Dante Exum entered the NBA with much fanfare. Exum was highly-touted entering the 2014 NBA draft coming out of Australia. Viewed as a point guard by most experts, Bleacher Report compared him as a cross between Penny Hardaway and Michael Carter-Williams. Exum was selected fifth overall by the Utah Jazz ahead of Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Dario Saric, Zach LaVine, and T.J. Warren, just to name a few. Expectations were sky-high heading into his rookie season.
During his rookie season, Exum displayed the ability to defend almost any perimeter player. He produced 0.5 steals in 22 minutes per game and had defensive win shares of 1.0 according to Basketball-Reference.
Exum struggled in every other facet of his game. He shot poorly from the field, three-point, and free throw lines. His offensive command and playmaking ability were lacking. He had to shoot 5.1 attempts per game to score 4.8 points. It was an ugly year on the offensive end of the floor. Even his off the ball defending was not great, despite his success as an on-ball defender.
There was optimism that the then 20-year-old Exum would improve his game and take a step forward in his sophomore campaign. That got derailed before it ever started after he was injured playing for the Boomers, the Australian National Team. A torn ACL took away his entire 2015-2016 NBA season. It ruined valuable time spent working on his game as well.
Dante Exum entered this campaign fully healthy and ready to prove himself in the NBA. He apparently made improvements to his game, but the numbers were still a little lacking.
Exum’s traditional defensive stats backslid, but he boosted his advanced metrics. He is clearly a capable one-on-one defender. He uses his length and athleticism to be a pest on the defensive end.
The biggest issue with Exum’s game is he is a man without a position on the offensive end of the floor. Drafted as a point guard, but he lacks the necessary playmaking and distribution skills to thrive in that spot. So the Jazz shifts him to be a two guard, but he lacks scoring and floor spacing ability to play in that position.
Dante Exum would make a great three-and-D wing if he could make three-pointers with any consistency. He shot just 30 percent from three-point land this season. If you think well maybe he cannot create his own shot but would make a good spot up shooter, well you are wrong. Exum shot 25 percent on corner threes this season.
Expectations Going Forward
Dante Exum turns 22 years old in July and has a fully guaranteed contract for next season at $4.99 million. That makes me 95 percent sure of two things: 1) he will play in the NBA next season and 2) he better improve if he wants to continue to do so after that.
The NBA is becoming a three-point shooting league. Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol shoot three-pointers now. Exum is not giving me much hope he can be a part of that. A career 31 percent three-point shooter, Exum would need to improve that by five percent to be league average. For context, he has attempted 413 threes in his career, and he would need to turn 17.55 of his misses into makes to connect at 35 percent. That does not seem wild until I frame it like this, he would need to connect 27 consecutive three-points to improve his percentage of 35 percent for his career.
At his age it is possible to improve your three-point shot, but can he do it? Reports claim he has spent countless hours working on his shot and yet the improvements are not showing themselves.
I see him as a flawed offensive player, and I do not see Exum changing that. He will always struggle with his shot, and he is not going to learn to be a point guard in the NBA. I see him as a positionless man who can defend one-on-one against almost anyone but cannot help his team on the other end.
I believe he plays for the Utah Jazz next season and shows himself to be the player we have seen in his first two years. The Jazz then sends him packing and a team down on their luck will take a chance on him. My guess is the Brooklyn Nets, and they enjoy his defensive play on a two-year guaranteed contract with a three-year team option.