Utah Jazz have better groove with Dante Exum


In an attempt to shift into NBA relevancy, the Utah Jazz need to give Dante Exum a  reasonable chance to succeed 

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When they’re casting for Quin Snyder’s character in the Utah Jazz made–for–TV movie, I’m hoping Sean Penn gets the call. Penn has just the right blend of rage and sincerity to portray the volatile Jazz coach. Now, I’m not ruling out Al Pacino: I just think he’s better suited to a slick front office man at this stage of his career.

With this established, we need to work out a way to channel Snyder’s anger toward the Jazz backcourt, specifically. Last week, after he screamed at the team to “WAKE UP!”, the Jazz players looked like someone had mixed a little Tiger Balm into their Gatorade. They proceeded to turn a 17-point deficit into a 17- point win. 

Notably, shooting guard Alec Burks contributed 20 points and 14 rebounds on the night, which has led me to think that Snyder should give Burks a serving whenever possible. Burks, who physically looks the part of an NBA two-guard, often plays like the Jazz yanked him from the snack bar five minutes before tip-off.

It’s weird because on other occasions he impresses me with his movement off the ball, and his ability to make the extra pass.

The way I see it, Utah is an on-the-cusp team. Certainly not on the cusp of the playoffs, but on the verge of at least something meaningful. When they play, well, awake, it can be dreamy to watch. They understand spacing and most importantly, they give the ball up to each other. 

For example, in one of the club’s better wins this season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, albeit an undermanned Thunder team that barely flashes lightning, the Jazz posted 22 team assists. In case you’re wondering, this is quite good and about on average for Utah this season.

For a further point of reference, the San Antonio Spurs, the old gurus of ball movement, log about 24 assists per game, based on ESPN’s numbers. Though, on a benchmark night that number can hit around 30.

When Utah shares the ball like this, using screen-and-rolls, feeding the interior men, and getting the ball down court on the break, scoring comes easily. When they don’t, however, everything seems to grind to a nightmarish halt.

This was the case in a recent loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, in which Utah posted just 15 team assists. Didn’t John Stockton average 15 assists per quarter?

The bottom line is that when the Jazz guards start tossing up the sort of irrationally confident shots that Grantland boss Bill Simmons likes to reference, this club is tough to watch. I’d actually take it a step further and suggest these shots are so poorly chosen that they’re grossly negligent, harming viewers at home as much as the team. Write that down, Bill.

In that Pelicans game, Burks connected on just one shot in 11 attempts. However, it wasn’t just that he missed so much but that his shot choices are so damaging. Sometimes he shoots far too early in the offense, halting the flow of the attack. On other occasions, he seems to lack focus and just hoists it too casually.

It’s frustrating to watch because there’s already been so much inconsistent play from point guard Trey Burke this season that the Jazz can’t afford to have both guards misfiring.

Now Burke’s scoring against New Orleans was surprisingly good, as he connected on 8-of-12 for 20 points, but he also only offered four assists.

It’s an uncertainty at this point whether he can consistently score and provide for his teammates at the same time. The fact that former Jazz center Mark Eaton and Bigfoot have never been seen in the same room together is the only thing troubling me more about the Jazz right now.

This is why I’d like to see more minutes for Dante Exum. The wiry rookie has shown that he can shoot, defend, and most importantly, distribute. At the very least, it might be time for Snyder to up Exum’s 15 or 20 minutes to 25 and see what the kid can do.

The one thing we know about Exum is that he enjoys passing, so why not team him up with Burke in the backcourt for a couple of games and see how it looks?

This way if Burke is connecting, Exum can distribute. While if Burke is in the mood to pass, Exum can find space and launch a few shots, and hopefully can hit at a more accurate rate than Burks’ 38 percent, as per ESPN.

Personally, I don’t even think Burks is hitting that mark after connecting on just 3-of-11 against the Chicago Bulls this week.

But forget the stats for a moment: this is about shifting this team beyond the cusp, toward relevance.

Next: What each NBA team is thankful for this holiday season

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