For over five years, the Utah Jazz gave Dante Exum every opportunity imaginable to succeed in their system — he simply couldn’t do anything with ‘em, though.
The night of the infamous, courtside argument between Shane Keisel and Russell Westbrook, my wife and I were watching the game from the nosebleeds at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Headed into the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder held a 14-point lead over the Utah Jazz.
The game appeared to be destined for a blowout, when much to our surprise, we heard a handful of fans shouting, “We want Exum! We want Exum! We want Exum!” What started with only a few fans soon grew into an impassioned chorus clamoring for the same thing …
“We want Exum!”
Sure, a few of ‘em had likely had one too many beers, but for a game that was well within reach for the home side, the desired measure seemed a bit … extreme, shall we say?
Still, in spite of the insanity of it all, Dante Exum did play — 14 whole minutes, believe it or not. During that time, he failed to score, but did nab three assists and an offensive rebound — not exactly game-changing stuff, if you ask me.
I share this story, as in my opinion, it perfectly encapsulates the Exum experience for Jazz fans: time and time again, through-the-roof expectations that were met with woefully pedestrian outcomes.
Selected with the fifth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Jazz were willing to put the future of their team in the hands of an 18-year-old Australian. Remember: the 2013-2014 season was one of the Jazz’s worst. They’d only won 25 games, but what made matters unbearable was the sorry cast of players the front office had rolled out: Diante Garrett, Brandon Rush, John Lucas III, etc.
Things did improve for the team in the coming years, though …
Sadly, little of it had anything to do with Exum and more to do with Rudy Gobert’s timely growth as a player and Donovan Mitchell miraculously falling to the Denver Nuggets with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft — he was subsequently traded to the Jazz, of course.
Exum did have flashes of on-court brilliance …
They were almost always followed by a serious, long-term injury, though. He tore his ACL, causing him to miss extended time. One of his shoulders came loose, causing him to miss extended time. A high-ankle sprain and torn patellar tendon tag-teamed Exum, which — surprise, surprise — caused him to miss extended time.
So much time, in fact, that Exum was only available for all 82 games once during his five-plus years in Utah: his rookie campaign. When taking a more detailed look at his numbers, getting beyond the “games” column — again, during his time in Salt Lake City — things don’t look much better, unfortunately …
- Average Box Plus/Minus: -3.04
- Average Usage Percentage: 21.16
- Average Win Shares Per 48 Minutes: 0.04
- Average Value Over Replacement Player: -0.3
For a guy who miraculously landed a second contract with the Jazz during the Summer of 2018 for three years and $33 million, that’s just not going to cut it — and that’s essentially what the Jazz did to him: they “cut him” when they traded him and a pair of worthless second-round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson, a guy who can reliably produce out on the court.
I’ll never understand #TakeNote Nation’s endless patience and inexplicable infatuation with Exum. I get that he was young when he arrived, but still — he was paid well to play basketball. Chalk it up to a lack of talent or a fragile frame, he failed to do just that for the Utah Jazz organization.
I wish him well, but he’s now Koby Altman’s headache in Cleveland. As for how the state of Utah will remember him in the years to come, the answer is obvious: a massive, draft-night bust.