Tag Archives: Trey Burke

COULD THE DANTE EXUM INJURY BE GOOD FOR THE JAZZ?

Jazz Nation was devastated last week when news broke that sophomore guard Dante Exum had torn his ACL in international competition on this rather innocuous looking play. The injury is, without question, a major setback in Exum’s development, and one he can scant afford given the limited elite level basketball he’s played to this point in his life.

The injury also won’t do much to help the Jazz’s prospects in 2015-2016 – a year in which someExum1 were predicting big things from Utah. In fact, prior to the injury, so many people were picking the Jazz as a playoff dark horse that Zack Lowe declared on his podcast that they no longer qualified as a sleeper. While Exum’s numbers last season were fairly pedestrian, by the end of the year he had moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz were certainly hoping for a bigger contribution in the coming year. While the prospects of the Jazz beating out two of the Thunder, Mavericks and Pelicans for the eight seed may have been overblown, there’s no question they would be better off with Exum than without.

Obviously, the Jazz are not building for the upcoming NBA campaign. Their sights are set 5-10 years into the future, when Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are distant memories and Chris Paul and Marc Gasol are shells of their former selves. The real question for the Jazz then, is what this injury means for their hopes of beating out Wiggins and Co for the Western Conference crown in 2021.

Exum2As difficult as it may be for the Jazz faithful to swallow right now, it may well be that the loss of Exum for this season makes them better when they are realistically hope to be in a position to contend for an NBA title.

First of all, it’s important to put into perspective what an ACL tear means in today’s NBA. Medicine has progressed mightily since this same injury put Bernard King’s career in jeopardy in 1985. In the medical realities of that day, we would have been justified in fearing for Exum’s career at this stage. Today, however, Exum is more than likely to be the latest addition to the list of professional athletes that come back from an ACL tear looking like it never happened. We saw Adrian Peterson do it in 2012, and more recently in hoops, we’ve seen Derrick Rose and Lou Williams return to form following the same injury. Particularly given that Exum only turned 20 in July, it seems much more likely than not that he will bounce back without losing a step.

If Exum ultimately suffers no meaningful loss of athleticism and remains the giant, throbbing ball of talent he is, the injury could actually work to Utah’s advantage in a couple of ways. First of all, it might give Exum an opportunity to sort out his shot. Dante shot 34.9% from the field and 31.4% from deep last season. While many rookies shoot poorly, these numbers need to get better if he’s going to turn into the elite level guard the Jazz drafted him to be. Exum’s workouts will be limited as he recovers, but one thing he will be able to do is shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Admittedly, neither Derrick Rose, nor Sweet Lou showed any meaningful improvement in their shooting percentage following injury, but it’s worthwhile to note that the time off may give Exum a chance to work on something that genuinely needs work.

More importantly, freed of the need to find Exum minutes, the Jazz will have a chance to sort out the burkerest of their lineup – by which I mean, figure out once and for all if Trey Burke (of the non-vitation to the Team USA minicamp)   is any good. Burke, a heavily decorated collegian and highly-touted draft pick in 2013 has been disappointing in his first two years in the league. Soon, the Jazz are going to need to decide whether to pay the man, or cut bait and move forward without him. With Exum out, Burke will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself and, hopefully, how far he’s come in three years in the NBA.

Finally, the biggest benefit the Jazz may get out of Exum injury is not having to pay Exum when his own rookie contract expires. While the injury is unlikely to have a lasting effect on Exum’s athletic ability, it will certainly slow his development. Based on his rookie season, Exum is not a max-deal type of player, but he certainly has max-deal type talent. Coming back from injury in 2016-2017, Exum is likely to struggle because he’s been out of basketball for a year and because he’s just not that good yet. This may mean that, when it comes time to negotiate his second contract, Exum may not have the body of work that would justify a max deal, potentially allowing the Jazz to lock him up at a discount, much the same way as Steph Curry’s glass ankles allowed the Warriors to sign the reigning MVP up at a substantial discount in 2012. Curry presently makes $11 million a season, dramatically less than his draft classmates Blake Griffin, James Harden. This discount on Curry gave the Warriors the flexibility to give a big deal to Klay Thompson, bring in a key free agent like Andre Iguodala, and keep Draymond Green in the fold following this year’s title. A discount on Exum in a couple years’ time could have similar benefits for the Jazz.

