One Perspective on the Dante Exum Injury: Ramifications and Options

August 5th, 2015 | by David J Smith
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The image of Dante Exum crumpling to the ground, writhing in pain was the one that most likely occupied most Utah Jazz fan’s thoughts and dreams — more like, nightmares — the past 24 hours. As the news broke, there was a discernible pall resonating throughout the Jazz community. While the extent of the injury is not known, many fear it to be an ACL tear, one of the most devastating things that could occur to an NBA player. Needless to say, all will be waiting eagerly for Exum and his family to return to Salt Lake City for further evaluation and subsequently, the prognosis.

Should it be anything besides an ACL tear, there would be tremendous rejoicing across the land. The reality, however, is that Exum could be out for the foreseeable future, potentially missing the entire 2015-2016 campaign. What are the ramifications, both short and long-term, should that be the case? What are Utah’s options? Here is one person’s take on the scenario, now that we have had the chance to digest this unfortunate incident.

RAMIFICATIONS

First and foremost, this affects Dante Exum on a very individual level. Imagine working extremely hard to improve in your trade, only to have something that could temporarily take away your passion for a while. Having not experienced such a setback personally, it can be surmised that the emotional pain is equal, perhaps greater, than the physical. His well-being and morale have to have taken a major, major hit.

Exum had an up-and-down rookie season. He made his mark defensively, showing a maturity beyond his years. Exum displayed excellent position defense, solid lateral speed and good anticipation. He used his length wisely on that end of the court. Conversely, his offense was clearly behind his defense. Much has been said about his tentativeness at driving to the basket, and related, his lack of trips to the free throw line. Exum became largely a spot-up shooter, a role that he struggled with for much of the season. As a play maker, the rookie started to show slivers of his potential. While he deferred to the veterans, toward the end of the season, he was getting more and more comfortable setting up his teammates. Lastly, it cannot be ignored that the Jazz’s tremendous success post-All-Star break could be attributed partially to the way Exum fit in as the starting point guard, complementing the other four. There has been a cautious optimism surround his game this summer. He showed enough to tantalize the Jazz faithful.

By all accounts, Exum was having a very good summer. He has been working hard, adding strength to his slender frame. Like most of his teammates, Exum has spent most of the summer working with the Jazz’s coaching and training staffs to improve his game. While his summer league foray was stopped short, he showed a lot in that lone game. He was aggressive, both in creating offense for his teammates and for himself. This offseason is a big one for all the young Jazz players, including Exum. Were he to show some major improvement, that would propel Utah to new heights.

So, this setback is a major one. The Jazz could very well be without their starting point guard, thus affecting head coach Quin Snyder’s rotation. With Exum as the opener and Trey Burke as the primary back-up, the patterns at the one spot were going to be in place. Exum was in line to play a bulk of the minutes, partnering with Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward is setting the defensive tone to start games. Burke would then be an offensive spark plug off the bench. Things will clearly have to be adjusted. Burke most likely will go back to the role he occupied for one and half seasons — starter. Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto would then duke it out to see who would be back-up and the third point guard. If there is a positive, it will give Snyder a better look at some of the team’s youthful cogs. All three of the healthy point guards will be pressed into increased duty. The Jazz will have a chance to see what each might be capable of contributing now and in the future.

In the short-term, the Jazz may not lose much on-court production. Burke will be able to provide some scoring and facilitating. It is the defensive side of things that could take a big hit. The difference between Exum and Burke on that end cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the Jazz are now left with three point guards who are each on the shorter end of things. Exum’s size was an advantage.

The long-term effects are more of a concern. This not only sets back Exum’s progress, but it takes away a large block of time where he could continue to develop enhanced cohesion with the other members of Utah’s strong core. While the rest will develop together, Exum, who some view as the X-factor1, will be watching from the sidelines. He can certainly still continue developing a chemistry off the court with the rest, but it is hard to stomach this opportunity loss.

JAZZ OPTIONS

Without the full knowledge of the extent of injury and the recovery and rehabilitation time, it is safe to assume Dennis Lindsey, Snyder and company are doing their homework. They know the possible gravity of Exum’s situation and are probably weighing options on how to proceed.

