Why Dante Exum is the biggest draft bust in Utah Jazz history

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.

And I’m aware of the Jazz’s dealings with draft busts like Kirk Snyder, Morris Almond and Kris Humphries. But as I see it, Exum tops them all as the franchise’s biggest, all-time draft blunder.

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.

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