Dante Exum nears long awaited return with Utah Jazz
To say that Dante Exum has had a rough start to his NBA career, would be an understatement. The 5th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft endured two long-term injuries in his short professional career, both ironically occurring outside of the actual NBA season.
In August 2015, Dante suffered a torn ACL in an exhibition game playing for the Australian Boomers. After undergoing successful reconstructive surgery, Exum missed his entire sophomore season and began the long road to recovery. His return was a struggle, as he was unable to to solidify his place in a strong Utah Jazz rotation. He did see the floor in 7 of their 11 playoff match ups, but in only one of those (Game 7 elimination at Golden State) did he see more then 14 minutes of court time.
This led the Jazz to send Exum to the NBA's Summer League, a tournament that is normally a mix of first and second year players combined with camp contract candidates. Exum proved to be a cut above the rest, averaging 20 points and 6.3 assists, while knocking down an extremely encouraging 41.7 percent of his triples. He appeared set to cement his place, in a Jazz rotation that had just lost All-Star guard Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency.
It was all running according to plan, when an awkward fall in a preseason game against Phoenix on October 6th resulted in a serious shoulder injury. Surgery to stabilise the AC joint was required, and the availability of Exum's contractually vital fourth season hung in the balance.
On SEN radio's breakfast show on Monday morning, Tony Jones of the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that Exum is "within 10 days to two weeks away from making his season debut." He went on to further detail how Exum's workout intensity has recently increased, and that full contact drills are now underway.
Exum will become a restricted free agent at the completion of this season, meaning that he will be open to sign offer sheets with rival NBA franchises. Utah, however, has the right to match that offer if that situation is to occur.
When asked about where the Jazz stand on Exum's future, Jones explained that the young guard's length and athleticism allows him to be a potential cornerstone to the team's future. Jones also elaborated on Utah's commitment to the 22 year-old Aussie, pointing to the potential of a Donovan Mitchell and Dante Exum backcourt, which would allow both guys to handle the ball and defend multiple positions from point guard to small forward.
Right now, Joe Ingles and the Jazz are pressing hard for a playoff spot in the Western conference, which makes Exum's return awkward. Every game matters, and earning minutes could be difficult, given the fact that he needs to get adjusted to the game, especially after such a long layoff.
With the biggest offseason of his young career ahead, earning the opportunity to make his mark late in the season will be the goal. A 6'6" point guard, Exum is an excellent defender, and if he can regain his Summer League touch from the outside, he will instantly become a valuable commodity in the run home.
After yet another gruelling rehab, a return is just around the corner for the 22 year old, who was once seen as a prodigy pre-draft. Here's hoping he can finally receive a run of good health. He deserves it as much as anyone.