact to prevent an injury.

Gordon Hayward does it particularly well as a byproduct of having such great body control and a low center of gravity.

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Exum’s on-ball defense is also something to see. Although he can struggle at times to get over screens and fouls a little too much, he is still able to lock down opposing point guards when he sets his mind to it. He has the length, size and footwork to one day become one of the league’s elite defensive players. At this stage of his career however, he is probably more suited to defending shooting guards.

So with 16 games left before the playoffs, Dante has a big chance to get himself a starting spot for next season and beyond. Exum and the Jazz will back on the floor Monday night where they will host the LA Clippers in a potential playoff preview.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and video thanks to FreeDawkins on YouTube.