It was an up-and-down season for Danté Exum, but he continues to show flashes of brilliance that give Utah Jazz fans glimmers of hope for his future.
Danté Exum had his fair share of rough treatment during his sophomore season; being dropped from the rotation several times this year due to one bad performance. He bounced around the depth chart all season with recurring injuries to George Hill and Alec Burks, as well as the wild inconsistency of fellow point guards Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto.
He was never really given the opportunity to excel in a prominent role that could show his full capabilities as the Utah Jazz attempted to re-introduce him to the NBA world in baby steps. Although Exum’s season didn’t live up to the expectations of some optimistic fans, he did at least give us the bare essentials with what we wanted in terms of his development.
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Exum increased his production on the offensive end over his rookie season, largely because of his aggressiveness and hunting for his shot. He’s also shown the ability to lock down some of the league’s elite perimeter threats at times.
Moreover, he was rarely greedy and always tried to put the team first, which is pretty big of a player with so much to prove and who’s being overly criticized.
Exum had a few standout performances over the course of the regular season, but what struck me as his most impressive was a performance in Utah’s second-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. He didn’t get much opportunity in Game 1 (the game that Hill played in) but he still managed to come away with seven points on 3-of-3 from the field.
As he started to see the court in Games 2 and 4, he showed a different side to his game and improvements in every area.
In those two games, you could make the case that he was among Utah’s best three players. Not only did he make an impact on the defensive end, pestering the dynamic backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, he also managed to get into the paint and create offense for the rest of the team.
Only a few Jazz players all series were capable and willing to get attack the creases in the defense.
During the regular season, Exum averaged 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.3 steals in 18.6 minutes per game. Digging deeper into the advanced statistics, the biggest change in Exum’s game from his rookie season was the ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. In his first season, 64 percent of his field goal attempts were from three-point land; this season, 41 percent of his shots were taken from long range.
In his rookie year, he attempted just 0.6 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. This season, he attempted 2.1 free throws per 36 minutes. So he increased his productivity at the free throw line by 350 percent.
The ACL injury he suffered in an exhibition game for the Australian national team against Slovenia back in the summer of 2015 may have changed his outlook on what he wants from his basketball career and how to go about it. After a career-threatening injury, it can leave you wondering about what you could have done differently and what you would do if you were given that opportunity again.
It’s nice to see that Exum wants to leave no stone unturned and make the very most of his life in the NBA by being aggressive and forcing the issue.
When evaluating his season as a whole, it’s hard to discount the fact that he is coming off a horrible injury and used a lot of time early in the season as a feeling out stage. He was in and out of the rotation a lot and it’s one of the few criticisms I could make of Quin Snyder’s coaching this season. The Jazz were always going to make the playoffs and they showed that they could win a playoff series finishing anywhere from one through seven. So why not try to get Danté the court time and experience he needs to develop into a better player?
Overall, I think the goal for Danté coming into the season was to prove to the world and himself that he still has potential to be a very good player for a very long time and I think he’s done that. He hasn’t lost a step athletically and his defensive awareness is outstanding for any perimeter player.
Sure, he still has a lot of things to improve on like his jump shot, his ball handling and footwork, but those things will come with time. One thing that needs to be fixed urgently is his ability to fall down well. This is something I wrote about a few months back and I feel very strongly about.
When he goes to ground after a layup or foul, it looks awkward and messy. It is so incredibly important for a modern-day NBA player to fall safely after contact. This past season, he failed to do this on countless occasions and he was shaken up every time. It shouldn’t take much time to correct and it would be well worth the time to avoid another serious injury.
All in all, I got what I expected from Exum this season given the opportunities he had. The things that will define his career and his prime are well in the future. For now, he just has to keep improving and next season should be another step in the right direction.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.