Tag Archives: Utah Jazz

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.

NEXT MAN UP

After their surprise regular season Eastern Conference title in 2014-2015, the Atlanta Hawks could have been forgiven for blindly doing whatever it took to keep their roster intact. When the TorontoDemarre Raptors threw $14 million per at Demarre Carroll, however, the Hawks sensibly opted to let him go, rather than invest a fifth of their pre-tax cap space in their fifth starter.

While the Hawks clearly made the right business decision, Carroll does leave a significant, junkyard dog-sized hole in the Atlanta starting five. In his two breakout seasons in Atlanta, Carroll averaged over 31 minutes a game which, if nothing else, is a lot of floor time to fill. Last season, Carroll was also productive in those minutes, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 boards and 1.3 steals per game. More importantly, as anyone who watched the Hawks play last year knows, Carroll’s impact is only partially reflected in his numbers. The Junkyard Dog also brought a level of intensity, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, that is difficult to replace.

THJrThe Hawks have made a few offseason moves to help fill the Carroll void. They brought in Tim Hardaway Jr from the Knicks and picked up Justin “Jrue’s Brother” Holiday from Golden State. While both, particularly Hardaway, will be able to provide some valuable minutes at the three spot and may evolve into impact players down the road, neither will be able to step into Demarre’s role right away.

Instead, the person best positioned to pick up Carroll’s slack is the man that backed him up for most of last year – Thabo Sefolosha.

Sefolosha is currently rehabbing from a serious NYPD-inflicted injury that ended his 2014-2015 season (and seriously hurt the Hawks title hopes) and neither Sefolosha nor the Hawks are yet talking return dates. However, if Thabo can make a full recovery from the injury, he may be more ready than anyone thinks to step into the Carroll’s spot in the starting lineup. While Thabo has never produced on the offensive end in the way that Demarre did over the last two years, the Thabo2similarities between the two players suggest that Sefolosha may be on the verge of the same kind of breakout season we saw from Carroll in 2013-2014.

To begin with, they are physically virtually identical. Carroll is 6’8, 212 lbs, while Sefolosha stands 6’7 and weighs in at 222 lbs. Both are known for their athleticism and hustle, moreso than for their skills.

When we look at the numbers in the season before each player joined the Hawks, we can see that Thabo actually seems to have been well ahead of Demarre prior to landing in Atlanta. In 2013-2014 Sefolosha’s final season with the Thunder, he averaged 6.3 points, 1.3 steals, 1.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 26 minutes of action per game. These numbers are all slightly ahead of Carroll’s 6.0 points, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.8 rebounds per game in nearly 17 minutes for the Jazz in 2012-2013. While Sefolosha’s elevated numbers could be viewed as a product of the extra nine minutes per game he played in OKC, the fact that he was entrusted with more minutes playing for a better team is hardly a compelling argument in favour of Carroll.

Sefolosha’s numbers dipped in his first year in Atlanta (except in rebounding, where he jumped to 4.3 per), but this drop off is likely tied to the dip his minutes took when he found himself playing behind Carroll. When we compare the two on a per 36 minutes basis, Sefolosha’s stats are better than Carroll’s in rebounding, steals, assists and blocked shots, with Carroll edging Sefolosha out only in scoring.

Carroll and Sefolosha also seem to be developing along a similar path. Both began their careers as defence and energy guys, with Carroll adding his offensive abilities later on. His big leap in Atlanta Thabo1seemed to come from the three point line. Carroll did not shoot a meaningful sample of threes until his final year in Utah, when he averaged 1.1 attempts per game. It was not until he arrived in Atlanta that he was able to shoot with sufficient proficiency to justify attempting any more, shooting 36% in 2013-2014 and 39% in 2014-2015. Thabo, on the other hand, arrived in Atlanta having already proved that he can be deadly from beyond the arc. Prior to a drop off in his final year in OKC, Thabo shot 43% on 1.7 attempts per game in 2011-2012 and 41% on 3.2 attempts per game in 2012-2013. Whereas Carroll arrived in Atlanta needing to develop a 3-point shot, Thabo showed up fully formed.

It is clear that Sefolosha has all of the skills and natural ability needed to step in and replace Demarre Carroll as soon as he’s healthy enough to return to action. The biggest question mark is whether he will be able to bring the same energy and intensity that Caroll brought every time he stepped on the floor. If so, the best move the Hawks made this offseason may have been letting the Junkyard Dog get away.