The Utah Jazz, Dante Exum Are On The Rise


It may not be that quite evident, but the Utah Jazz and Dante Exum are certainly on the rise

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Utah Jazz rookie Dante Exum has been selected for the World team in the NBA’s Rising Stars game on All-Star Weekend, and might end up facing off with teammate Trey Burke, who will represent the US team.

This could provide all the evidence we need to see that the taller, quicker and more creative Exum, should be the starting point guard in Utah’s backcourt. Though, as I’ve said before in this space, I’m not against both players starting. 

The issue with Utah’s roster this season has been a glut of talented guards, including Exum, Burke, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, amid a crop of solid frontcourt performers. Having depth isn’t the problem, per se, but it can be a hindrance when you can’t find any consistency. After all, Utah’s win column is much lighter than its loss, so even at face value, there’s a distinct lack of balance to this ball club.

Exum, to my eyes at least, tilts the scales back a little, and brings a steady hand to the point. I like him because he works at limiting his mistakes and doesn’t take too many ill-advised shots, as Burke can do. Oh sure, he’ll reach a point where he does force a few more because, well, that’s what budding stars do. 

But for right now, his height, 6-6, which lets him survey the court better than the shorter Burke (6-1), his length, which is condor-like, also makes him a more imposing defender on the perimeter, and his youthful positivity, which helps him forget errors faster than JR Smith, are all proving invaluable for the Utah Jazz.

This isn’t to dismiss Burke, of course, who I think has been getting a bad rap this season from many pundits. He’s clearly a talented scorer and can make a nifty pass, too. But if anyone has struggled for consistency on the Jazz this season, it’s been Burke.

When Exum has started and Burke’s role has been reduced, however, Burke seems to find his mark and the team’s ball movement generally looks better all around. 

It’s as if he’s unburdened from having to distribute to a bevy of scorers on every offensive approach, and this helps him settle into the game much faster. Whether he’s better playing a hybrid guard role, or even coming off the bench, Burke is too talented to give up on.

Let’s keep in mind that the Jazz’s improved attack, which dismantled the Brooklyn Nets recently, has also been aided by Exum’s Aussie countryman, Joe Ingles.

Big Joe, who equally uses his height to get the ball to the Jazz’s dynamic trio of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, really knows how to setup a play. By all accounts, he’s also a locker room favorite – a genuine ‘glue’ guy – and his experience should help the Jazz continue to improve as well.

I just hope Utah’s brass keep this core together because they’re finally showing signs of life in the Northwest Division. And Exum and Burke are indeed on the rise.

The challenge for Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder now, is keeping them on the same trajectory amid a locker room full of players vying for the chance to star.

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