LAS VEGAS — Dante Exum was selected by the Jazz with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, and as Utah got its first look at the team’s new 19-year old prospect in Summer League action on Saturday, he showed every bit of having that level of promise.
Many weren’t completely familiar with Exum’s game, since he went to school in Australia and didn’t play college ball in the states. While his numbers were modest — 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, to go along with three rebounds and three assists in almost 30 minutes — he showcased a skill set that is undoubtedly NBA-ready, and once it develops more fully, should make him into one of the more interesting players of this draft class for seasons to come.
What immediately stood out was Exum’s quickness. His first step in taking a defender off the dribble is devastating, as he demonstrated on a drive from the three-point arc where he exploded past his man to get to the rim and finish a contested reverse lay-in. On another play, after turning the ball over on an ambitious pass along the baseline, he was lightning-fast in closing in to steal it right back, and getting to the rim for a two-handed slam.
In addition to the overall level of athleticism, Exum showed off an above-average vision of the floor. He was constantly making excellent passes to find his teammates in a position to score, and had several nice looks that may not have resulted in buckets, but ended up getting guys free throw attempts once the defense had no choice but to foul to prevent an easy two points.
“Looking at our team, we have a lot of bigs that can get to the basket, and it just opened up when I was driving with [the defense] helping off so much,” Exum said. “That’s what I do as a point guard, try to find players when I beat someone off the dribble. That’s just what happens.”
Exum cited the physicality of the game more than the speed of it as what surprised him the most in his first official taste of NBA competition.
“I knew it was going to be physical, but you never know until you actually get out there,” he said. “Just driving into the lane and getting those bumps you kind of feel it, and it’s different coming off screens, as well. It’s just the physicality.”
There were flaws to find for those looking hard enough, which included Exum consistently pushing the ball up the court on the wings instead of getting the ball to the middle of the floor to have more options, and simply standing around in the corner on the offensive end when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. His body language wasn’t great either, mostly on possessions where he was open and didn’t get the ball swung his way for a shot from three-point distance.
But all of that is minor, and correctable over time. What was much more noteworthy was the excitement conveyed by Exum’s overall performance.