Utah Jazz Best/Worst Case Series: Can Dante Exum emerge?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 04: Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz watches from the bench in the second half during Game Three of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs as the Houston Rockets beat the Jazz 113-92 at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 4, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 04: Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz watches from the bench in the second half during Game Three of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs as the Houston Rockets beat the Jazz 113-92 at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 4, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Dante Exum has a lot to prove to the Utah Jazz this offseason as he aims to show that he isn’t a bust and can yet turn into a true contributor.

When the Utah Jazz selected Dante Exum with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, many fans were elated. Exum was being hyped as one of the league’s next up-and-coming stars, and the fact that he was available at all by the time the Jazz selected was an incredible surprise.

Unfortunately, thus far in his career, he’s come far from living up to the expectations thrust upon him when he was drafted. By and large, those shortcomings have come as a result of several injuries which have in essence forced Dante to hit the reset button year after year after year.

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However, this time around, things might finally be different for Exum. Despite missing most of last year with a shoulder injury, he came back late in the season and had some brilliant moments for the Jazz in the postseason. Not only that, but prior to the injury, he had received a challenge from Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder to which he appeared to have responded extremely well based on his Summer League and preseason play.

If Exum can combine health, the determination to continue to live up to that challenge that he was extended and the solid play he exhibited late last year, all while putting in an amazing and effective offseason, we could very well finally see the Dante we’ve all hoped to. Then again, if his most recent course is maintained, it could very well also be simply another disappointing year for the young guard out of Australia.

Clearly, there’s a wide gap between Dante’s best and worst case scenarios for the upcoming season, so let’s explore what each would look like, shall we?

Best Case Scenario

In short, Dante Exum’s best case scenario is that he stays healthy all year and becomes a mainstay in Utah’s rotation as a constant contributor. When Exum has been healthy, he’s been an avid defender, capable of putting pressure on some of the league’s best. For him to reach his ceiling for next year, he’ll need to maintain and also expand that skill. The Jazz are built on defense and will need to be able to throw Exum at formidable opposing guards when necessary.

But defense alone won’t be the secret to success for Exum. He possesses several incredible offensive tools that he needs to convert over into actual weapons this season. He has a quick first step, but often struggles to finish at the rim and handle the ball. He has length and aggression, but needs to develop a more reliable shot and improve his decision making.

If Exum is to reach his best case scenario, he’ll need to put those things together and up his scoring average significantly, as high as to about 15 points per game. If he’s able to do that, then he should very well be in the running for the Most Improved Player Award. Quite frankly, I think that should be a goal of Exum’s particularly since he’ll be able to surprise voters immensely if he has a major comeback year.

He’s plenty capable of putting up such a season, and winning that recognition would be the pinnacle moment of his best case scenario year. Dante will have a ton to prove this next year, and if he’s able to do as much by converting into an elite defender and establishing a reliable offensive prowess, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with and an invaluable asset for the Jazz.

Worst Case Scenario

Dante’s worst case scenario would likely be that he couldn’t stay healthy as has been the case for much of his career. But speaking more of things that are within his control, the worst case would be that he fails to improve in the necessary areas and finds himself out of the rotation.

In the 2016-17 season, Exum was largely healthy, but due to struggles on the court, he often found himself hard-pressed to find minutes, replaced by the likes of Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto. At the time, such shortcomings were completely warranted as he was but a young player and was also coming off an ACL injury. However, if the same sort of result were to happen to Dante this upcoming year, it would very much be a worst case scenario.

Expectations have been dramatically heightened for Exum now that he’s been in the league for as long as he has and especially after signing his hefty three-year, $33 million contract this summer. It won’t be enough for him to be a fringe rotation player, this is the season that the Jazz need Dante to finally take the leap and begin transforming into something special.

But the Jazz also have some pretty extensive guard depth that will create heightened competition for Exum. If he continues to struggle shooting, finishing and handling the ball, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him tumble below the likes of Raul Neto, Grayson Allen and perhaps even Alec Burks, who was sensational during last year’s playoffs, on the depth chart.

During the 2016-17 season, it appeared at times that Exum lost Quin Snyder’s trust, sometimes by playing out of control and other times for simply not converting well. If he continues to fall into a similar trap or if he just can’t build upon the strengths he’s already exhibited and therefore loses his spot in the rotation, it will be the absolute worst case for what many expect to be a big year for Dante.

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I’d like to be able to say that I don’t see that happening, but unfortunately with how little Exum has been able to reliably prove, it’s anyone’s guess as to how his 2018-19 season will truly go. Fortunately, I’m optimistic that he’ll finish much closer to his best case than his worst case. After a full healthy offseason and with the worries of playing in a contract year behind him, Exum may very well go out and post his best season yet.

And if he does so, he truly ought to be a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player Award. Not only would earning such a title be a clear indication of Dante Exum reaching his best case scenario, but it should be an absolute goal of his for the upcoming season. Winning said reward would mean he accomplished great things while also vindicating him to the several fans and media members that now doubt his ability to thrive in the NBA.