It is safe to say that the entire Jazz organization, from the Miller family to the front office, coaches and players have the playoffs as the goal this season. The way things came together to close last year understandably instilled a confidence of what this Utah team is capable of doing. Even in an extremely competitive Western Conference, the Jazz figure to be a prime candidate to bump a team out and play on in late April.

With this in mind, the Jazz will want to walk the fine line between helping make the postseason a reality without sacrificing the future. Can they still be among the West’s best eight sans Exum? That remains to be seen, but the aforementioned confidence can go a long way. What can they do to ensure this happens?

They can just ride with what they have. Burke has shown that he is capable of running a team. While his shooting and decision-making can be spotty, he has experience as the starter. He does not turn the ball over much and can hit the occasional open jump shot. His name has been mentioned in various trade rumors, but the Jazz still seem quite high on Burke and his ability to be a contributor. Many reports have indicated that Burke’s offseason has been an intense one, with the focus on improving. He could have the chance to really show Utah and the rest of the NBA what he can do.

Cotton showed some exciting potential as last season waned and then again this summer. He is a player hungry for a chance to prove himself, and should Exum be out, he will get that chance. Perhaps he develops into a solid change-of-pace player off the bench. Neto is more of an unknown commodity. In his international play, he has shown a pass-first mentality, without much of an offensive game. The Jazz have always seemed high on him, so he too will be given opportunity.

Again, if each of this trio is moved up on the depth chart, development may be accelerated for them. That could help the Jazz figure out the roster for future seasons.

Additionally, Utah features a bevy of players more than capable of shouldering some of the ball-handling and facilitating load: Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles. One of Hayward’s greatest strengths — and he has many — is his court vision. The same applies to Ingles. The ball seems to flow more smoothly when he is on the court. Burks is underrated, and assumed the back-up point guard role his second season. Lastly, Hood was a point guard in high school prior to a growth spurt. Elijah Millsap also showed the ability to pass a bit.

The other option would be to trade for a veteran to help fill Exum’s absence. Names such as Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, George Hill and Dennis Schroder have been mentioned among Jazz fans. Each of these players has a lot of positives and could be very good fits, but as always when considering trades, the asking prices would be the major factor. Could it obtain such a player without giving up a young core player? The Jazz would have to weigh the ripple effects of such an acquisition, both on the court and as far as assets go. If a move was consummated, one of Utah’s point guards might have to be surrendered. Otherwise, a logjam would ensue.

There are not many impactful free agents remaining on the market — think Donald Sloan, Norris Cole, Luke Ridnour, Kendall Marshall and the sort. It would seem very unlikely the Jazz would add a free agent to the mix with three point guards already in the fold. If one is moved, then this avenue would make more sense.

From this writer’s viewpoint, it seems most plausible that, should the injury be as serious as most deem it, the Jazz will stay put.

In conclusion, this development is definitely not something the Jazz organization or fans wanted to emerge. But it is here. While we all await more news, there is a lot of consider in terms of ramifications and possibilities.

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and Hoopsworld.com (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife have five amazing children--four girls and a boy named Stockton (yes, really).
David J Smith
David J Smith

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12 Comments

  1. Mewko says:

    The Jazz can still aim for the 8th seed in the playoffs if Exum misses the entire season. Rudy Gobert has complemented Raul Neto’s defense, and the Jazz still have Elijah Millsap.

    Bryce Cotton is hungry to improve, and I like his fit with Quin Snyder’s uptempo style. He can be a serviceable reserve point guard next year, for 11 mpg.

    Trey Burke loves to prove his doubters wrong, and hopefully his jumpshot finds the basket, and he doesn’t try to shoot himself out of a slump. There were way too many nights in 14-15 where Burke took over 10 shots despite being in a slump. He should use that energy and focus to get other teammates good looks. I saw baby-steps improvement in Burke’s pic ‘n roll defense last year, and he still has a chance to improve.

    The jazz can tread water from the loss of Dante Exum, as Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood, and Gordon Hayward can initiate the offense as “point forwards”. I’m still excited for this season.

    • David J Smith says:

      As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mewko. You are spot-on in your assessments. It should indeed be an exciting season.

