Aussies in NBA: Exum gains insight from the sidelines
The 2015-16 NBA season is fast coming to a close, and the Utah Jazz are duking it out with my Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets for the final two playoff spots in the West. It's a tough fight that may well go right down to the wire and be decided on the last day of the season.
But outside of the Jazz's playoff push, the coming end of the season means that Dante Exum, their designated point guard of the future, is getting ever closer to getting on the court for them again. He recently joined Spence Checketts and Gordon Monson on The Big Show to chat about how his rehabilitation has been going, and how he's taken his time out to work on the non-physical aspects of his game.
"(The knee) is good, rehab has obviously been a long path to where I’m at now. [It's] just a time thing now, just trying to wait, but it’s been going good so far," Dante said. Nothing particularly new on that front. On-court work continues apace, but there are still limitations in place.
"I’ve been cleared to do everything except contact. [In the last month] I’ve started cutting, being on the court and being able to come off screens, shoot… but I think in the next month or so I’ll start to get cleared to do ‘unpredicted movement’ (reacting to an opponent’s random movement)."
Exum's shooting is one of the more obvious areas in his game that needs improvement, and attention has been duly paid to it. "[My] shot has changed a little bit. The biggest thing was making sure I don’t have two hands on the ball as I’m releasing [the shot]. That was a big issue with my shot last year that I didn’t realize [at the time], but we’ve changed that, so the shot’s been straighter for the most part."
As to be expected with a long-term layoff like this, keeping mentally engaged has proven to be the biggest challenge. As written about earlier in the season, Dante mentioned fitting in with his teammates without being able to play alongside them was one such hurdle to overcome.
"It’s a lot of mental aspects that you have to overcome; obviously not playing is the biggest one. Still trying to be part of the team, in any way that you can, traveling with the team, going out to dinner when you’re on the road. And then coming back; trying not to be afraid to play and [the] fear of injury again. This is what the rehab is for. But it’s given me an opportunity to work on everything I need to work on, step back from the game and be able to learn."
And learn he has. Watching games from the sidelines has given him a valuable opportunity to see things from a coach's perspective. "One of the biggest things [I've learned] is controlling the tempo. When you’re off the court and not playing, you realize, when the opposing team has gone on a 5-0, 10-0 run, how you can change the tempo, what plays to call. I’m always sitting next to a coach and he’ll always give me tips [on what plays we can run at that given moment]."
"As a point guard, when you’re out on the court you need to be able to do things on the fly. If you know Gordon [Hayward] can hit a jumper going right, what play do you run to get him that shot if he’s on fire?"
Lastly, he's more than happy to be seen as Utah's leading star point guard of the future.
"I embrace [the fan’s expectations]. Being a 5th pick comes with its responsibilities, and it’s why I’m working everyday and I do the rehab, trying to get back stronger. It’s just something I embrace and I wanna come back and be better than ever."
Despite being out for the whole season, it definitely looks like Dante hasn't allowed this year to be a lost one. Here's looking forward to a smarter, stronger Dante Exum in 2016-17!