Last season the Utah Jazz won 25 games as the front office pretty much went "all in" on an NBA draft that featured Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Jabari Parker. Through the vagaries of the lottery, Utah dropped down to #5, and gladly picked Australian teen Dante Exum. Post-draft Exum endured a training camp and played in every game for the Jazz in the Las Vegas Summer League. Then flew off to Australia for another training camp, this time for the men's National Team, then played in about 8 tune-up games before the FIBA World Cup even started. After what couldn't possibly be called a long enough break the teen returned to Utah for his THIRD training camp of the off-season.
So far in the regular season Exum has played in every single game for the Jazz this season, 24, and done so off the bench. In his time (418 minutes) he is averaging 17.42 mpg. At this rate if he plays 80 games this season he will finish his rookie campaign with 1,393 minutes under his belt. That's less than 70% of the goal I had in mind for him (again, I'm on that 2,000 minutes kick). From watch the games it's easy to see his potential, his physical abilities put him in a league of his own for Jazz point guards (full post here); while his basketball IQ (especially on defense) is something to gush over. However, it's also clear that he has a very long way to go.
One day he may become a transformational player good enough to be a Top 10 Jazzman. But I know for certain that he'll never get there if he doesn't get the experience needed to build his career foundation on.
Now, before people go too far and put words in my mouth, I'm not advocating for Exum to start (though he may), nor am I suggesting that the team play him more minutes than his body is capable of. He's playing 17 mpg now, if he ups it to 23-25 I don't think anyone is going to complain. After all, in our very own Utah Jazz history we see guys like James Hardy and Blue Edwards averaging about that in their rookie years. Even the first New Orleans Jazz 1st rounder, Rich Kelley, played 17.95 mpg, which is more than Exum is playing right now.
I think Dante COULD play more minutes, and playing more will help him get better faster. On a team that has 6 wins I don't think we can be too proud to admit that what is happening right now on the court is leading to wins today. So let's divorce ourselves from the notion of limiting playing time to players because of "x, y, or z"
Play the kid.
For the Jazz franchise there have been 38 (by my count) rookies who were 1st rounders. Either players drafted by the Jazz, traded for on draft day, or players traded to the Jazz during their rookie seasons.
- Top 5 Picks: Darrell Griffith (#2, 1980), Deron Williams (#3, 2005), Derrick Favors (#3, 2010), Enes Kanter (#3, 2011), and Dante Exum (#5, 2014).
- #6-10: Thurl Bailey (#7, 1983), Rich Kelley (#7, 1975), Trey Burke (#9, 2013), and Gordon Hayward (#9, 2010).
- #11-15: James Hardy (#11, 1978), Alec Burks (#12, 2011), Karl Malone (#13, 1985), Danny Schayes (#13, 1985),Kris Humphries (#14, 2004), Ronnie Brewer (#14, 2006), Dell Curry (#15, 1986), and Jose Ortiz (#15, 1987).
- #16-20: John Stockton (#16, 1984), Kirk Snyder (#16, 2004), Eric Leckner (#17, 1988), Curtis Borchardt (#18, 2002), Luther Wright (#18, 1993), Sasha Pavlovic (#19, 2003), Quincy Lewis (#19, 1999), John Duren (#19, 1980), and Eric Maynor (#20, 2009).
- #21-25: Blue Edwards (#21, 1989), Eric Murdock (#21, 1991), Rodney Hood (#23, 2014), Kosta Koufos (#23, 2008), DeShawn Stevenson (#23, 2000), Andrei Kirilenko (#24, 1999), Raul Lopez (#24, 2001), and Morris Almond (#25, 2007).
- Rest of 1st Round: Rudy Gobert (#27, 2013), Jacque Vaughn (#27, 1997), Greg Ostertag (#28, 1995), and Scott Padgett (#28, 1999).
You may notice that I did not include Top 30 picks that were 2nd rounders like Howard Wood and Aaron James.
Anyway, from the near 40 player data set I plunked (the technical term) all their playing time values (games, minutes, etc) for their first five seasons and then grouped them by Draft Position. This is what you get --
Please note that the #11-15 spot gets stronger as time goes on because more of these guys are no longer on the team, and Karl Malone is a beast. The same thing happens with the #16-20 spot because of John Stockton, and the #21-25 spot because of Andrei Kirilenko.
Which players from our current squad fit in here? Well, 8 of our team's 15 players fit the bill as rookies who were drafted in the first round and played part of their rookie season with the Jazz: Favors, Kanter, Exum, Burke, Hayward, Burks, Hood, and Gobert.
A rookie Top 5 pick in Jazz history has played 25.31 mpg in their first season. Derrick Favors played 20.18 mpg with the Jazz, Enes Kanter only 13.24, and Dante Exum 17.42. Favors minutes went up slowly, plateauing at 30. Kanter's did the same, but at 26 minutes.
If you put it on a graph it doesn't look pretty. It's a bit nicer for Gordon and Trey, who both got regular playing time from the get-go. While G-Time did have 2k minutes in his first season, he did play 17mpg, but then never looked back punching the clock for about 30 a game every year since. He played 36 last season and is playing 35 this year. Trey is a 30 mpg guy right now as well.
The Jazz are also doing "okay" with Alec Burks. The class average for his spot is: 16.96 -> 23.65 -> 32.22 -> 30.95 -> 38.07. So far he has gone 15.92 -> 17.77 -> 28.12 -> 33.21. He's about a year behind a group that included minutes hogs Malone and Ronnie B.
The Jazz haven't had a lot of success with people in the early 20s of the draft, twice blowing with with a PG named Eric. They did get some good years from Blue Edwards as he was an impact player form day one. Blue played 23 mpg as a rookie on a playoff team with Stockton and Malone, and upped that to close to 30 in two years. D-Steve was a HS rook who worked his way into the lineup with effort. And Andrei was a draft and stash who started his career playing nearly 30 mpg. Rodney Hood is far away from that, but he's nearly on point with his minutes for his draft spot cohorts. The average for a rookie at his spot is 17.87, and he is clocking in 17.21. The sad news is that Exum, a Top 5 pick, is getting the playing time of a Top 25 pick.
As for the end of the first round, well, you're not expecting much here. Still, the averages for the first two seasons are 10.03 mpg and 16.62 mpg. Rudy Gobert played 9.64 mpg as a rookie, and is playing 17.13 mpg now. That was a little below average for the previous season, and slightly above for this one.
Ultimately, though, I think a guy like Rudy isn't going to be determined by his draft spot much longer, and he should be playing closer to 20 mpg as soon as possible. That's not going to be the case for Dante Exum, who is always going to be referenced as a Top 5 draft pick. He is learning as he goes, and he has much to learn.
I do think that 17 mpg is too few for him, and that he should be getting more 'reps' at shooting guard, basically playing secondary point guard. Other teams go with two PGs on the floor at once, and the Jazz should adopt this as well. After all, Joe Ingles isn't a Top 5 pick, he shouldn't be preventing Dante from getting out on the court.
There's more data on this subject to consider, but after 24 games I think Dante should play more. I think his body can take it. And I think the rotations can accommodate it easily. After all, years ago under Cotton Fitzsimmons some dude named Jeff Hornacek played starting shooting guard and back up point guard for the Phoenix Suns. All I'm asking for for Dante to play back up point guard and back up shooting guard. I'm not going to bombard you with the rest of the tables, charts, and graphs I have on Dante's situation.
It's an easy sell. He needs to get better. You get better by playing. So play him more. Even Raul Lopez played 19.72 mpg as a rookie.