  2. Steve says:

    I am not concerned with the Jazz making the playoffs this year. If Exum does miss time there are some benefits from it. First, Exum should take it as an opportunity to learn the game in greater depth, while observing from the outside. He should attend practices and games and stay as close to Quin as possible. Also, It will give the Jazz an longer look at the current PGs before making a decision on for the long term with players like Burke and Cotton. I am not a massive fan of chasing after a fix. The price will be way too high right now. I would love to see the Jazz stand pat and let the current roster players battle it out.

    • David J Smith says:

      Steve, that is my preference, too, unless there is a deal that knocks Dennis Lindsey’s sock off. Internal growth is the name of the game this season, and that should trickle down to this threesome of point guards.

  3. JP says:

    So is Burks at point never to happen again? I know he hasn’t been a great passer so far in his career, but if he can drive to the hoop and score Hayward and Hood can be facilitators at times. This way the Jazz don’t give up the length advantage and still have their five best players on the court together.

    • David J Smith says:

      Good call. I had added an extra paragraph detailing Burks and others who could contribute, but had not updated the post. Great minds think alike (unfortunately, as my brother tells me, so do the opposite).

  4. JV says:

    Jody Gennesy made some good points on ESPN 700 yesterday that i want to echo. It really isn’t fair for the rest of the team to wait around for Dante Exum to get healthy. This team is hungry to make the playoffs now. He mentioned trading some assets for Jose Calderon, who is on his last year of his contract, to come in as our backup point guard. I like this type of move because you get better at point guard, have him for one year while exum gets healthy and he gives us a better chance to win than cotton or neto. He is a career 41% THREE point shooter, his assist/turnover ratio is pretty good and he knows how to facilitate an offense….completely different than Trey Burke. Giving up a few second round picks for Calderon and possibly a sniff at the playoffs while not hindering anyones progression sounds like a win to me.

    • Wu Hao says:

      Pretty sure Calderon has two seasons left at 7 million per season. Also, he was really bad last year and might not be that good anymore.

      Also, I think getting a guy right now would be a stark sign that the Jazz don’t believe in any of the Burke/Cotton/Neto group. While none of the are world-beaters, I think it’s worth giving each of them a shot before trying to quock-fix things.

  5. Berdj J. Rassam says:

    Sorry to see that he tore his ACL but Exum is way overrated.

    • Spencer says:

      I think he is generally rated as a very raw player with lots of potential who was a remarkably good defender for a teenager and a remarkable poor offensive player for an NBA starter. Sounds about right to me. Maybe you meant you don’t think he will get much better on offense?

      My biggest concern is injury propensity. All last season I felt like he looked like was made of glass. I hope this was just bad luck and not a sign of things to come. I thought for sure he was going to break his pinkie finger he keeps pointing out onto the most awkward positions.

      The term overrated to me seems like something you use on a player already being hyped as having arrived.

  6. Spencer says:

    I have three thoughts on the subject:
    1) if the Jazz can get Schroader without giving up any of the six core players, then by all means let’s do it. There is not much coming along in the draft
    And he has talent. I do wonder though if his personality is not a fit. Gotta believe the Jazz knew he was more talented than Trey, so I have always
    Thought it must have been them thinking he wouldn’t fit the culture and be disruptive or bolt. That leads me to point two.

    2) although I have never been too high onTrey, I think we are now a little too pessimistic. His floor to me is DJ Augustine and his ceiling is Conley with less defense and a bit more offense.
    Both those players were written off like Trey. One thing he is is a great personal and cultural fit, which can be under appreciated. Great teams need good soldiers and Trey is that.

    3) I hate it when someone suggests a player past his prime assuming he will produce like his glory days. I especially hate it when they were never any good anyway. Calderon is the classic example. He is currently HORRIBLE. At his best he was a net minus everywhere but passing and spot up shooting. Somehow teams keeping giving these guys money. In fact that is precisely what helped seal Clevelands fate in the finals. Jones, Miller, Perkins, Marion. Four guys three years removed from productivity, and they could have had someone like elija Milsap or Bryce cotton with a pulse. Thank you Cleveland for being clueless and thank you Utah for not doing that anymore. RIP Jefferson Howard and Jamal Tinsley.

  7. Pingback: Trey Burke’s Last Big Chance | Salt City Hoops

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