(This post was written for Upside & Motor by David Vertsberger of Hardwood Paroxysm. David is a part of the HP contingent in Las Vegas for Summer League this year, and you should follow him on Twitter at @_Verts.)
The NBA got its first taste of Dante Exum Saturday night when his Utah Jazz opened up Summer League play against the Philadelphia 76ers. Although it was just a mere one game sample size, I made it my mission to watch the mysterious Australian import for no other reason than to get a feel for how his game will translate. Here’s what I was able to make of him.
First of all, his vision is extraordinary. Often, rookies go baseline and get stuck behind the backboard with nowhere to turn, usually leading to a turnover. Not with Exum. He got himself into said position multiple times and almost always found a lurking teammate open for the pass. These situations show his great feel of where players are on the court, one time finding a shooter spotting up in three-point range behind him while he was mid-leap in the paint. His vision is complemented by his ability to accurately pass the ball. Exum threw maybe one bad pass all night, connecting with teammates from the wildest angles and with pinpoint precision.
Exum’s athleticism was also a talking point coming in, and above all else it was his speed that impressed onlookers. He has little strength to muscle defenders out of his way, yet was able to drive by players effectively because, simply put, the dude’s a blur. His speed was never more frightening than when he would cut off the ball, going from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye. Seriously, he’d be at a standstill and suddenly zoom into a backdoor cut, leaving defenders in the dust. If his jumper develops, it’ll make him a deadly threat coming off screens.
Speaking of playing away from the ball, I’m not so sure Exum likes it. Perhaps watching him alone skewed this next observation, but it looked like he was calling for the ball excessively. It would happen several times every possession, though I can’t really blame him. Exum’s defender sagged on him often to go help, leaving him open behind the arc often.
Exum handles the ball low to the hardwood, making for crossovers that leave defenders in his tracks. He also pulled out a hesitation dribble that ended in a reverse layup, once again putting his speed on display. His ball security faltered a bit when pressured, losing his dribble at times, but chances are this won’t be a lasting problem. Another issue was his decision-making. Yes, he’s an incredible passer and has no problems creating out of the pick-and-roll, but that was all he wanted to do. We rarely saw Exum swing the ball to his teammates instead of making his own play, however this could have been a byproduct of his teammates’ not giving him the ball.
Exum was most underwhelming on the defensive end. Despite his quickness, length and leaping ability, he was a non-factor defensively, never willing to put himself in front of his man. It was as if he was trying to avoid contact on that end as much as possible, even leaving his man enough to make it look as if he were positioning himself to play some help D, but never really doing so. Most baffling though was his transition defense. Exum sprinted back maybe once, the rest of the time opting for a jog back. I get that he may not be in peak physical form with a lack of actual game appearances recently, but the most athletically gifted player on the floor should not be the last player back on defense. Laziness may not be the entire answer, but it was certainly a portion of it.
In all, Exum has a few tools that’ll make him a very good NBA player if developed correctly. Jumping to any conclusions otherwise would be ignoring the outrageously small sample size, as he’ll likely grow out of all of the above issues mentioned with the right nurturing.