Dante Exum's more than proven over three Summer League games, that he's head and shoulders above the competition, and ready for more challenges.
I wrote about what we could be seeing from Exum in the Utah Summer League, namely shooting, aggressiveness, and finishing through contact.
It's probably safe to say that Exum delivered. The 6'6 guard was a leader on this Jazz team, averaging 20 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shot very, very well. He was 52% on field goals, and an impressive 41% from the three-point line (stats).
"He did a lot of good things," Jazz assistant Alex Jensen said, following Utah's win over the Boston Celtics (link). "I think he did get better, but it's a continuing process. That's the thing about Dante — he's still not as good as he can be, and hopefully he realises that as well."
Here are a few thoughts from Exum's Summer League dominance, and what lies ahead.
It was obvious that Exum made sure to be the aggressor and keep defenses off-balance, whenever he had the ball. He looked confident, led the team in scoring, and managed to get buckets in a variety of ways: three-point pull ups, mid-range floaters, to layups that looked pretty awkward at times, but worked really well.
Having confidence in one's game, translates to aggressiveness on the court. When Exum does not hesitate to pull the trigger on outside shots, defenders think twice about backing out too far. Read the distance wrong, and it leads to one of two outcomes: an undefended shot, or an explosive blow-by.
Exum's aggressiveness on drives not only translated to him scoring, but also forced defences to collapse. This opened up passing opportunities to teammates for easy points.
The Jazz guard spoke about learning from Baron Davis when it came to passing, and how he wanted to apply it to his own game.
“Definitely that point guard game. I think, the way he’s able to get into the paint and find guys. I played a couple of pickup games with him. I said to him after I played. I said,’Baron, you weren’t even looking at me and I was open. I knew the ball was coming to me.’
“That’s something I definitely want to develop, where if a guy’s open on the court, they know that ball’s coming to them.”
So long as Exum keeps this aggressiveness moving into the season ahead, we can expect nothing but good things to happen for the team.
2. Body control
Exum has displayed explosiveness off the dribble and an ability to blow by his opponent. Having said that, he's yet to master control. Exum needs to get a handle on his own speed, and how he's moving with the ball.
Baron Davis pointed out Exum's need to work on body control, during a Summer League in-game interview.
“I would say, with his speed he would need to work on being able to stop and have balance, and then also, just more so body control," Davis said.
"Being able to have a little wriggle. Not so much moving in a straight line, but being able to wriggle and zigzag, especially with his speed then it becomes extremely deadly.”
Straight line drives right to the basket are predictable. Once properly scouted, it allows defences to get their feet set, and get ready to take a charge. Being able to snake around defenders at full speed and finish regardless, will be something that could take Exum's scoring to the next level.
This is the one improvement we really needed to see.
As I mentioned earlier, Exum had shot a career 30.8% from downtown, and 6.7% on pull-up threes (link).
Then, Exum proceeded to open up Utah Summer League with this.
I had expected him to shoot better, but this went far beyond my expectations. This is the guy who had mostly gone for catch-and-shoot threes his entire NBA career. To pull up and make that shot without a care, like it was the easiest thing in the world? It was amazing.
“For me, individually, being able to make a jump shot,” Exum had said, prior to the commencement of Summer League. “Having the confidence to pull up, continue to work on my three, that’s a big part of the game.”
Exum ended the Utah Summer League shooting 5 of 12 from three-point range. It's a decidedly tiny sample and as usual, there's nothing that would readily translate to the NBA season. The level of competition is lower, defences aren't as locked in, and five makes don't say anything from a statistical point of view, since one miss changes the entire narrative.
Do we just dismiss his shooting as an outlier? Not really. There's much to be said for Exum's level of confidence in his shots, in the way he gets shots off in front of scrambling defenders. They won't necessarily translate to points every time he lets it fly, but it's a start.
Dante Exum has made massive strides since the 2016/17 season, committing to additional off-season work in Utah, getting tips from Baron Davis, and even participating in the Utah Summer League. Utah assistant coach Alex Jensen has commented on Exum's conditioning needing to be better, but overall, the results have been promising.
Exum confirmed after the Celtics game, that he will be back in Australia for a short break, before returning to the US for more summer work. He's determined to turn things around, and he's ready to make it happen.