November 23, 2018, 11:12 am
Hello Hoop Ballers, hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving day with your loved ones, enjoying this very special day of the year will plenty of food that covered your appetite for hoops on a Thursday with zero NBA games.
This week we are going to take a look into Dante Exum, the Australian guard who has been plagued by injuries in his first few years in the league, having played in just 180 games out of the possible 264 in four NBA seasons.
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Drafted at just 18 years of age and without having played basketball in the US, Exum entered the NBA as a somewhat unknown commodity after impressing scouts with his length and athleticism at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA U-19 World Cup.
After becoming the No. 5 pick, Exum’s rookie season was underwhelming, proving that the challenge of coming into the NBA straight out of high school is considerable. Under newly hired coach Quin Snyder, he managed to get lots of playing time, averaging 4.8 points, 2.4 assists and 1.6 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game, but his efficiency suffered, shooting 34.9 percent from the field, 31.4 percent from behind the arc and 62.5 percent from the charity line, all career-lows to this day.
A torn left ACL in 2015 ruled him out for his entire sophomore season and shoulder surgery in October of 2017 caused him to miss 68 games last season, but Exum surprisingly reemerged in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals as a tenacious defender who was able to slow down the league’s MVP.
Exum matched up with James Harden for 22 possessions in Game 2 and limited him to two points on 0-for-7 shooting from the field while the Beard didn’t do much else in the minutes Exum defended him, totaling one assist to go along with one turnover and one trip to the free throw line. The Jazz were able to steal Game 2 in Houston and Exum’s ability to bother Harden with his unusual length and impressive foot speed and forcing him into contested shots was a big part of it, showing NBA fans why the team is still heavily invested into him.
Unfortunately, Exum suffered another injury during the playoffs, this time his hamstring, while the Jazz, who were already without Ricky Rubio, went on to lose Game 4, with the Rockets taking a commanding 3-1 lead. The team validated how it has never lost faith in their 22-year-old guard by re-signing him to a $33 million contract extension in the summer even though he has battled through multiple injuries since getting drafted in 2014.
Utah’s Strong Player Development Skills
Quin Snyder and his assistants have been behind Gordon Hayward’s transformation into an All-Star, Rudy Gobert becoming one of the best defensive players in the league and Hoop Ball favorite Joe Ingles emerging as a key contributor late in his career. Last year, after a rocky start, Igor Kokoskov and Rubio constantly worked on his shot before games and after practice with the results beeing career highs in field goal (41.8) and 3-point (35.2) percentage.
Former Jazz point guard George Hill, who also had a great season a couple years ago in Utah, repeatedly acknowledged the help he got from the coaching staff. “The things that they have me do are different than what I’ve been used to, little things that I didn’t know would help me become a better shooter and better off the dribble, things like that. We take a lot of time doing balance and core. You always want to work with someone who’s experienced, and the coaching staff has been very good for me.”
Snyder is widely respected around the league, especially by NBA players, due to his player-development skills and he is really big on players putting in the necessary work to become better while you can notice how his assistants always have a very thorough and extensive pregame workout with the Jazz players. Following the same pattern mentioned above, Exum made progress in the limited time he spent on the floor last year before but unfortunately, he has again regressed in 18 games so far this season. His percentages have dipped from 48 percent to 39 percent while he is shooting an atrocious 27 percent from behind the arc, making it easier for defenses to deal with an underperforming Jazz offense.
Ball Movement and the Jazz’s Struggles
Unlike the majority of NBA teams, European basketball clubs teams don’t aspire to revolve around making life easier for their best player. NBA superstars like LeBron James and James Harden often get a pass on the defensive side of the ball but under Quin Snyder all players bear heavy responsibility on each possession while his offense strategizes with more egalitarianism. The ball zips around the perimeter and goes in and out of the post as players whirl around, screening and cutting.
Utah’s roster the past few years has been populated by players from Brazil, France, Australia, Ukraine, Sweden, Spain, and Switzerland among others. Having spent a few years in Europe coaching, Snyder has been able to overcome language barriers when communicating with players who didn’t speak English while developing a Spurs-ian approach in Utah where everything operates as being a close family.“You can’t be married to a certain style of play if your players don’t fit that style,” Snyder says.
Ball movement is the primary principle in Utah’s offense and it’s the most identifiable similarity between European teams and today’s Jazz, a squad that has somehow stayed away from the NBA’s obsession with speed and multiple 3-point shots. Look at how patient the Jazz are being in this possession with the ball moving around and Exum attacking at the right time when Favors is waiting for the easy lob.
Between Exum and Rubio’s sub-40 percent shooting this year, the Jazz simply aren’t a threat to score the ball in the backcourt next to Donovan Mitchell, while as a team they are shooting 32.7 percent from the 3-point line, 27th worst in the NBA. For a team that relies on ball movement and spacing to facilitate their offense, their inability to knock down shots has dropped them to the 24th-best offensive team in the league.
