Despite all the pre-draft chatter back in 2014, I feel pretty confident in saying Dante Exum is indeed not the next Penny Hardaway. Through six NBA seasons, the Melbourne native has failed to live up to his top-five billing and is certainly not the Hardaway-Russell Westbrook blend that Utah Jazz fans were hopeful they were getting.
Yet, despite his limitations, Exum still offers intriguing attributes that could theoretically help round out a roster. At 6-foot-5-inches and 214 pounds, Exum is a big-bodied guard with the ability to play both on and off the ball. He’s improved his range, hitting on 34.9% of his 3-point attempts in 2019-20. Plus, as James Harden became well acclimated to during a second-round series back in 2018, Exum has developed quite the tantalizing defensive skillset over the years.
Furthermore, he’s still just 26 years old and would likely come reasonably priced as an unrestricted free agent. In theory, this could bode well for a potential marriage between Exum and the Boston Celtics. NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg enlisted the versatile guard as a “low-cost flyer” for the Cs to deploy their $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception on this summer.
“Speaking of intriguing Aussie hoopers, Exum, who is playing for Australia’s Olympic squad, hasn’t come close to reaching his pre-draft hype,” Forsberg noted. “But he’s still a big guard who — if he could ever stay healthy, and that’s decidedly not Boston’s strong suit lately — would be a really intriguing low-cost flyer given his size.”
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Exum Prides Himself in His Evolving Game
When originally selected No. 5 overall, there were hopes that Exum could develop into a lead-guard and even a franchise-altering talent. While that clearly hasn’t come to fruition, he’s been able to modify and adapt his game to stay afloat in the ever-evolving NBA.
“I know I definitely didn’t get drafted on my defensive ability. I know that’s something I’ve always tried to work on and it’s turned into something that is who I am now,” Exum said at Boomers Las Vegas training camp, via ESPN.
Offensively, after failing to knock down better than 29.5% of his 3-point attempts in each of his final three full seasons in Utah, Exum made strides as a shooter following a change of scenery in 2019. After being traded to the Cavaliers that season, he appeared in 24 games, connecting on a career-high 35.1% of his shots from beyond the arc.
“This is a shooting game now, everyone is trying to shoot now and I think it just opens up so much more of my game if I’m able to knock down shots,” Exam said. “It opens up driving lanes and just getting into the paint and making the right reads.”
Exum Ready to Put Injuries Behind Him
Injuries have certainly played a major role in Exum’s inability to carve out a consistent role throughout his career. He suffered a torn ACL as part of the Australian national team in 2015. Over the past two seasons, he’s been limited to a total of just 41 games. In fact, he played in just six contests this year due to a calf injury, failing to play a single minute for the Houston Rockets after they acquired him as part of the James Harden deal in January.
Still, when it came time to represent his country in the Olympic games, the idea of passing up the opportunity to focus on his health ahead of free agency never crossed Exum’s mind.
“Honestly, it was no decision. It’s always been my dream to play in an Olympic Games,” said Exum. “I told my agent straight away it was always Olympics, I didn’t care what anyone had to say if they had any advice or anything. This is what I’m doing, we plan around it. It’s a good opportunity for me to come out and play, that’s what I want to do, that’s how I’ve been brought up and what I know.”
“I just want to be on the court, I want to play, I want to have fun. That’s when I have fun, when I play, not sitting on the sideline trying to rehab,” he added. “Whenever I’m healthy I’m definitely going to put my foot forward and play whenever I can.”