Everyone loves the mystery man. It seemed those who had only seen YouTube clips of Dante Exum loved his game — nobody had seen much of him yet some fans were sold. As were some scouts. He was the No. 5 pick in the last draft and is a member of the Utah Jazz.
But as that mystery has been stripped away this summer Exum has looked like a project, a guy with a long way to go.
It started at the Las Vegas Summer League where there were certainly things to like — his loping, lull-you-to-sleep dribble followed by an explosive first step, plus some creative passes — but he had 15 turnovers to 14 assists and shot 30.8 percent. He struggled to find his way against a higher level of athleticism. That has continued at the World Cup, where Exum has played very limited minutes off the bench for Australia — until Australia was trying to tank and lose, then he played 31 minutes against a weak Angola team. Exum scored a dozen but Angola won.
A scout who tracked Exum at the World Cup told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News that Exum simply is not NBA ready. What did we learn in Spain?
“Not much,” said an Eastern Conference scouting director, laughing. “He’s not ready for the NBA, that is for sure. But a lot of guys are not ready for the NBA and they have got to learn on the fly. He is no different. But he is not going to jump into the league and all of a sudden average 20 points a game. There’s just no way.”
It’s not all bad.
“He is really, really good in the pick-and-roll,” the scouting director said. “He knows how to take the pick and emerge with his head up and he sees the whole floor. He will get better with his decision-making as time goes on and he gets experience, but that ability to come off the pick like that, you know being able to see and process everything immediately with your head up, that is something you can’t teach.”
The challenge for coach Quin Snyder is that with no jumper to speak of and his pick-and-roll skills, Exum is a point guard. But the Jazz already have Trey Burke in that role and the plan had been to have Exum at the two. How long can you stick with that experiment?
Snyder was brought in because the Jazz are loaded with young players who need to develop — Exum, Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks — and Snyder is the player development guy. They need to grow these guys, see who first where with whom, and start taking steps toward the future. It’s time to start getting a little payoff and seeing some growth from all these quality picks.
Exum is one of those big challenges. Can he develop into a two guard? And if not, there are roster decisions to be made.