Utah has become extremely easy to defend because teams can close in on Donovan Mitchell, the lone offensive threat, and are completely fine with him pulling up from deep where he’s proven less than efficient. And while someone might argue that the team as a whole may be in a shooting slump, what’s alarming is how the main concept of ball moving and passing has also regressed as the Jazz average just 276.2 passes per game (they were seventh last year with 318.8). Here is an example of Exum failing to make the extra pass while he rolls to the basket and Gobert (with Crowder) follow next to him waiting for the assist that never comes.
Attacking the Rim
When it comes to team offense, Exum is more of a shooting guard, with his non-stop driving and slashing ability that has characterized him since the early days of him playing hoops. One of the main reasons the Jazz are using both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in their starting lineup is because offensively, they want to constantly set multiple ball screens. With each ball screen they run, the defense gets stretched farther and farther out of position and they are able to find opening lanes and attack the rim easier. Exum is a big beneficiary of this tactic as he is constantly on the move looking to finish either with a layup, a dunk or a floater around the basket. Look at how the Raptors defense totally collapses after a double screen action from Jae Crowder and Rudy Gobert that leaves a huge opening to the middle while Serge Ibaka opts to stick with his man instead of covering the hole.
Surprisingly though, this year Exum has struggled finishing efficiently around the basket shooting a below average 51.9 percent in the restricted lane even though the Jazz as a team are well above the league average at 66 percent, only behind the Warriors, the Bucks and the Kings (!).
And this is another sign of his inconsistency that proves how young the Aussie still is. Here is a sequence where Exum comes flying out of a nice screen from Rudy Gobert only to miss the layup against Joel Embiid who seems to take a step back on this possession.
Defending the Pick and Roll
Even though their perimeter defense has not been very good this year, the Jazz have a very interesting defensive scheme in place as they are a no-middle team and their pick-and-roll defense is always trying to keep the ball out of that area. They are adjusting their defensive package to the abilities of their players as defenders, but the most important thing in their whole coverage is sticking with the ball and not regularly switching. Snyder believes that when his team can handle the 2-on-2 pick-and-roll that’s ideal, as he wants his guard defender to get over the screen and gets back in front of the ball to allow the screener’s defender to get back to his man.
The team has established an “Under Line” rule where anything below that line, the guard can choose to go under the screen, otherwise there has to be an attempt to recover on time. Length and athleticism is how you accomplish this strategy and that’s where Exum fits in the big picture of the Jazz defense. Players have to fight through screens they way Exum does in this position, as Ekpe Udoh rolls back to the middle to cover the area and Cory Joseph is forced to take a long contested shot.
The Jazz also have mandatory switches as well as late switches in case the guard defender is beat and can’t get back in front of the offensive player. But they don’t want to allow to switch too much and too early even though they have one of the better rim protectors in the entire league in Rudy Gobert. Here is a defensive possession close to the basket where Exum and Favors miscommunicate for a second, allowing Markuelle Fultz to nail the easy jumper. Small parenthesis here, love or hate him, Draymond Green is the best switch defender in the league by far and this possession shows you how difficult it is to effectively rotate in these situations.
Uncharacteristically so far this year, with Gobert on the floor, teams have been able to force the Jazz to switch and attack more often with above average results which further validates my point about how the defensive struggles for the Jazz are not fundamental. Exum has been a big piece of the defensive efficiency of the team in most wins, prompting Quin Snyder to talk high about the young guard after a recent game in Memphis. “Dante was terrific tonight. He changed the game in the first half with his ball pressure. Really, really proud of him.”
The current NBA season was expected to give Dante the chance to finally demonstrate his true potential, and carve out an invaluable role on the Jazz roster after finishing strong with an admirable playoff series against Houston last year. What most people forget though is that Exum is still learning the game and it might take more time for him to prove that he belongs in a league filled with talented guards.
The last couple weeks have shown us the absolute best and worst of Exum. Against the Celtics in Utah, he was benched after just two minutes and 47 seconds in the first quarter as he struggled badly on both ends of the floor, forcing Snyder to ignore him for the remainder of the game. The kid responded with one of his best games of the season in Memphis where, with Mike Conley dominating the game offensively, Exum was able to slow down Conley with his defensive intensity and length.
Ricky Rubio is headed into the final year of his contract and has proved to be a solid fit alongside Donovan Mitchell but the team’s offense often struggles with both of on the floor. The Jazz paid Exum $11 million per year and it’s currently difficult to see them committing double-digit million dollars per year to Rubio next summer as well. The opportunity is there for Exum and this is a very important year for a player who has repeatedly shown what he is capable of, but finding consistency will be the key to receiving regular rotation minutes and taking the next step.
