It’s another Friday in Utah Jazz land, and thus another Jazz Jam session here at SLC Dunk. Today we’re addressing point guard Dante Exum, his injury, his performance, and what a mess this has left the point guard spot in. Of course, this means discussing Trey Burke, Raul Neto, and others like Bryce Cotton. And yes, Cotton is mentioned because these questions were replied to over 10 days ago. I’m just really bad at this content creation stuff. Anyway, Dante Exum . . . a blues jam session:
1. Let's get the sad_trombone.wav out of the way now and talk about Dante Exum. Missing him for a season, a critical season for a 20 year old trying to learn the American game, is going to suck. What's the silver lining this season for him?
Diana: The only silver lining that is possible in my opinion is that he gets to watch his teammates and learn from them. Really though I am having a hard time coming up with a silver lining.
UtesFan89: Yeah, it sucks to have to try and learn without actually playing – but at least he’s going to be there and be able to study the game with the team. And as the team builds in chemistry, he’s going to get a better feeling of where exactly he stands with things (especially with how Burke plays during the season). Overall though, I’m not how much of a silver lining he’s going to find sitting on the bench and watching Trey Burke go out every game and try to take the role that he (most likely) wants.
AllThatAmar: The silver lining, crazy as it sounds, does exist. And yes, first of all it’s horrible that Dante is going to miss this season. Some players have missed early seasons and still become great, Michael Jordan is a notable example, as he played only 451 minutes in his second season. Of course, Jordan is a bad example because a) he played college ball, and b) was 22 in the year he missed – not 20. Still though, being injured now isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s just very close to it.
I think Dante is going to gain a lot this year by being with the team, and having a lot of undivided attention from coaches. He’s one of the smarter players on the club and will soak everything up like a sponge. He’s going to see what works and does not work this season, and more importantly, he’s going to find a niche for himself. The coaches will be sure to point out what the team is missing on the floor, and what Dante needs to work on. The best players are able to see the floor and then react according to where all the pieces are. Dante is going to be a chess master this season because he’s going to be seeing it all as a collective system. He’s not just looking at the point guard play, but how everyone plays. It’s an advantage, even if it would be better to have him playing.
The other thing is that he’s going to work on getting stronger. A year dedicated to his body is something he couldn’t do if he was also expected to play 30 minutes a night. Also, it’s a year where he’s getting directed instruction and feedback. Last season there was just so much for him to grasp, from learning the plays, scouting the other team, making sure not to miss the bus to the arena, nutrition, and you know, living as an adult human for the first time in your life. This season will slow down for him, and he’ll retain more of everything, including his physique. And of course, by being injured this season he could be getting stronger to prevent future, worse, injuries that could crop up because he didn’t work on his body. It’s like how the immune system works. And the darkest silver lining to this injury is that he’s not capable of having a worse one this season. He’s already out. And this is as bad as it will get.
2. What part of his game last season frustrated you, and what part of his game (what little we got to see) this season were you most looking forward to?
Diana: At times Exum played pretty timid I would get frustrated when I thought it could take it to the hole and he didn't. Overall though I was very happy with Exum, I especially loved his defense. Even as a rookie it was a thing of absolute beauty.
UtesFan89: There was an apparently lack of aggressiveness, though it was probably from him trying to adjust to the NBA game/style. But seeing him standing in the corner offensively, seeing him be a bit apprehensive when he could’ve attacked the rim (something we saw at times, but not others) – it was frustrating, mostly because it felt like the biggest thing he was lacking was confidence in his own game. Not sure what it stems from completely (though I’m sure some of it is the fact that he was a young rookie that wasn’t making the same college-to-NBA leap as everyone else, but instead from the international game – where things are different), but it seemed very apparent at times. I felt like having a season under his belt was really going to help him in that regards – being more assertive, being more confident in his game, and being able to fit the role that Quin wants from his PG. I guess we’ll have to see next season.
