My fellow Dante Exum Islanders:
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Island in 2018-19.
Over the first seven games, Exum averaged 10 points, 2.4 rebounds and two assists (19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per 36 minutes). He was plus-15 in 132 minutes.
One area for concern was his below-average .527 True Shooting Percentage. But that was about it. The defense, ball control and attacking all looked pretty good. And Utah Jazz fans from around the world were arriving on the Island in their makeshift rafts in droves.
Exum’s next 16 games (and the team’s next 17), though, tested the mettle of some of the Island’s bravest residents.
He averaged 4.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and two assists (11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per 36 minutes). He was minus-54 in 243 minutes, with an abysmal .437 True Shooting Percentage.
During this month-long stretch, Exum had a “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision,” three appearances of fewer than 10 minutes and two appearances of fewer than five minutes.
Many of us questioned Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s commitment to Exum Islanders. Lines were drawn. And the fanbase was torn asunder, much like it was during the Ty Corbin era.
Things were starting to look bleak. And, just as a mass exodus from the Island began, things turned once again.
Over his last 10 games, Exum is averaging 6.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists (16.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per 36 minutes). He’s plus-39 in 151 minutes, with a .598 True Shooting Percentage, over this stretch.
In what has become a fairly rare occurrence over the last three seasons, there was relative peace and harmony on the Island. Many who abandoned the young guard returned. They were welcomed with open arms after Exum’s NINE-assist performance in a 30-point annihilation of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Some are already making their way back to the water after the follow-up to that game, a 1-of-5, minus-nine performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But those of us who’ve maintained hope throughout Exum’s career are used to this. At the slightest hint of turmoil, plenty ditch the Island. Don’t worry. We’ll keep the fires going for you.
In terms of season-long numbers, Exum is still well down from the encouraging 14 games he had in 2017-18.
But there are reasons for optimism. Exum’s .422 Free Throw Rate is a career high. His True Shooting Percentage is above his career average (and Donovan Mitchell’s 2018-19 True Shooting Percentage). His average Win Shares per 48 Minutes is also above his career level, and it almost doubles Mitchell’s 2018-19 Win Shares per 48.
Of course, I don’t bring that up to discount Mitchell. This isn’t the State of the Spida Address. But it does help to see, despite constant cries of “Bust!” from some, that Exum’s struggles aren’t unique among Jazz guards this season.
So, despite a rough patch and some underwhelming advanced numbers, there is plenty of reason for optimism on Exum Island.
The things that led us to purchase our property on the Island are still evident almost every time he plays. He gets to the paint whenever he wants. His perimeter defense can be a game-changer. He throws maybe the best lob pass on the team. When he’s thinking pass, his ability to collapse the defense can lead to plenty of dropoff and kickout assists.
As soon as he finds a way to string all that together consistently, with the addition of better finishing at the rim, the Island may not be big enough for everyone who wants back on.