Jazz rookie Dante Exum shows glimpses of excellence, rawness
John Locher, AP
LAS VEGAS — Before the NBA Summer League, Dante Exum’s basketball game was kind of like the Australian Outback.
People have heard stories about its splendor.
People have seen pictures of its uniqueness.
But far fewer have actually witnessed it in person.
Nobody is certain how he’ll perform in the NBA when games actually matter, but the basketball world is getting to know more about the so-called International Man of Mystery.
It only took about four seconds of watching him live — or on TV — to be awed by the quickness of the 6-foot-6 athlete the Jazz drafted fifth overall in the 2014 NBA draft.
In his first four games, the 19-year-old has shown glimpses of greatness with keen court vision, playmaking skills and a better-than-expected defensive ability. But he’s also exhibited rawness, inexperience, shooting struggles and fatigue-induced limitations.
“I think Dante is what we thought he was — he’s young,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after Exum’s 1-for-8 shooting night in the team’s 86-77 tournament loss to the Spurs on Thursday at Thomas & Mack Center.
“He’s got work to do,” Snyder added. “But he’s a kid with a great deal of pride and a will to compete and improve.”
Even after four games on U.S. soil — after most people only saw him in video highlights from a few international outings — Exum remains somewhat enigmatic.
Will he turn out to be the player who uses his rare combination of size, speed, ball-handling and passing skills to emerge as a franchise-type player so many predicted he could become leading up to the draft?
Or will the hype trump the hope as he struggles to adapt to the elite NBA level because of deficiencies, especially with his shooting stroke?
In other words, will he live up to the eyebrow-raising highlights or head-scratching lowlights he’s had so far in his first professional hoops experience this past week in Vegas?
Jazz fans certainly hope Thursday’s game — five points, four fouls and three turnovers — is just an anomaly.
Team Canada coach Roy Rana, a special guest with the Jazz during Summer-League action and a man who’s worked with Exum in the past, is among the group that believes this is all part of the point guard’s maturation process. The rookie did, after all, just turn 19 years old on Sunday, opted to train instead of play college ball this past season, and had only gone against high-level opponents in a couple of international exhibitions and teen-level world competitions.
“I think there’s nothing but strides in this week. I don’t think you can judge it based on a performance on a given day,” said Rana, who was the coach of Exum’s World Team at the Nike Hoop Summit.
“He’s getting a first experience. He’s getting a chance to play a lot of different guys. He’s getting a chance to experience some success. He’s having a chance to experience some tough times and just the grind that the NBA (is) on a daily basis — the practice, the video (sessions). It’s a great growth experience.”
Rana’s first opportunity to coach Exum came in 2012 right after Exum had turned 17.
“It was pretty clear at that point and time when he played in that game that he had real NBA potential,” the Canadian coach said. “I don’t think anybody’s surprised he went as high as he did in the draft. He’s a unique talent.”
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