AllThatAmar: I echo the thoughts of everyone else here when I say I wished he was more assertive. Now, I get it. In summer league as a rookie Gordon Hayward was very passive as well, but I think part of that was his own internal locus. He knew he was good, he wasn’t trying to force the issue. I don’t see the same thing with Dante. As a rookie I don’t know if he knew he belonged, or knew if he was supposed to be so assertive with the ball on offense. He did drift to the corners, while most other athletic point guards drove the ball into the heart of the defense. That was frustrating.
Now, in summer league this last year he looked dynamic and awesome. Everything a Top 5 pick should be. Not seeing that is going to hurt.
3. I think that one game he played in the Utah Summer League against the Boston Celtics' point guard bully Marcus Smart really changed the dynamic. The team, teammates, and fans got to see an aggressive, purposeful offensive player who looked every bit like a Top 5 pick. If the Jazz fans did not see such massive improvement from Dante then missing him this upcoming season would not be as bad as it currently is. In fact, because Dante looked so graceful and competent Jazz fans are going to fairly or unfairly judge all 2015-2016 point guard play against those 40 minutes in July. Agree or disagree?
Diana: I was unable to see that game because we were on an Alaskan cruise. I think it’s fair though to judge our point guard play against a high standard. It’s time for this team to grow up and make the playoffs. We need better play from our point guards. If they are not up to it then we need one who is. That said I want Exum as our starting point guard next year so it might be difficult to make a trade that doesn't impact that.
UtesFan89: I don’t know if we’ll judge all point guard play on those minutes, but it will be in the back of our heads whenever Burke/Neto/whomever else struggle and come across as being not confident enough – which isn’t fair to anyone. Everyone has their own game. I think what those 40 minutes showed us was that Exum has developed a little bit more confidence in his game (and how it translates over to the NBA), and that’s something we can look forward to next year.
AllThatAmar: It was a super small sample size, but it was more than enough to convince the Jazz to shut him down. So if they were excited you can believe I was excited. If Dante looked pedestrian on offense then it would be easier to dismiss what the team would be missing in 2015-16. He did not though. He looked like a legit point guard of the future, equal to if not better than Deron Williams. Seeing that, and seeing only a glimpse of it, is super hard. It’s like making eye contact with someone on a bus or train, or in an airport, or a restaurant . . . and feeling some deep connection . . . but you never even talk to them, and you part your separate ways, only to realize that maybe that was your soul mate.
That’s probably more romantic than it needed to be. But we Jazz fans are a passionate bunch. I can imagine that the lingering thoughts of Dante will be in the backs of our heads all season long, no matter what.
4. Going forward, does this set back the Jazz a season or more?
Diana: This does set the Jazz back. How could it not? Exum was a big part of our plan going forward so of course him being out for an entire season will influence our play and our results. It also impacts next season when Exum returns. It might take time for him to find his chemistry again with the team.
UtesFan89: No. The Jazz will see for sure what they have in Burke (yeah, I know they’ve been seeing for a couple seasons, but both sides now know this is make-or-break, part the final), and Exum will have another season to build confidence in his game (though admittedly, it will be hard when he’s not playing). Maybe it’ll set them back a little bit at the beginning of next season, but I doubt it’ll be a season (or more). Plus now we get to see what we have in Neto too.
AllThatAmar: It is a setback. It really screws many things up. Gordon Hayward needs to be convinced not to opt-out of his last year of his contract and stay with the Jazz. Derrick Favors needs to feel like he made the right move by going all-in with the Jazz, and not feel like waiting all those years off the bench only to not win was in his future. So for our two most important players their career aspirations are going to become bigger and bigger needs now that they both have their money and have started their families. (Seriously, what’s left? Career goals. And for both that means playoff wins.) Having Dante be a year behind screws up the timing for those two guys in their sixth season of their careers. And their careers, and time in Utah possibly, are finite.
Outside of the fact that the Jazz were relying on a teen to be a core player while another group of important players are closer to 30, the Jazz are set back on the court. Dante’s defense was phenomenal for such a young man. Other teams are going to love taking it to our point guards with Dante in street clothes. While the Jazz doubled up on defense in the paint, not having Dante out there on the perimeter as the first line of defense will still hurt.
