The pressure is on.
Dante Exum's no longer a rookie. Coming into his third (or fourth, if you count his missed 2015/16 missed season) season of play, Exum's made the unusual decision of returning to the Summer League.
Let's not forget about his decision to stay in SLC for off-season training, one which might have been a coaching staff decision (or suggestion), rather than his own. Exum needs to show tangible signs of improvement now, and not the flashes of promise he's exhibited so far.
More importantly? He's not expected to be just another player in the background. It's time for him to take the stage, front and centre.
“I don't think it's any one thing, but when you watch the game, he can't blend in,” Jazz summer league coach Alex Jensen had said earlier last week.
“[Exum is] too talented and too good to blend in, because a lot of guys are in their first and second year. A stranger could come watch the game and not know anybody and say, 'You're one of the best players on the court.'
And I think a lot of that comes with moxie, confidence and leadership - it just kind of stands out."
The Summer League is a proving ground, against a level of raw, unproven competition. There's no question about it, Exum needs to show that he can dominate the scene. Here's what we think Dante Exum needs to be putting on show, in the upcoming Utah Summer League.
Exum's shooting has left room for questions, especially in a league where shooting is becoming less a premium, and more a requisite.
Through his two seasons so far, he's shot 30.8% from the three-point line, with the recent 2016/17 season standing at 29.5%. He's made 32.6% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, but an alarming 6.7% on pull-up treys (link).
There is a need for Exum to develop his pull-up game, especially from deep. Expanding his offensive game keeps the defender guessing, and opens up opportunities to attack.
Exum knows it too.
"For me, individually, being able to make a jump shot," Exum pointed shooting out, among other goals for this summer. "Having the confidence to pull up, continue to work on my three, that's a big part of the game."
Having said that, it's unrealistic to expect Exum to morph into Stephen Curry, and start swishing long bombs with uncanny accuracy. At the very least, expect Exum to make his catch-and-shoot opportunities count.
Being a good shooter means defenders have to close out hard, or risk open shots. Hard closeouts inevitably lead to shot fakes, and driving opportunities. Driving has always been Exum's calling card before the NBA came along, and he needs to put that on display.
Exum cannot afford to relax; he's the seasoned veteran and leader of this Utah team; the Summer League incarnation anyway. He needs to attack, attack, and attack. Be it shooting with confidence, or driving to score, Exum needs to lead the team, and not be the guy standing hesitantly in the corner.
3. Finishing through contact
Exum has made some impressive finishes at the rim last season, and there's no reason to believe he won't do it all again in Summer League.
Exum made nearly half of his layup attempts last season, per NBAsavant (link). His dribbles become more controlled; he makes better use of high screens to get open space, before bulldozing right at the rim. He's even shown on occasion, a mid-range floater that helped against aggressive rim protectors.
Now that he's had time to work further on his game and given free rein to attack, expect plenty of drives, merciless dunks, and solid finishes.
"I thought about [the Summer League] and I just wanted to go out and compete, have fun. Get out on the court with some of the new guys," Exum had said, after a recent practice session.
"I've been working for the last two months, so hopefully I can incorporate some of the stuff that I've been working on."
Just play, Exum. We're all looking forward to it.
The Utah Summer League runs from 3-6 July 2017, US time, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
The Utah Jazz will be participating in three games over three days:
Day 1, 3 Jul: Spurs vs Jazz, 7pm MT (Australia ET: 4 Jul 11am)
Day 2, 5 Jul: 76ers vs Jazz, 7pm MT (Australia ET: 6 Jul, 11am)
Day 3, 6 Jul: Celtics vs Jazz, 7pm MT (Australia ET: 7 Jul, 11am)
Game schedule: Official Jazz media release
Fellow Australians Nathan Sobey, Mitch Creek will also be at the Utah Summer League, playing alongside Exum the Utah Jazz.
Find out which other Australians are playing in this year's NBA Summer League.