There are many notable young names out of the 2014 NBA draft. You have Andrew Wiggins, the number 1 overall pick. Talented forwards Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle. And of course, the Process, Joel Embiid. But for Australian fans, there is one name that was selected before Marcus Smart, Randle and Dario Saric: Dante Exum.
When Exum was drafted, the hype around him was big. An athletic player who was explosive and also had a high motor. His draft profile expressed that he had good size for a guard, and also regarded his ability to create his own shot.
Exum’s first season was rough, but that was to be expected from a raw young talent. It was a year for him to get comfortable playing in the NBA. The flashes of potential though were there and they weren’t being ignored. Towards the end of the season, the Jazz even moved talent to give young stars Exum and Gobert room to grow.
Now, for Gobert, he grew. Since being drafted, Gobert has become the anchor of Utah’s defence, and even winning the 2018 Defensive Player of the Year.
What about Dante Exum though?
Exun, unfortunately, suffered a torn ACL in the off-season in an Australian scrimmage match, ruling him out for the entire 2015-16 season. When he did return, he showed his potential again, but was still rehabbing and wasn’t as athletic as he first was. When Exum did return to form in the 2016-17 season, he got the attention he deserved.
With the Jazz losing Gordon Hayward and George Hill in the off-season, it gave Exum a chance to greatly improve and be the point guard the Jazz hoped he would become. But again, fate had other plans. Exum ended up injuring his shoulder in the pre-season, missing a majority of the 2017-18 season. Again though, his return proved that he could be valuable, even locking up James Harden at certain points in the playoffs.
The question remains: where to next for Dante Exum? While Exum has proven he can at the very least be a good rotational player, injuries are a question. If the Jazz had fallen out of playoffs and had struggled in the 2017-18 season, taking the chance on Exum seems reasonable. However, with the emerging pairing of Mitchell and Gobert, it has to be asked whether the risk is worth it.
Yes, Exum has been offered a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free-agent. This clearly means that the Jazz has some faith in him. However, to what extent? If a young team like the Nets, Kings or Mavericks were to give him a generous contract around the $3-4 million mark, what happens next?
For the Jazz, it should be clear: match any and all offers. No-one is going to offer Exum a Dellevadova contract. He is a raw, injury prone talent who has mainly played meaningless minutes. The Jazz needs to explore and abuse this knowledge.
There are two scenarios for Exum and the Jazz. The first is that Exum develops either into a strong role-player or 6th Man candidate. Sadly, the ship has probably sailed on him ever being an All-Star due to the raw talent and experience. Yet, being a Fred Van Fleet or Seth Curry type of player is achievable. Matching an offer of $5 million is worth it for the Jazz.
So far over his career, Exum, playing only 162 games, has put up a respectable 5.7 points per game. He also had a 14.7 player efficiency rating, and a .57 true shooting percentage in the 14 games he played last season. This is the establishment of a solid role-player. Additionally, with Ricky Rubio getting older and having an expiring contract next season, this could be the perfect situation for Utah to find their future point guard.
What if Exum proves to be nothing but another “what-if”? The only person who loses out here is Exum. The reality is that the Jazz has managed without him. Quinn Snyder has developed Gobert into the best defensive player in the NBA, while the Jazz also hit the jackpot and drafted an underrated Donovan Mitchell. Even without Exum, Utah surprised everyone and finished 5th in the West. Sure, they may have a few million taken up in cap space, but in this era of the NBA, around $4 million is far from a burden. If the Lakers can have full cap space with Luol Deng’s disgusting contract, so can the Jazz.
Dante Exum has had a tough road so far in the NBA. But he’s only 22. While the possibility of him turning into an all-time great is behind him, he can and most likely will be a valuable piece for the Utah Jazz. And the Jazz front office should take every chance to make sure this Aussie stays in Salt Lake City.