Thank you for reading and please don’ t hesitate to let us know about an international prospect that you would want to learn more about in the next few weeks. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of November 23rd. .
November 22, 2019, 12:10 pmAndre DrummondC, Detroit Pistons
The Hornets are rumored to be interested in either trading for Andre Drummond or signing him outright in free agency, according to a Heavy.com report.
The 26-year-old Drummond has a $28.7 million player option next season, which he is widely expected to turn down as he wants to explore alternatives as the top of the 2020 free agent class. The Hornets are said to have been interested in him since last year. Drummond, who has made unexpected statistical leaps the last two years after seeing his development stagnate initially, is averaging a career-high 18.6 points, 16.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game this season, while raising his once-odious FT% to the high 60s. Perhaps a change of scenery will unlock Drummond's potential as a distributor and focal point of the offense.
November 22, 2019, 1:43 amMikal BridgesSF, Phoenix Suns
Mikal Bridges led all Suns reserves in minutes (36) on Thursday and put up 14 points on 3-of-7 shooting, to go with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He's simply outplaying Dario Saric (five points, five rebounds, one trey, one steal, 16 minutes) right now and the extra run on the floor is paying off dividends for managers who held onto Bridges during those lean games. Pick him up if he's been dropped in your league.
November 22, 2019, 1:40 amDevin BookerSG, Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker was relatively quiet on Thursday, recording 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting with five rebounds, seven assists, two treys and six turnovers in 37 minutes.
The turnovers were a stinger for his owners in 9-cat leagues and you can credit the Pelicans' feisty defense for more than a few of those. Count it as an off-night for Booker and move on. He should bounce-back to his top-30 form in no time.
November 22, 2019, 1:36 amTyler JohnsonPG-SG, Phoenix Suns
Tyler Johnson started for Ricky Rubio (back) on Thursday and chipped in across the board with six points, five rebounds, four dimes, one trey, two steals and two blocks.
It was a DFS gem coming from the low-end veteran guard. He is worth streaming while Rubio remains out, but that's the ceiling of his upside in fantasy at this stage of his career.
November 22, 2019, 1:32 amKelly Oubre Jr.SF, Phoenix Suns
Kelly Oubre Jr. produced a team-high 25 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field and 9-of-9 shooting from the line with six boards, two 3s and four assists in Thursday's loss to the Pelicans.
Oubre is holding steady as a top-70 play in 9-cat so far this season. His ceiling is somewhere within top-50 value, but as a hot commodity, may cost you an arm and a foot for his services.
November 22, 2019, 1:29 amJrue HolidayPG, New Orleans Pelicans
Jrue Holiday was one assist shy of a double-double on Thursday as he tallied 23 points (10-of-19 shooting), four rebounds, nine assists, one 3-pointer, three steals and one block.
His ability to stuff the stat sheet is at the core of Holiday's fantasy appeal. It appears he's turned the corner from a slow start. Both he and Brandon Ingram are playing well right now, but Zion Williamson could throw a wrench into the vibe once he's back on the court. Now would be an ideal time to sell-high on Holiday if you want to exit your position.
November 22, 2019, 1:23 amE'Twaun MooreSG, New Orleans Pelicans
E'Twaun Moore chipped in 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting with five rebounds, three 3s and two assists in 26 minutes in Thursday's win over the Suns.
Moore has been on the radar in 14-team leagues or deeper for his scoring and 3-point shooting as of late. He will fade as the Pelicans get healthier, but feel free to ride out his run while it lasts.
November 22, 2019, 1:20 amJJ RedickSG, New Orleans Pelicans
J.J. Redick caught fire in Thursday's win over the Suns, knocking down 5-of-8 shots from deep en route to his 26 points (10-of-14 shooting) with five rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Redick definitely has some gas left in his tank, scoring 20 points or more in four of his last five games. He's been a top-120 play in 9-cat over the season, so consider selling high now.
November 22, 2019, 1:16 amBrandon IngramSF, New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Ingram shook off a slow start in Thursday's 124-121 win over the Suns to finish with 28 points (9-of-19 shooting), eight rebounds, five assists, three 3s, one steal and two blocks in 33 minutes.
Ingram is back to his early-season form and delivering across the board in impressive fashion. He appears on track to sustain his production, as is, but a returning Zion Williamson could muddle things for sure.
November 22, 2019, 1:12 amLonzo BallPG, New Orleans Pelicans
Lonzo Ball (right adductor strain) played 19 minutes off the bench in his return to action on Thursday, posting eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with two 3s, one rebound and five assists.
Considering it was Ball's first game back in over two weeks, it was not a bad showing. He should eventually return to the starting lineup and see his minutes restriction eased and then later lifted as he gets his legs back. For now, you can bench him until he's back at full strength. Good news is the wait might not be too long.