Multiple reports have Dante Exum with a separated left shoulder. This is not a surprise if you saw his reaction when he fell or heard the reaction of his teammates after the game last night. This is terrible news for Exum who was coming off his first basketball off-season and looked significantly improved. It is also tough on the Utah Jazz who despite great depth will miss Exum a great deal.
As of this writing, how long Exum is out is not defined. If he needs surgery it would likely be season-ending, if the shoulder can regain strength without surgery it would likely be 6 to 8 weeks.
IMPACT ON DANTE EXUM ON THE FLOOR
Exum’s career has been in perpetual rehabilitation mode since he tore his ACL after his rookie year. For the first time as a professional, the former #5 pick was able to simply play basketball this season. He played a ton. Under the guidance of Baron Davis, Exum spent most of the off-season in Los Angeles and played games at UCLA.
Exum’s 2nd season, which was really his third after the lost year from the ACL, showed signs of improvement masked in inconsistency. His FG% went from 35% to 43%. He went to the free throw line 73 times in contrast to the minuscule 32 times as a rookie. The weakness in his game was his corner 3 shooting (19 of 77 25%) and signs were that had improved.
Most importantly, Exum was playing with a confidence and assertiveness to his game. His first step is elite. How he dealt with circumstances after beating his man was where he needed to develop and things were trending in the correct direction.
The uniqueness of Exum’s career is how little basketball he played in Australia before being drafted. Then when you added the ACL to the mix he was behind in court hours and the experience that comes with those reps.
Now Exum has to overcome another injury and lose more court time.
The good news is it his left shoulder, not his shooting arm. It shouldn’t impact his speed and burst that makes him an elite athlete. The crushing part is it will keep him off the floor for a player who desperately needs hours of basketball.
IMPACT ON THE UTAH JAZZ ON THE FLOOR
The Utah Jazz have great depth, but this injury is particularly hard for them to overcome. Exum was building a roll coming off the bench, adding an offensive and defensive juice to the game. Coupled with rookie Donovan Mitchell the Jazz had created a 2nd unit based on speed and wreaking havoc defensively.
Now without Exum, the Jazz have to either thrust rookie Donovan Mitchell into a ball-handling roll or play more traditional point guard Raul Neto. Neither scenario gives the Jazz anything similar to what Exum was able to deliver off the bench.
If the Jazz opt to give Mitchell the backup point guard minutes it could have a ripple effect on how Quin Snyder forms the rotations. Mitchell and Burks in the backcourt could be helped with a Joe Ingles ball handler at the wing rather than Thabo Sefolosha.
Mitchell, who is loaded with skills, is still learning the NBA game. He has yet to adjust to the speed and length of NBA players. The first time burden of 82 games is intensified if he has ball handling duties night in and night out.
Putting this weight on Mitchell in his opening months of the NBA is not ideal. There is a thought he may one day be a hybrid guard, but the plan wasn’t to have it happen out of the chute.
On the other hand, if you decide to play Neto at the point guard you lose the length that is the signature of the Jazz defense and it is hard to find minutes for Alec Burks, who is having a great pre-season.
Neto is a great luxury as a third point guard on your roster. He is mature, he can run the team and he will battle every minute he is on the floor. He can knock down shots if left open.
Another scenario to keep an eye on is the new two-way contract system. The Jazz have Nate Wolters, a point guard, on a two-way contract. The two way limits him to 45 days with the NBA. How a day is defined is not entirely clear in the new system. The Jazz could use those 45 days as a backup point guard safety net.
The impact of this injury trickles down to the last roster spot as well. The Jazz have 15 spots and 15 guaranteed contracts. Raul Neto’s importance may have just increased. The loss of Exum for an undefined period of time also puts a burden on the Jazz wing depth. Royce O’Neale has had a very good training camp and is wing security.
Away from all the minute details, the big picture is crushing. A 22-year-old Exum who came into the league with high hopes and immense pressure was finally going to find his where his game stood in the NBA realm. The Utah Jazz who invested a 5th pick and high hopes on the elite length of athleticism of Exum were eagerly waiting to see his growth.
If the injury is season ending the Jazz and Exum will be 4 years into the journey with many of the same questions they had the night they drafted him in 2014.