NBA: Utah Jazz want more aggression from rookie point guard Exum
SALT LAKE CITY, United States — Teammates of Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum want more aggression from the rookie from Australia. That hasn’t been easy for the 19-year-old, playing against grown men on a nightly basis.
Exum’s first year in the NBA naturally had its highs and lows. He replaced Trey Burke, who earned 2013-14 NBA All-Rookie first team honors, in the starting lineup shortly before the All-Star break. Exum also competed in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.
However, he entered Friday’s game shooting 34.6 percent from the floor and 30.3 percent from 3-point range while averaging 4.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.5 steals. Those aren’t exactly impressive numbers.
The organization knew Exum would be a project when he was drafted No. 5 overall. The 6-foot-6, 190-pounder didn’t play any college ball and is the fifth youngest player in the league. Yet his length and athleticism make him a strong defender. That’s how he moved into the starting lineup, allowing Burke to come in as a sixth-man scorer.
Nearly every night is a challenge as the point guard position has become, arguably, the deepest, most talented spot in the NBA. Exum’s length on defense, along with the addition of Rudy Gobert into the starting lineup, helped the Jazz become the league’s best scoring defense in the month of February.
Exum’s offense, though, has been nearly nonexistent.
“He seems a little passive,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “That’s pretty normal as a rookie. You’re just out there playing not to mess up.
“So when he stops thinking and really starts attacking the basket, he’s athletic, explosive, he’s long and can really make plays around the rim for himself and others. When he does that, he’ll be really good.”
Coach Quin Snyder doesn’t want Exum to hesitate when he has a good, open shot. He also wants him to drive into the lane and get others involved. That’s not an easy task, but the Jazz didn’t draft him with the No. 5 overall pick, at the same position as Burke, to be an average player.
Trying to get stronger
Exum knows that and acknowledges it with a smile.
“Constantly working on the shooting,” Exum said. “Finishing around the basket. Trying to get stronger.
“Yeah, definitely (I was overwhelmed) just coming in straight away. Playing against some of these guys. … I think I’ve adjusted well to the type of players I’m playing against and the abilities they have. You learn game by game playing them.”
Forward Derrick Favors and Burke said they both went through the same thing as rookies. Favors came in as a 19-year-old into a new environment, trying to learn a new style of play. He said the process can’t be rushed and pointed to the first offseason as the time to make significant growths as a player.
The mental subtleties of the game are just as important. Exum has a habit of disappearing at times on the offensive side of the floor and looks unsure. That leads to late decisions and turnovers.
“You can see the difference of when he’s aggressive and when he’s not and how big the difference,” fellow Australian Joe Ingles said. “We’ve just got to keep him playing aggressive and confident. When he does, he’s great for us. It’s when he kind of goes into his shell that he hurts himself.
“He knows it’s a long trip for him being 19, but he’s handling it well. He’s never played against men before. Last year he was playing against kids half his size.”
The offseason likely will be spent bulking up and working on the jump shot. So much more of the floor and the game will open up if defenders can’t sag off Exum. That will help his drive-and-kick in addition to his overall poise. Exum already finishes practices with a shooting contest against Ingles, who insists Exum has won just once since they arrived.
“I think in the next year or two we’re going to look at him and go wow, he’s really grown physically,” Snyder said. “I think the same is true about his ability to get in the paint and create and use his tools in a game situation when the game goes faster.”