Coming into the 2014 NBA draft, Dante Exum was considered the draft’s biggest mystery man. With limited film on the Australian guard, team’s weren’t sure what they were getting other than an athletic frame oozing with potential. Fast forward 5 seasons, and he’s almost been as much of a mystery now as he was then.
Two freak injuries have left Dante with limited minutes so far in his career. A torn ACL playing for his national team meant missing the entire 2015-2016 season. Two years later he was landed on from a dangerous defensive play. His shoulder required surgery and he wound up playing only 14 games in 2017-2018. At only 3,844 total minutes played, he’s barely played more than a season’s worth of minutes.
The lack of regular playing time has led to a very up and down career so far. Some games he shows flashes of brilliance, others he still looks like a rookie. Despite all of this, Dennis Lindsey paid Exum on potential this summer by giving him a 3 year 33 million dollar extension. How has Dante’s progression been? Will he be worth his money?
Multi-Year Talent Grades
Unfortunately his player grades line up pretty well with his lack of playing time. It’s pretty difficult to improve when you’re watching from the first row. That being said, he’s shown some development in a few areas throughout his time for the Jazz. In particular, he started using his lightning quick first step to become a pretty good one on one player. That speed also allows him to be a good playmaker as well, which might come as a surprise to some. Often pulled by Coach Snyder for little mistakes, it’s easy to assume that he isn’t the playmaker our player grades rate him out to be.
Another trend I see is an improvement finishing around the rim. He’s got the speed to beat almost anyone in front of him, but he hasn’t always been able to finish on his drives. Up until this year this is something he improved on pretty substantially. Even this year, It think we’ve seen progress within the season, something I’ll get to shortly.
Dante Exum’s stats show more consistent progression than his talent grades. One of the things jumping out the most is his free throw rate. He’s at a career high .399 this season. Donovan Mitchell, in comparison, is at .220. Other development on the offensive is also noteworthy. Up until this season, he had improved his true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and even just his raw Per-36 scoring each year in the league. As his usage has gone up, he’s become more efficient and productive. All this while decreasing his turnovers. That’s the exact trend you hope for in a young player. So what about this year?
So far this season, Dante has played anywhere from 0 to 26:07 minutes in a game. That season high was in game 1 of the season. His role has fluctuated pretty dramatically throughout the year, and his DNP was a coaches decision not an injury. Coach Quin benched in game 23 of the season following a couple poor outings about 3 weeks ago. Ever since, Dante looks like he’s starting to find his role. Aaron Falk of the Utah Jazz wrote up a nice article about Exum and the confidence he is gaining.
This season has been a microcosm of Dante’s entire career: some ups and downs but fairly consistent progression. Per-36 minutes over the past 6 games in particular he is averaging 19.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. He’s also shooting over 36 percent from 3, which would be a career high. Potentially most important is his 4.75 assist to turnover ratio in that span. He’s figuring out how to be aggressive and still play smart basketball. The 20 points he scored against the Philadelphia 76ers was only the third 20+ outing in as many years. Exum Island is slowly becoming a desirable location again with this encouraging play.
Exum might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Kyle Korver trade. Ever since Korver’s move from Cleveland, Dante’s 2nd most consistent 5-man lineup is Exum, Korver, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Favors. The spacing that comes with this lineup gives Exum more room to work with as a driver. Since Quin’s benching, Dante is averaging 0.62 points per drive, most among Jazz guards and wings. He’s driving 3rd most on the team at 9.3 per game despite playing half the minutes of the guys around him. He also averages the most assist per pass out of driving situations at 0.5. For comparison, starting point guard Ricky Rubio is at only 0.26. His attacking and playmaking have been difference makers over the past couple weeks.
Dante Exum is long overdue for a full, healthy season. Finally getting the chance to play consistent minutes, he’s showing why he was drafted 5th overall in 2014. Dennis Lindsey’s confidence was a calculated risk on draft night as well as last July. That new contract could have become a big steal or a big mistake. The belief in Dante appears like it will finally start paying dividends. With Utah’s desperation for some more offensive firepower, and the once-stallworthy bench struggling, Exum’s rise couldn’t come at a better time. As his confidence continues to grow, so too will his ceiling. It may have taken a few years longer than expected, but he may yet find himself as a key player for the Utah Jazz.