When Dante Exum was selected with the fifth overall pick at the 2014 NBA Draft it was hard to know how, and when, the 6-foot-6-inch, 195-pound Australian's impact would be felt. Worry no more, Jazz fans, because Exum appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Knowing how Exum would play alongside Trey Burke at point guard seemed to worry, and still worries, Jazz faithful who still believe and don't understand why new Jazz head coach Quin Snyder would even consider such a thing.
But in a 74-70 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers to open the NBA summer league in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 12 Exum delighted a pro-Jazz crowd, showing Jazz fans some things they haven't seen since a guy by the name of John Stockton was running the offense.
How fitting that on a night when Snyder sat next to Jazz legend Jerry Sloan, Exum would give everyone a show at the Thomas & Mack Center that even Wayne Newton would have enjoyed. It was a glitzy performance from Exum that will give Jazz fans hope going forward in this tournament.
On one Jazz possession, for example, Burke found Exum going to the hoop, so he hurled the ball towards the rim. Exum took flight, slamming home an alley-ooper with one hand. On another play Exum blew past two defenders--except it looked like he was gliding.
After Exum passed by the 76ers duo like they were standing still, he dished a no-look bullet to center Rudy Gobert who wasn't ready for the ball, or for Exum's shake-and-bake moves in the key.
Knowing from which direction Exum is coming is a part of the game that Gobert and the rest of the young Jazz will have to learn, but the high point is that the Jazz finally have a guy who has the size and speed to impact a game immediately.
Not only that, Exum also has a knack for finding the open man. Case in point: Several minutes into the second quarter, Exum again slashed into the paint--leaving his defender somewhere in the Nevada desert--locating Trey Burke with another no-look bullet in the coffin corner.
All Burke had to do was set his feet and let fly with the basketball, which he did, burying a three-pointer. Exum wasn't done yet. The Aussie also had a highlight-reel reverse layup in the third quarter--again after he left 76ers players outside the Thomas & Mack waiting to hitch a cab back to the hotel.
That description might be exaggerating things a bit, but if you look at highlights you can clearly see that Exum was a step above, and faster than, any 76ers player thrown his way.
He then punctuated his evening in Sin City on his 19th birthday with a flying dunk down the lane, finishing with 10 points, three assists and three rebounds. It certainly wasn't a superstar performance but for Exum's first game you get the feeling this might be the opening act of his one-man show in Vegas.
The thing about this one-man show though, is Exum likes to get everyone involved, a trait that Trey Burke himself could learn from. Burke may have had 11 points--but he also shot 4-for-12 from the field and was pressing most of the night. (He did add four assists and four rebounds.)
Gobert was another bright spot with 11 points, nine boards and two blocks, and he obviously benefited from Exum's balanced game and ability to get to the rim--which left the Frenchman open for easy tap dunks.
The leading scorer on the night for Utah, however, wasn't any of the afore-mentioned players; it was Malcolm Thomas, a 2nd-year Jazzman out of San Diego State in a contract year. Thomas had 13 points to go with eight rebounds. The Jazz will next take on Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks at this tournament.