While this may all seem like small consolation for disappointed Jazz fans looking forward to a playoff run in 2015-2016, the future in Utah remains bright and only time will tell if it is in any way affected by the injury to Dante Exum.

THE UNCHOSEN ONE

You could be forgiven for forgetting all about him. Shabazz Muhammad’s name does not spring readily to mind when you think about the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves roster boasts three consecutive number one overall draft picks and the NBA’s reigning slam dunk Shab2champion. It’s easy for a player like Muhammad, who doesn’t fly quite as high as Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine, to get lost in the glitz and glamour of the other youngsters on the squad. However, he may yet prove to be one of the most important pieces in the Timberwolves rebuilding process.

Entering the third year in the NBA, Muhammad’s pro career has begun with a less than ideal start. Due to injuries and a D-League assignment, he has played in only 75 total NBA games over two years – 37 in his first year and 38 last year. These injuries, in themselves, are cause for concern. If Muhammad can get himself, healthy, there are ample reasons to believe he could be as important to their future as anyone currently on their roster.

It should not be forgotten that Muhammad is a world class talent. Before his lone season at UCLA, Muhammad was widely viewed as the best high school player in the nation. As a high school senior in 2012, he was named Mr. Basketball USA, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the McDonald’s All-American game MVP. Muhammad was ranked as the top high school prospect by Rivals.com and second by ESPNU and Scout.com and had his pick of top NCAA programs. Were it not for the NBA’s prohibition on high schoolers declaring for the draft, Muhammad might well have been a number one overall pick himself. While the gloss on Muhammad’s prep career wore a little with revelations that he was a year older than many had been led to believe, his talent at that time was undeniable.

Instead of going straight to the show, Muhammad spent a year in the house UCLAthat Wooden built. His year at UCLA was anything but smooth. Muhammad lost three games after being declared ineligible for recruiting violations (the decision was later reversed), he was criticized for carrying an unreasonably expensive bag, and failed to get appropriately excited when teammate Larry Drew II hit a game winner against the University of Washington. These criticisms had little to do with his on-court abilities, however, and Muhammad’s freshman performance only confirmed his elite level talent, particularly on the offensive end of the court.

Despite a proficient season of college ball, in the much-maligned 2013 NBA draft Muhammad fell almost out of the lottery. He was selected 14th overall by the Jazz, before being shipped, along with Gorgui Dieng, to the T-Wolves in exchange for Trey Burke. It was this drop in draft order, more than anything he had done on the Court, that has led to Muhammad being overlooked as a key component of the T-Wolves future.

Despite the lack of hype and the limited gameplay, Muhammad did show flashes of superstar potential in his second pro campaign. Muhammad had 28 and 30 point games and was third on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, while shooting an impressive 39.2% from beyond the arc. He was also second among perimeter players (to Ricky Rubio, shockingly) in rebounding at 4.1 per. In one 20 game stretch, Muhammad averaged 16.9 points per game, tying the season average of the great hope from the North, Andrew Wiggins. While comparing Wiggins’ rookie campaign to Muhammad’s sophomore season may seem unfair, it is worth noting that, to this point in their careers, Wiggins has played more total NBA games than Muhammad.

Beyond the stats, Muhammad showed a desire and tenacity that put the lie to the allegations of selfishness that tainted his college career and draft stock. Shabazz consistently crashed the boards on both ends, and proved himself a reliable finisher around the hoop, often fighting through contact to make plays.Wiggins

Shabazz Muhammad will never get the kind of hype that is bound to follow Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns throughout their careers. However, if allowed to flourish in the role he is carving out for himself, he may wind up as one of the most important pieces in the championship puzzle the T-Wolves are trying to put together.