As we’re constantly reminded, process and experience is the name of the game for Dante Exum right now, and he got a stern reminder of that tonight in Utah’s loss to Boston. In one of his toughest professional games thus far, Exum was held scoreless and largely ineffective on offense, unable to break free of a hounding Boston defense that wouldn’t allow him any space to operate.
Someone who knows a great deal about process and maturity is counterpart Marcus Smart, who spent an extra year in college and has mostly silenced draft-time questions about his mental focus in what’s been an impressive rookie campaign. Smart was a great visual example for Exum tonight, a more aggressive presence who was willing to get into the teeth of the defense in a way Dante is still searching for. Both have excellent court vision already, though, and it was on display in a back-to-back sequence in the second quarter tonight when both made an excellent, incisive pass for an open look.
Smart was candid about Exum’s development after the game, telling Salt City Hoops that while the offense isn’t fully there yet, Dante has really made strides on the defensive end: “He’s improved defensively – I played against him in the U19s, so I kinda knew a little more about him than probably anybody else. He’s playing very well on the defensive end, and his offense is going to come.”
Smart’s praise is well put, and he offers a unique perspective as someone who had up close experience against Exum before he entered the NBA. And though Smart is just a single year older than Dante, he could absolutely be the type of example for the young Aussie to follow. Smart has dedicated himself to the weaker portions of his game, turning what (like Dante) was expected to be a weaker jump shot into one of his stronger points almost overnight, shooting over 36 percent from 3 on the season.
For his part, Jazz coach Quin Snyder chalked much of the visible differences in their development up to their pre-NBA level of competition. “Probably the biggest difference is Dante was either playing in Australia, essentially Australian high school league, or was out for an entire year. So Marcus played against tougher competition and you can see that in his competitiveness and his ability to play the game competitively at a pretty high level.”
Exum still has a long way to go, and nights like tonight will surely serve as an excellent learning experience for him going forward. A dud every now and then is more than understandable, and it should help him plug some of the holes in his game as he sees what opponents are able to exploit. The process continues for Dante, but knowing him, he’ll be ready to bounce back right away on Wednesday night.
|Derrick Favors, PF 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 3-7 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 4 BLK | 3 TO | 13 PTS | +3 +/-Favors was active early on after an absent first half Saturday night, and had one of his best defensive games of the year. He blocked four shots and was a frequent presence in the lane, though he once again struggled with his shooting stroke from both the floor and the line.|
|Gordon Hayward, SF 36 MIN | 7-17 FG | 8-12 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 26 PTS | +13 +/-Hayward was easily Utah’s best player in this game, jump-starting an attempted comeback in the 3rd quarter with several nice plays. He hit 4 of his 5 three-point attempts, got to the line 12 times, and added 3 steals with just one turnover – though as it was down the stretch, it was a particularly costly one.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 31 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +10 +/-Despite one of his quieter games recently in the scoring department, Jingles was an active presence on the court, especially defensively. He had 4 steals and was frequently pressuring Celtics ball-handlers as far as 90 feet from his own basket, finding a way to make an impact even without his shot falling.|
|Enes Kanter, C 31 MIN | 10-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 20 PTS | +3 +/-Kanter rebounded from a tough first half to combine with Hayward in an attempt to bring Utah back in the 3rd. He missed a few assignments defensively, but also had several hustle plays offensively to mitigate this.|
|Dante Exum, SG 25 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -24 +/-Starting his third straight game, Exum looked lost for large portions of the contest on both ends of the court. He wasn’t quick enough off the mark defensively, running smack dab into several screens. And offensively, he was flummoxed by Boston’s aggressive defensive style and held off the scoreboard.|
|Trevor Booker, PF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -9 +/-Booker played only four minutes, and is beginning to look more like the odd man out as Utah transitions to more of a 3-man big rotation. Things can always change quickly, though.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 26 MIN | 4-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -12 +/-The Stifle Tower (my endorsement) was good on both ends for much of the night, but also strangely struggled against Tyler Zeller in the post. It was one of the first times any opposing big has had real success against him one-on-one down low this year, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds with another tough frontcourt coming up Wednesday versus the Clippers.|
|Trey Burke, PG 32 MIN | 7-20 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | -7 +/-Trey hit a number of decently big shots to keep the Jazz close, but was limited in his effectiveness elsewhere. His box score was completely empty but for his 18 points (he didn’t even attempt a free throw), and like Exum, he struggled versus Boston’s aggressive, trapping defense.|
|Elijah Millsap, SG 20 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -22 +/-Millsap continues to play an active and aggressive style of ball, but his inability to shoot confidently when found open is beginning to really hurt Utah’s bench units offensively. He’ll do for now, but going forward, Utah will need someone more capable of maintaining that vital offensive spacing.|
For perhaps the first time all year, Quin was thoroughly outfoxed in the first half and parts of the second by his counterpart Brad Stevens. The Celtics came out extremely aggressively on defense, trapping Utah’s ball-handlers at every opportunity and forcing them off their routes – and the Jazz had no answers. They made solid improvements in the second half, but Quin and his staff need to give a real look at how they handle such aggressive defenses going forward.