There’s going to be necessary experimentation, and then next season, the necessary re-integration. Depending on how quickly things progress in Dante Year 3 the Jazz could catch up to where the team was supposed to be. We’ll see.
5. Who is going to start the season at point guard for the Jazz? Who is going to finish this season as the starter at point guard for the Jazz?
Diana: I think Trey Burke will start at the beginning of the season. I think either a point guard via trade or Raul Neto will end the season as the starting point guard.
UtesFan89: I mean, if this isn’t Burke, it’s a huge upset/problem, right? I don’t think starting Neto or Cotton is the answer yet – especially if the Jazz are serious about competing for the playoffs this season. If we’re more serious about competing with the Lakers/Sixers, on the other hand, it could be one of them. (I will go on record right now as saying that I am 100% against tanking – no matter what.) As for finishing the season … no idea. If things go well, it’ll be Burke (or some trade acquisition). If it’s not one of those 2, then the season was probably a disappointment (at least in the playoff sense). Nothing against Cotton/Neto, of course, I just don’t think they’re starters this season unless the Jazz have given up on the playoffs/Burke and wanna see who they want to keep around to back-up Exum next season. … Or maybe Cotton ends up being the next coming of (enter your favorite undrafted PG who became a star) and steals Burke’s starting job mid-season and never looks back. Or maybe I'm just being too slow to buy into the Neto hype and he's going to run away with things by December.
AllThatAmar: It almost has to be Trey Burke. Losing a starting spot to a rookie two years in a row could be very harmful to his psyche. And a possible mental block was the key to his on court problems last season. He missed free throws. He was missing shots he made over his entire college career off the pick and roll. He felt the need to shoot more in transition to get himself going. All of those court problems had to come from some off the court issue. Adding more issues to him doesn’t look like a method to get a return on the initial Shabazz Muhammad / Gorgui Dieng investment that Dennis Lindsey made.
It could be Burke if he holds it together, but the money line seems to favor Raul Neto. We all love him and will no doubt gush about him as the season progresses. So I will keep it brief: in another world, another time, maybe we coulda gotten married. There, I said what you all won’t say. You love Raul Neto. For reals. I do too.
6. Should NBA players (or pro players on contract in other leagues) be held out of international competition, or is it an honor to be selected to be amongst the 12 best at something in your nation? After all, John Stockton nearly made the 1984 Olympic team, while playing for them in 1992 and 1996.
Diana: That decision is between the players, the players' families, and their national teams. I do not have an opinion.
UtesFan89: It’s an honor. I think it’s stupid to even think about holding them out. These guys are out representing their countries doing what they love – that’s a huge honor. If they want to play, they should play. And have full support of the team. (Plus, more playing time is never bad. Especially for someone like Exum who is still young and needs to build his confidence in his game against the best players.) And if they don't want to play, then that's totally cool too. It's their choice - why do others want to make their decision for them? I don't get it. ... And let’s be honest. People are going to get hurt. If not then, then during training camp or pre-season or during the season. Would having had Exum around for 3 games of the season have made things better in any way? If anything, an injury later on would have been that much worse – the Jazz would’ve been thrown into a bind during the season and been left scrambling to look for whoever they could find as a replacement. This injury happened at a time where the Jazz were able to figure out both what they have, and what options were available to them, and not rush into anything. People are going to get hurt, whenever. It comes with the game. Not saying it’s a good thing ever (especially not for the player), but in terms of the team – you’d much rather have it happen before the season than during. But yeah - honor to be selected, and whether a player participates or not should solely be up to them.
(Get better soon, Dante. We need you.)
AllThatAmar: I think your job shouldn’t prevent you from doing your duty for your nation. If I was asked to represent Canada for the glory of my home and native land I would not say ‘no’. I couldn’t imagine a situation where it would be fair to deny someone who has an elite level skill to hold back and hurt their homeland with their absence.
What did you agree with? Who was most wrong (probably AllThatAmar)? What did we miss out? And what’s your take on the Dante situation now that we’re months removed from the initial shock?