Utah Jazz: Will Dante Exum play in Mike Conley’s absence?

Dante Exum, Utah Jazz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum hasn’t received much playing time since recovering from his knee injury. Is that likely to change with Conley’s recent injury?

Finding a place for Dante Exum has been a tough go for the Utah Jazz. He was drafted fifth overall with hopes to become a tall point guard with good playmaking skills. Unfortunately injury after injury has knocked Exum out of the rotation for the better part of his career.

He won the starting point guard position as a rookie over Trey Burke, and helped spark the Jazz’s 19-10 finish to the 2014-15 season with a staunch defense. He even had an impressive summer league game with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but injuries would claim his summer league and eventually his entire sophomore year.

In his would-be third year he didn’t play with the same confidence from before his ACL-tear, and he struggled mightily all of that season backing up George Hill. However in Utah’s final game of the playoffs Exum went for 15 points and showed off that lightning quick first step we had seen in the past.

Unfortunately he got a dislocated shoulder later that year in a preseason game against the Phoenix Suns. Utah was cautious with him to make sure his shoulder recovered properly, and held him out until March of 2018. He played well in the remaining 14 regular season games and impressively guarded James Harden in the second round of the playoffs.

That was good enough for the Jazz front office to sign him to a three year contract worth 33 million dollars. In his 2018-19 season, Exum found a five game stretch where he played really well, scoring 11.8 points and dishing 5.7 assists in just 18 minutes a game. Unfortunately he suffered a severely sprained ankle and after a returning from that in March, tore a tendon in his knee ending his season.

Exum spent the summer rehabbing that knee and working on his upper body. At media day he looked bulkier and the word on the street was that the Ex Man would suit up for the season opener. In spite of the fact that the Jazz had signed Emmanuel Mudiay over the summer, Exum’s fan club was optimistic that he would get a featured role on the highly anticipated ’19-20 campaign.

When media day and training camp came around, it was all about playing whatever role the team needed him to play. Even though he was drafted as a point guard, he was okay with playing his minutes at other positions as long as he could get playing time and help the team win.

via UtahJazz.com:

"“I can guard multiple positions, so why not use me wherever I’m needed? … I don’t want to get pigeonholed into something. It’s going to be a competitive team. I’m trying to fight for minutes. If it’s at the [point guard, shooting guard, or small forward], I’m going to accept that. I’m going to try to star in that.”"

The season opener went by, but Exum was still unavailable. Two weeks came and went and Exum was reportedly close to being available for the Milwaukee Bucks game, but it still took another long week of waiting.

Since November 15th, Exum has been available for 15 games but has only played in 11. When coach Snyder puts him in it is only for non-vital moments, such as garbage time or a couple minutes in the second quarter.

That didn’t change at all when Mike Conley had to sit out five games to nurse his hamstring. And now, 26 games into the regular season it is safe to wonder if Exum will earn a regular spot in the Jazz’s rotation this season.

In the limited sample size of this season I’ve already seen some good defense from Dante Exum. He still has the lateral quickness and length to disrupt perimeter players, and if he’s surrounded by the right players on the court I think he’s a valuable piece to the Utah Jazz.

The advanced stats this year are hard on Exum, as he is posting his worst box plus-minus of his career, as well as his highest turnover rate and lowest PER. When he’s on the floor the numbers say that he is hindering the Jazz, not helping them in any way.

Part of this has to do with who he plays his minutes with. Of the 83 minutes he’s played this season, only 16 have been alongside Rudy Gobert, and 41 have been with Donovan Mitchell.

He has yet to log significant time with Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, and the lion’s share of his minutes have been played with Jeff Green, Ed Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay.

Exum has found himself in a rut as far as earning playing time. Historically he always did well as a defensive specialist and spot-up shooter when playing with Rudy Gobert. But now, Royce O’Neale occupies that role and is a much more reliable shooter than Exum. He can play point guard, but Snyder has preferred to use Mudiay or Mitchell as the filler point guard when Conley is off the court.

Even Georges Niang has been given more minutes than Exum this season as a filler wing player. Exum can use his speed and toughness to out hustle players on loose balls and rebounds, but the Jazz are probably worried he will get injured again if he’s constantly exerting himself in that way.

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Whatever happens in the next few weeks of Conley’s recovery, it seems now that it will take a Christmas miracle for Exum to get any significant playing time.