Utah Jazz: It’s Time for Dante Exum to Take Burks’ Minutes

Mar 11, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) drives to the basket behind Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines (8) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) drives to the basket behind Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines (8) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Given the recent of struggles of Alec Burks and the Utah Jazz as a whole, there’s a strong argument to be made that Dante Exum should begin filling in at the backup shooting guard position.

The Utah Jazz are in an interesting situation this year. They’re certainly in “win-now” mode as their talented roster finds itself in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race and the team needs to prove to its impending free agents such as Gordon Hayward and George Hill that Utah is the ideal place for them to stay to be successful and competitive.

However, although winning is the focus, the odds of competing for and winning a championship are infinitesimally small. And with a roster still largely made up of young guns, the combination of youth and the unlikelihood to actually compete for a title this season make it necessary that the Jazz still look to develop some of their less experienced players.

And the first one that comes to mind that fits that description is Dante Exum. A former fifth overall draft pick in 2014, Exum has carried with him the promise of budding into a superstar since entering the league. However, a torn ACL that resulted in his missing the entire 2015-16 season combined with limited opportunities now that he’s returned to health have sorely limited Exum’s ability to produce and prove his worth.

This season has been extremely odd for Dante. On more than a couple of occasions, it has appeared that head coach Quin Snyder has been ready to turn over the backup point guard duties to the young man out of Australia. In several of those occasions, Exum has played relatively well, albeit with more than a few mistakes.

Unfortunately, when those errors have amounted to apparently more that Snyder is willing to tolerate, Exum has been quickly pulled from games and sometimes as a result has been benched for multiple contests as well. Recently, Exum logged just six minutes against the Pacers, recorded a DNP against the Knicks then finished Saturday’s game against the Clippers with just three minutes, all of which came in garbage time when the game was essentially over.

Yet, while I’m not saying that Exum has been perfect in all his opportunities this season by any means, he once again made the most of his time on the court as in the three minutes granted him against LA he had a dunk and drained a three to finish with five points on 2-of-2 shooting. Not to mention, in that extremely short stint, Exum displayed more energy and hustle than most of the rest of the team did for 48 minutes.

However, it seems that the problem now facing Exum, in the eyes of Coach Snyder at least, is that George Hill is the clear starter at point guard and the solid play of Raul Neto has earned him the backup spot. There are several arguments to be had on the matter, but certainly one of them is that Exum’s erratic play would make him a less reliable option than those other two.

Yet perhaps the argument shouldn’t be whether Exum is deserving of minutes at the point guard spot, but rather if he should log time at the shooting guard position.

Exum has already logged time at the two as he has paired up with the likes of Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto and George Hill on a handful of occasions this season. He certainly has the size to play the position and in a lot of ways his quick first step and willingness to attack the rim make him better suited to play off the ball rather than running an offense.

Beyond the question of whether the shooting guard position is the best actual fit for him or not, though, the major reason why Exum should be getting more meaningful minutes at the two-spot is because he has absolutely been more effective this season than Alec Burks has, particularly of late.

On the season, Burks is averaging just under a point per game more than Exum but is doing so at a much less efficient rate from the field (40.6 percent as compared to 44.1). Furthermore, while Exum’s had his fair share of issues offensively, his defensive rating of 101.9 is significantly better than Burks’ dismal 105.8. That actually helps bring Exum to a net rating of 0.4, which isn’t great, but is certainly better than Alec’s negative rating of -1.3.

And as Andy Bailey of FanRag Sports recently pointed out on Twitter, that trend has been even greater recently as Exum is enjoying a significantly higher net rating per 36 minutes than Burks and even than starter Rodney Hood since February 1:

And all advanced figures aside, it’s not hard to see that Burks has done little, if anything to boost this Jazz team of late. His defense has been poor, his energy has been almost nonexistent and his shooting has been abysmal. In Utah’s last seven contests, Burks has shot just 29.3 percent (12-of-41) from the field and 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from deep.

With all of that adding up against Burks and the sheer fact that if Exum’s ever going to have a chance to blossom, he has to have an opportunity to play, develop and learn from his mistakes, there’s little argument that Dante should be seeing the floor rather than Burks.

Even if Exum is hypothetically less effective than Burks (thought I must say I’m not the least bit convinced that such would be the case) the fact still remains that, as I said before, the Jazz are in a position where they need to leave some room to develop younger players since they aren’t true title contenders. And at this point of their respective careers, young Dante Exum’s future is looking much brighter than Burks’.

Not to mention, the backup shooting guard spot, whether it remains in Burks’ possession or is taken over by Exum, isn’t logging enough minutes to doom the Jazz either way, but if Dante can provide even a minuscule improvement at the position it could provide a significant boost off the bench.

Plus besides, given Burks’ troublesome play, it’s hard to see it getting any worse with Exum. And regardless of anyone’s feelings about Exum’s productivity, there’s no questioning his determination and effort, which I can’t comfortably say is true about Alec.

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So as the Jazz struggle to find consistency on offense or defense in the midst of a streak of four losses in five games and, as Rudy Gobert so accurately pointed out following the loss to LA, have had issues getting all of their players to compete lately, it’s clear that the team is in need of some tweaks if they hope to get back on track and truly become a threat in the playoffs.

And while there are several areas in which the Jazz could tamper with lineups or look to make improvements, inserting Exum in place of Burks appears to be a sensible solution that would at least begin to patch up one notable area of concern.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com