Utah Jazz Best Case/Worst Case Scenario Series: Dante Exum

JULY 10, 2017: SYDNEY, NSW - (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Basketball star Dante Exum of Utah Jazz poses during a photo shoot ay Crows Nest in Sydney, New South Wales. (Photo by Dylan Robinson/Newspix/Getty Images)
JULY 10, 2017: SYDNEY, NSW - (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Basketball star Dante Exum of Utah Jazz poses during a photo shoot ay Crows Nest in Sydney, New South Wales. (Photo by Dylan Robinson/Newspix/Getty Images) /

If Dante Exum hopes to prove worthy of being a long-term contributor for the Utah Jazz, he’ll need to have a breakout season in 2017-18.

The 2016-17 season was an interesting one for Dante Exum. To begin the year, many thought that he would be the consistent backup to George Hill and perhaps even challenge him for starting minutes. However, as it turned out, such couldn’t have been further from the case. Even with Hill struggling to stay healthy for much of the year, Exum still rarely found himself logging all that many minutes.

His inconsistencies on offense were prevalent and his defense, which had looked so promising in his rookie season, just wasn’t quite at the level Utah Jazz fans had expected it to be. As such, rather than have the breakout season many were expecting, Exum found himself with inconsistent minutes, often being benched in favor of Shelvin Mack, and a disappointing stat line of just 6.2 points on 42.7 percent shooting from the field and an abysmal 29.5 percent from deep, as well as only 1.7 assists per game and one of the lowest net ratings of the team at just 2.0.

However, Exum looked revitalized in his three games in the Utah Jazz Summer League and Dennis Lindsey himself has made comments this summer that would seem to indicate that Exum is looking strong for the upcoming campaign. Given that Exum didn’t have much of an offseason last year as he rehabbed from his torn ACL, a full offseason ought to do him a world of good and we could truly see a revamped player in 2017-18.

Of course, then again, the opposite could be true and Exum’s struggles could result in him largely disappointing once again. There’s truly a wide variety of possibilities for how the Australian guard’s third full season in the NBA could go and for that reason there’s a very wide discrepancy between his best case and worst case scenarios.

Best Case Scenario

If Dante Exum is going to one day become the NBA star that he was projected to be before he was drafted, this is the year that he’s going to have to show that such could still be the case. It’s undeniable that he has the athleticism and skill set to be an exceptional pro, but even with a full offseason under his belt, a lot of things are going to have to come together this year for him to truly take that step.

If such ends up being the case, then Exum at the very least should be a key figure in the second unit, providing a much-needed offensive boost with his quick step and ability to attack the basket, while being utilized as a perimeter stopper on the defensive end. It’s easy to forget that as a rookie, Exum started 41 games and was a big reason why the Jazz finished the year so strong. Near the end of the season, he was looking like he’d be a key contributor for the team moving forward.

That’s what made his disappointing 2016-17 season somewhat surprising. However, if he can get back some of the confidence he mustered late in his rookie season and combine it with an enhanced skill set, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see Exum reach a best case scenario of logging roughly 22 minutes per game. As a reminder, as a starter in the last two months of his rookie campaign, he averaged 24.7 and 29.2 minutes, respectively.

With that kind of opportunity, hopefully he would also put up formidable production to go with it which would likely put him right around 8-10 points and around three assists per game. Exum needs to develop his mid-range and long-range shot a little more so that he can keep defenses honest and improve his chances of getting to the basket. If he does all that, then in a best case scenario, we could see Exum at least surpass 45 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from deep, which would be a significant improvement.

Even in his best case, I have a hard time seeing Exum surpassing Ricky Rubio as the starting point guard, but depending on the size of his potential breakout, I suppose there’s no telling what kind of heights he could reach. At the end of the day, if Exum can prove worthy of extended playing time and become a reliable force on both ends of the court in those reserve minutes, it will be an enormous help to the Jazz and about as much as one could expect out of a best case scenario for the young guard.

Worst Case Scenario

Unfortunately, on the other side of things, Dante Exum’s worst case scenario looks an awful lot like what happened last year, namely spotty minutes and several DNPs. If Exum is unable to execute as Quin Snyder would like him to, which is something we saw time after time last season, then it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Donovan Mitchell taking on a bigger role than Exum and perhaps even Raul Neto swallowing up Dante’s reserve minutes.

There’s several aspects of his game that Exum has to improve so that he isn’t a liability on the floor, but if he’s unable to patch those up, then we could see a very similar output to last year. And even though he’s just 22 years old, considering the hype that surrounded him when he entered the league and the raw ability that he clearly possesses, such a failure to improve would undoubtedly be a major disappointment.

Exum is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will certainly have plenty to prove as he hopes to net a big contract in restricted free agency. This ought to motivate him to play even better than he ever has before. However, if he fails to show the Jazz that he can contribute this season, then his future with the team itself could be in danger.

Next: Utah Jazz Best Case/Worst Case Scenario Series: Joe Ingles

It would be a shame for a former high lottery pick such as Exum to end up being little more than a castaway and thankfully, while perhaps I’m being optimistic, I don’t believe such will be a case. 2016-17 was a puzzling year for Dante to be sure, but with 2017-18 being largely an evaluation year for the Jazz to determine which pieces will fit into their long-term plans, he ought to have a longer leash and more of an opportunity to shine.

And as he takes advantage of that, he could very well set himself up to astound fans and doubters alike. On the other hand, with this upcoming season being Dante Exum’s crucial opportunity to prove himself, anything less than a breakout year will be an utter disappointment.

Given that such is the case, seeing where exactly he lands is going to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the upcoming season.