NBA Draft: Utah Jazz get lucky with Dante Exum, Rodney Hood

Published: Friday, June 27 2014 9:11 a.m. MDT

Dante Exum, right, poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the Utah Jazz as the fifth overall pick during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York.

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Luck wasn’t on the Utah Jazz’s side in the NBA draft lottery last month.

That changed Thursday.

Even though the Jazz came into this draft with an enticing top-five pick — along with the 23rd and 35th selections — it was the common assumption that they were on the outside looking in at the most-hyped players.

It seemed Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum and perhaps even intriguing-but-injured Joel Embiid would be off the board before their turn to pick came around.

That also changed Thursday.

After being unable to pull off a trade with Cleveland to pick up Parker as hoped, the Jazz’s fortunes improved immensely as the four slots ahead of them were filled by Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and — surprise! — Aaron Gordon.

That made the selection of Exum, the quick Australian combo guard who had been projected as a possible top-three selection, a no-brainer.

The Jazz were pleasantly surprised later in the first round when Duke small forward Rodney Hood, the ACC’s top 3-point shooter, slipped to them at No. 23.

Two picks. Two players quickly snatched up in positions lower than they were listed on the draft board in the Jazz’s war room.

All things considered, this draft haul turned out to be a best-case scenario for a Jazz team that endured a rough, 25-win rebuilding season and grimaced as lottery-lucky Cleveland leapfrogged them in the draft order in May.

Although some around the Jazz expressed their thrill, describing the organization as being “very happy” and calling Thursday a “great night,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey took a more measured approach.

“I’m not really that concerned about winning the press conference and the emotion,” Lindsey told reporters at Zions Bank Basketball Center moments after the Jazz wrapped up their draft duties. “I want the fans and you guys to be exited about what we did, and I think we did some solid things. But, really, the valuation will be years from now on how Dante develops and how Rodney contributes.”

Though they ended up being drafted lower than expected, both Exum and Hood expressed excitement at being selected by the Jazz.

Exum, who turns 19 on July 13, said he's excited about Utah's "rich history and a good team culture" and, yes, about recently hired Jazz coach Quin Snyder, whom he had a brief chat with and called "the new head coach who's a point guard."

The 6-foot-6 guard was considered the International Man of Mystery coming into the draft because he didn’t have a lot of experience playing against top-level talent outside of a few international competitions.

But Exum’s potential as a multiple threat in the backcourt had some teams consider selecting him in the first picks.

“I just want to come in and try to help be a leader of the team,” Exum said during an interview from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I know I’m young, but I want to come in and establish that. As a point guard, (I’ll) try and be that guy people can turn to and rely on.”

Incidentally, one of the first people to congratulate Exum and welcome him to the Jazz organization was Utah point guard Trey Burke, who was a guest of honor at the draft.

“I think the exciting thing about Dante specifically is he has the speed to play guard, he has the size and length to play wing,” Lindsey said. “We’ll let nature take its course. … He’s coming in behind two great guards (in) Burke and (Alec) Burks. I think in time he’ll be a good contributor.”

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