Twice in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz were looking up at players they coveted and hoping for a good bounce or two. Both times, they got the bounces.
Australian guard Dante Exum (no. 5) and Duke product Rodney Hood (23) both made their way to Utah’s spots. The Jazz happily added both players to their growing arsenal of young, promising talent.
Exum, despite being somewhat unknown, was largely considered one of the top four prospects in the draft, so grabbing him at five1 was an unexpected coup for the Jazz. Exum is lightning quick and explosive, and his real strength is that at 6-6 with legitimate point guard skills, he can be really disruptive at creating angles and exploiting his size and finishing ability. He thinks he’ll fit in Utah’s new culture, too.
“I spoke to coach (Quin Snyder) and he had a lot of positive things to say, and how he was a point guard and how he thinks he can help me, so it’s been good,” the Aussie phenom said. He mentioned specifically a desire to play an up-tempo game, something that Snyder has said he hopes to institute more, and later he told me about his comfort level in the pick-and-roll2.
The Jazz made it clear going into this draft process that they were looking for potential franchise talent. “All-stars,” Walt Perrin panned on more than one occasion to Salt Lake media. With Exum unexpectedly slipping to the fifth pick, they might have a shot at just that. Exum, though, is prepared to put in the work and let time run its course.
“That’s the future,” Exum said in response to whether he’s a franchise player in the making. “You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to do what I can now so I can get to that caliber… But I’m just going to work hard every day and see what happens.”
There are those who would say Exum is being overly modest here, and ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla leads that club. Fraschilla famously compared Exum to a young Michael Jordan, about the highest praise you can dole out in basketball. I had a chance to catch up with Fraschilla on draft night and ask him what he saw that prompted that parallel.
“He’s got a unique skill set, because at 6-foot-6 he can play either guard spot,” Fraschilla told me. “He’s got a chance to be better and better because he’s going to physically mature.” The analyst expects some “real ups and downs” for Exum and the Jazz starting out, but adds that “over the long haul, I think Dante Exum has the skill level, athleticism, work ethic and character to be a perfect fit in a city that loves its team.”
For all those reasons, even the modest Exum didn’t think he’d be available at the fifth pick. He mentioned that as the reason he and his agent didn’t schedule a pre-draft visit to Utah. But at the same time, he was ready for anything.
“I knew I was the mystery in this draft and I could drop,” he said. “It’s been frustrated being that mystery and having that label, but I’m over it now. Hopefully I can get out in summer league and show them I’m not a mystery anymore.”
Hood’s availability at 23 caught the Jazz by surprise as well. His projected range started at the 13th pick, and Ford’s final mock had him going 18th. I had heard that the Jazz liked him enough to consider maneuvering to get him, but that wasn’t necessary after a couple of teams made unexpected picks3 leading up to the Jazz’s spot, allowing Hood to land right where fellow Duke product Snyder wanted him.
Now Hood will travel to Salt Lake City, a city he’s never been to, to learn more about a team that he says is “right on the verge” of success. The 6-8 swingman got emotional when talking about his road from rural Mississippi to the NBA.
“Man, it’s unbelievable,” he said, choking back tears. “You think of this little kid playing in the Boys and Girls Club, wanting to be like your big brother and getting a chance to walk across that stage and give some people hope from where I’m from. It means a lot.”
Hood is a left-handed shooter with good consistency in the midrange and all the way out the three point line. He shot 42% on threes at Duke, and his free throw percentage (80%) is an good indicator that statheads use to predict how a collegian’s shot will carry over to the NBA. According to multiple draft scouting sites, he’ll need to improve his defense and work on his body.
Despite the strong projections on how his shot will translate, Hood was not a favorite of several different’ predictive models, largely because of less-than-stunning rebounding numbers and steal rate. Both are important predictive indicators that have had success at projecting success in the NBA. For those reasons, ESPN analytics guru Kevin Pelton projects that his average Win Shares over five seasons will be just a shade under zero.
That could be meaningful, but the analytics component is just one element of player evaluation. Watch his tape. This guy is a legitimate outside threat on nearly every play — the type of guy defenses have to pay attention to even off the ball. And beyond that, he just gets how to play. He’s smart, court-aware, and generally looks to make the right play. I think he will likely outperform the spreadsheets.
Interestingly, the Jazz had options at 23. Kyle Anderson, Clint Capela and several other talented prospects were still on the board, and Andy Katz reports that the Jazz also had the option to trade down to 26 with Miami, who coveted Shabazz Napier. Evidently, they had Hood ranked highly enough that they couldn’t leave him sitting there and risk him going 24th or 25th. So instead, the Jazz made their play and brought Hood to the organization.
“I’m just happy to land in a really good spot,” said Hood.
The Jazz also owned the 35th pick, but they made the pick for Memphis in exchange for a 2016 2nd round pick. Jarnell Stokes was the selection, and it appears as though the Jazz received no additional compensation.
Odds & Ends – Other notes from the draft:
Click below for the above-mentioned private interview clip with Exum.