Why Dante Exum worked for the Mavs but did not for the Jazz

When Dante Exum was taken 5th overall to the Utah Jazz in 2015, fans had high hopes. However, Exum never stepped up while in Utah and started to look like he wasn't an NBA talent. Now, he is a major contributor on a team that just went to the finals in the Dallas Mavericks.
Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

With the Boston Celtics winning their 18th banner after defeating the Dallas Mavericks, former Utah Jazz top-five pick Dante Exum’s impressive season comes to an end. After a tenure of ups and downs with injury and consistency concerns with the Jazz, Exum’s career outlook was looking rather grim.

The organization held on to the prospect for a long time before eventually having to let him go due to his lack of playing time despite his immense potential. Exum bounced around before ultimately playing overseas for FC Barcelona and Partizan Belgrade for two years. While playing for those two clubs, Exum saw a sort of resurgence and finally took the strides the Jazz hoped he would take as a young player. He ended up signing with the Dallas Mavericks and playing a key role for the team in their recent playoff run. So why did Exum work for the Mavericks while failing with the Jazz, and what changed?

Exum’s career with the Utah Jazz was riddled with injuries. He tore his ACL before his second season, had shoulder surgery his third, and missed time in the rest of his years with the Jazz with various injuries before ultimately being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson. It would be easy to say that he didn’t work with Utah because of his health, but the player we see today in Dallas is almost completely different.

Prior to his Jazz departure, Exum hadn’t shot over 34% from three in a single season. His efficiency from the field was majorly inconsistent, and as we already discussed, he couldn’t stay on the floor. He played slightly better in Cleveland, but nothing like he is playing now in Dallas. The shift in Exum’s play only points to one thing: his time in the EuroLeague.

In his first season with Barcelona, Exum played in 25 games, getting 17 minutes per game. He made his time on the court matter, shooting a blazing 54% from three-point land and 51% from the field, per Basketball Reference. After joining Partizan, his three-point percentage dipped to just below 40% but his field goal percentage soared to 54%, as he averaged 13.2 points per game. There is no doubt playing in Europe boosted his confidence, and the work he put in changed him as a player. His resurgence overseas caught the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks, where he signed for the 2023-2024 season.

When joining the Mavericks, he instantly contributed. He brought energy and pace to the second unit, and his confidence looked years beyond anything we saw from him on the Jazz. He appeared in 55 games, the most since his 2016-2017 season with the Jazz, and averaged a career-high 7.8 points per game. Getting 19.4 minutes per game on average, Exum was playing the most he had ever played in the NBA, and it paid dividends for the Mavs. His field goal percentage was over 53% and his three-point percentage was over 49%.

When comparing Mavs’ Exum to Jazz’ Exum, the juxtaposition is clear. While he wasn’t looking like a top-five draft pick, he looks like a completely different player, and a potential key role player. His playing time dipped in the playoffs, but he got more minutes in the finals, pushing the pace when the Mavs needed it most. While it’s not with our Utah Jazz, fans should be happy for Exum for the fact he got his confidence back, he appears healthy, and most of all, happy to play basketball.