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The Downbeat #1992 - Figuring out Dante Exum’s “Don’t call it a comeback” soph season

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Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, and Rudy Gobert. Oh my!

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Is Rodney Hood going to make the leap as a player, akin to the leap we want for the Utah Jazz team? Are you playing NBA 2K? It’s a way to teach fans of other teams what real basketball looks like. Also: Mark Eaton and John Stockton worked great together. Will we see the second coming of that with Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum? I hope so. Oh, and much more Dante Exum talk in general.

The Utah Jazz have struggled through some less than impressive point guard play over the last few seasons. I don’t know what it says, and I’m hoping that the play is more indicative of the coaching style and overall shift to more wing-oriented play, when rookie point guard after rookie point guard helped contribute to some of the worst seasons ever from Jazz point guards. Which comes counter to the eye-ball test and pre-NBA expectations that were put on those players: Trey Burke (#9 Pick in 2013), Dante Exum (#5 Pick in 2014), Raul Neto (#47 Pick in 2013, rookie season in 2015-2016). These three guys weren’t all Top 5 picks in the NBA Draft, but all of them were surely supposed to be superior to Mo Williams and ancient Jamaal Tinsley, right?

Honestly, I think the PG deficiency has been slightly overblown because a) Utah has had stellar lead guard play for generations thanks to Jim McElroy, Rickey Green, John Stockton, and Deron Williams; and b) center, power forward, and the wing spots seem that much more settled. But it was enough of a legit worry that the front office went out and made moves to get George Hill.

Hill is a fine starter, but I don’t think he’s someone who is going to take a team over the top. And I honestly hope that our front office wants to construct a team capable of winning a title. Which brings it back to Dante Exum. There’s so much uncertainty with the young baby Kangaroo (a Joey if you will). I don’t expect him to dominate in 2016-2017; however, I do continue to have high expectations for him.

Thankfully, I am not alone.

Andy B. Larsen went out to find if there was a consensus opinion on what Exum is and what we should expect. More importantly, how is he playing right now?

Andy writes:

That's the last time fans saw Dante Exum play in a Jazz uniform. 444 days of not watching the Jazz's highly-touted, expected-to-be-franchise-changing, silver-lining-of-a-horrible-season, still-maybe-a-future-superstar 21-year-old point guard. Making things even more difficult is just how well Exum played on that date, scoring 20 points and picking up five assists in 28 minutes of play.

On that day, Exum showed what had made him so hyped in the first place: offensive potential. He got to the line 10 times, moving aggressively after a passive season. He showed off court vision once he was in the lane, giving easy baskets to Jack Cooley and others. And then he tore his ACL on August 4, 2015, in a friendly game with the Australian national team, on an aggressive drive to the paint.

Since then, he's spent most of the 444 days rehabbing, only being cleared for full-contact basketball activities in in late May. Besides that, though, he's been working on the parts of his game he can work on with an injured knee: upper body strength and his shooting form.

Andy Larsen, KSL.com, 2016

I’m not going to spill the beans, check out what Andy found out! Read it all here! But personally, I’m encouraged. I don’t know what kind of return on the Top 5 Draft pick the Jazz are going to get from Exum over his rookie contract (going into year three of his contract now, even if he has played in only 82 games total). But I think it’s important to keep the faith in him.

Even if it means being patient for another few months before he takes his big step.

If Dante Exum is going to be as good as we hope — how much should he play this year? (Per game? Per season?) Should he start?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Utah Jazz Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

My best case scenario would be to play in as many games as possible (so 80+ would be nice), and approaching at least half the game. As a rookie he played in 82 games and played 22.2 mpg. Giving him a minutes boost will be tricky with all the point guards on the team right now, but I think it is achievable if he gets some looks at SG/SF in Quin Snyder’s system.

Getting over that 2,000+ minutes in a season threshold is a must for me. But I wouldn’t play him over 28 mpg in order to make that happen. Not in the first year off of an ACL injury like he had.

Is Rodney Hood going to make that leap? A few people think he could, including national writers.

