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  • Dante’s peak still a long way away: Still way too early to grade Utah Jazz rookie Exum

    2019 - 02.21

    Long way to go: Dante Exum. Photo: Jeffrey ChanFollow Hoops Heaven on Twitter
    Nanjing Night Net

    Dante Exum is in a slump as his arduous rookie NBA season enters its final few weeks.

    He’s endured a three-game scoreless run recently and had a difficult match earlier this week in Utah’s upset loss to strugglers Minnesota with only four points after picking up a couple of fouls inside the first minute.

    The true test of whether the young Australian guard is set for a lengthy career in the big time will be 12 months from now.

    This is technically his rookie season but he shouldn’t be judged in comparison with this draft class.

    Coming into this season with not even the minimum one year of college that his counterparts enjoyed, a true gauge of his potential will be revealed next season when he’s no longer the baby of the league.

    If you view Exum’s opening season at the Jazz purely on statistics then it’s been a modest first foray into the NBA.

    He’s averaged some very average returns of 4.7 points, 2 .3 assists and 1.7 rebounds from his 70 outings.

    But he’s basically the NBA’s equivalent of a development player in an NBL squad sans very few of them average 21.4 minutes per game or get thrown into the starting lineup, which has been happening regularly recently for Exum in Salt Lake City.

    Charles Barkley is a self-described “dumb ass” but his basketball IQ is in the Ivy League. He’s firmly of the opinion that elite players don’t start learning the game until they get into the NBA.

    Professor Barkley’s hypothesis is players bound for the NBA don’t get challenged in high school or taken out of their comfort zone if they go to college because they’re invariably a lot better than their opponents.

    Nobody would fit this bill better than Exum who has gone from dominating skinny high school boys in Canberra to matching up against muscle-bound behemoths in the planet’s toughest test of basketball skill.

    Fortunately for Exum, the pressure to perform has not been as suffocating as it could have been.

    He was tipped to go as high as the top three in last year’s draft. Sliding down to the fifth pick and landing in a small market in Utah has been an advantage. The Jazz were not predicted to do well this season and their better than expected performance has meant less pressure on Exum to be the franchise saviour.

    Also, the much-hyped class of 2014 has had few immediate success stories – apart from top selection Andrew Wiggins in Minneapolis – so Exum is not looking vastly inferior to his peers.

    Milwaukee’s No.2 pick Jabari Parker and Orlando’s No.4 choice Aaron Gordon have had their seasons ruined by injury while a broken leg meant Lakers forward Julius Randle (No.7 overall) did not make it past his opening game and Philadelphia’s No.3 Joel Embiid still hasn’t been sighted on court because of foot concerns.

    The focus on Exum will intensify next season as the Jazz try to determine who they’ll keep long term from their young back-court assets which also includes Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood.

    They have gone down a similar path with their front court recently with Enes Kanter traded to Oklahoma City after he became surplus to requirements following the development of Derrick Favors and unexpectedly rapid rise of Rudy Gobert.

    While his offensive game still needs plenty of polish, Exum has shown strong defensive instincts and an ability to absorb information during his steep learning curve. And he hasn’t missed a match – no mean feat for a slightly built teenager who will need to add bulk to his frame in the near future.

    Hopefully Exum will still have his Boomers buddy Joe Ingles looking out for him at the Jazz next season. The seasoned small forward has shown he belongs in elite company after years of being on the fringe of getting an NBA call-up.

    After being the final player added to the 15-man roster two days before the start of the season, Ingles has carved a niche at the Jazz playing back-up to frontman Gordon Hayward. Ingles dropped a career-high 18 points deputising for the injured Hayward in the starting line-up in the overtime loss to the Timberwolves.

    Another factor helping Exum in his NBA development is the patience shown in him by the franchise. The Jazz obviously didn’t expect the world from him straight away and knew he would not be lighting up arenas as he got his first taste of the NBA.

    Just like Milwaukee’s sophomore sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo this season, Exum will undoubtedly improve in 2015-16, capitalising on the massive head start he’s received in terms of experience compared to players of the same age who are currently playing college hoops.

    He bypassed tertiary education in favour of direct entry into the NBA but Exum’s accelerated on-the-job training has him well placed to get through his tough apprenticeship and set himself up for a long career.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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