Life in the NBA hasn’t been easy for Danté Exum.
His injury woes began when he tore his ACL while playing for the Boomers in 2015. The injury cost Exum an entire season of basketball, at a time when Utah handed him the keys to the car with a starting point guard role.
Exum eventually made his return in the 2016/17 season, aiming to make up for lost time. He would face another setback, undergoing shoulder surgery in October of 2017. Exum spent most of the 2017-18 season rehabbing his shoulder, making just 24 NBA appearances. However, the Jazz organisation showed faith in the Australian, offering him a three-year contract extension worth US$33 million in 2018. His struggles continued into the recent 2018/19 season, appearing in just 42 NBA games, with the season ending early when he underwent knee surgery in March.
Eight months later, the Melbourne native finally made his return against the Timberwolves on Monday night. He logged just 14 minutes in the 112-102 loss to Minnesota, but made the highlight reel with a breakaway dunk following a steal.
Exum faces an uphill battle to establish himself in the Jazz rotation. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are firmly entrenched in Utah’s starting backcourt, while new recruit Emmanuel Mudiay has been productive in a backup role.
No longer adamant about playing point guard, Exum acknowledged in a preseason interview that he will have to cover multiple positions in order to earn minutes.
“Coming in, I was adamant about being a point guard, and I still am, I still want to be, but I’m fighting for minutes,” Exum said. “I want minutes. I think, for me going forward, the best thing is just being on the court. Our offence has developed into a, whoever gets the rebound or outlet, just run. I’m really good in transition, running the floor and with the ball, so wherever I can get it, it works for me.”
The Victorian has spent time practicing at shooting guard, small forward and even power forward in recent times.
Given the offseason signings of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, as well as the rise of Royce O’Neale, there is tough competition for minutes in Utah. Even Joe Ingles is adapting to a bench role, after starting for the past two years. Danté’s versatility, especially on the defensive end, is his ticket into the rotation.
Exum’s main goal this season should be to stay healthy. If he comes out the other side unscathed, the Melbourne native could be selected to represent Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Whether he actually plays or not is a different question.
After suffering a devastating ACL tear the last time he represented Australia, one can understand why Exum might skip the Olympics. For a player reliant on athleticism, particularly with his first step, such injuries have a profound impact. The clip below is a good example of why Exum was the fifth overall pick back in 2014.