Adam Joseph of Basketball Breakdown (you know, Coach Nick’s site?) thinks so. He writes:

An NBA Player’s trajectory is never the same from one to another, depending on how a rookie adjusts physically, to how they adapt to and endure all the different challenges the league throws at them. Once that is achieved, focus turns to making their own mark on the NBA.

Rodney Hood has certainly enjoyed a relatively smooth transition to the league, despite speed bumps which saw him miss 32 games in his rookie campaign. He took his next step forward in his second season, and the sophomore slump was not an issue for the former Duke guard.

His 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game were steady increases across the board, and despite increases in volume his efficiency did not suffer. The Utah Jazz were crippled by injuries, and Hood’s increase in responsibility saw him respond well to their adversity, particularly with Alec Burks sidelined the majority of the season.

The Jazz were then aggressive in the market this offseason, adding Point Guard George Hill as the bridge to Dante Exum’s future, veteran swingman Joe Johnson and uniquely talented big Boris Diaw.

Salt Lake City’s franchise is ready to take the next leap into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, with Hood as a focal point of the team. Last season only Rudy Gobert had a better on/off court rating than Hood’s.

Adam Joseph, Basketball Breakdown, 2016

You’re going to have to click on that link to read the meat and potatoes of what he says about Hood; and the link is worth it as you get breakdowns on the potential breakout years we’re going to see from Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Steven Adams as well!

Mark Eaton tweeted this yesterday. Man, I can’t imagine how much of a hassle it must have been to play against him and John Stockton at the same time.

All the stops, steals, and blocks really worked well together back in the 1987-88 season where the team was 6th in pace, with 101.5 possessions per game, while locking teams down as the 1st place NBA team in DRTG that season.

Soooo . . . if they could do it, why can’t Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum do something crazy like that this year as anchors on defense?

So NBA2K17 is a very fun game. I’ll be dropping a “review” of sorts sometime this weekend as I’ve had it for a while now (I had pre-ordered it and it was sent to me early). If you are a Utah Jazz fan it’s always interesting to see how your team is going to be presented. I don’t mean the new uniforms or arena or a ‘roster update’ . . . I mean how the team actually plays. For the most casual of fans, people who don’t even watch games on TV regularly but will play the game, their only interaction with (or against) the Jazz will come from this.

So that’s why having a competent, accurate, representation is important to me. Even if it’s in the digital realm.

Out of the box the team has juggled around some of the player stats and roles from previous seasons. For the most part I am happy. I still have no idea how to use Gordon Hayward. But I’m having a lot of success with some other players. Derrick Favors is devastating in the pick and roll. Alec Burks is a corner pimp. Joe Johnson is going to be someone who can get 20 a game easily if that’s who you choose to go with. But the team is more than just the collection of players and their ratings. (Joel Bolomboy available to the team via online roster update, out of the box the team is rolling with Tibor Pleiss at the 15th man.)

And the team plays slow, works the clock, and can produce good results if you are playing the way these players should be used. If you are going to run up and down and mimic the style of the Golden State Warriors you will have less success. (Unless you have George Hill dropping threes all day, which I’ve managed to do a few times — which has made him very over powered.)

I’ve been much more successful with the #MyTeam game mode where it’s essentially fantasy basketball. You can make the best possible team out of unlocked (or auctioned for) player cards and accessories. Right now the game hasn’t released a lot of Hall of Famers, so making that “perfect team” isn’t quite possible. But I’m having fun running with this group.

NBA 2K17 MyTeam 9 23 2016 AllThatAmar

(Glen Rice at PF is a huge trade off, especially with the guys on my bench — but I am committed to it because I had to pay so much for him via the auction, forced to sell about 50 pairs of Adidas, Nike, And1, Jordan Brand, and other shoes to be able to get him! Oh yes, Glen Rice was a Jazzman for a minute between the Salary dump that got him to SLC and when they waived him.)

(Above: Jeff Hornacek with the game winner at the buzzer against the Portland Trail Blazers.)

Beating people with the Jazz, or a Jazz themed team, is the little I can do to help spread the knowledge that our team is good. And please stop hating the Jazz. (The most unpopular team in the league according to a number of social media metrics.)