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Untapped Potential: Dante Exum

NBA2k15 MyCareer Mode with Dante Exum

Game Photo of NBA2K15 with Dante Exum

Remember when you played MyCareer on NBA2k15 and after your first rookie season, your “rival” appeared to challenge you as the next best thing in the NBA? That rival was none other than Dante Exum.

In 2013, Australian phenom Dante Exum was touted as possibly the next big star in the NBA. The Australian basketball player was selected fifth overall in the 2014 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, with high expectations from fans and analysts alike. Some notable analysts, including NBA scout and draft expert Jonathan Wasserman compared him to Russell Westbrook, citing his explosive first step and ability to attack the rim.

He also drew comparisons to legendary point guards like Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson. Exum in Australia possessed the size, handle, passing, and scoring instincts to dominate a game in any way. His hype only increased after he was named to the all-tournament team at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, where he looked like an absolute powerhouse.

However, eight years later, Exum’s NBA journey led to him playing overseas. To say his career has failed to meet those lofty expectations would be an understatement. In this edition of the Untapped Potential series, we will explore the reasons behind Exum’s shortcomings in the NBA.

Rookie Shortcomings

Dante Exum Gears up for his rookie season in the NBA with the Utah Jazz

Most of every rookie season comes with some growing pains. Initially, Exum’s health wasn’t the first thing that hindered his play. In the 2014-2015 season He played all 82 games while starting 41 of them in his rookie season. While he was healthy all throughout his first season, his play was a little bit to be desired. In 22 minutes, he only averaged 4.8 points, 2.4 assists, with shooting splits of 35%/31%/62.9% and had an awful true shooting percentage of 45.7%, which was the lowest in the league.

According to AndyHoops on YouTube, Exum also had the lowest PER, lowest win shares, and a 21.5 percent turnover rate. That means over one fifth of his possessions resulted in a turnover. The Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson comparisons did not age well. Many scouts across the league arguably believed he was the worst player in the NBA who averaged 20+ minutes a night.

But that’s just his rookie season, there’s going to be some improvements made in the offseason and he’ll play better with his team as he gets older, right?

Continued Offensive Struggles

Dante Exum With the Utah Jazz

Dante Exum’s On The Court

Throughout his career, Exum has been criticized for his passive approach to the game. He often defers to his teammates and fails to take control of the offense when he has the opportunity. This lack of aggression has limited Exum’s ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, making him less effective on the court.

Exum’s poor shooting has also contributed to his failure in the NBA. He has shot just 40.3% from the field and 72.3% from the free-throw line throughout his career, which is significantly below average for an NBA player. Exum’s poor shooting has made it difficult for him to stay relevant to a team, further limiting his overall impact on the game.

In addition to his lack of offensive production, Exum has also struggled with consistency throughout his career.  While he has shown flashes of brilliance at times, such as a few 20 plus point games in his career, Exum has never been able to string together consistent performances over an extended period. As a result, he’s been incapable of establishing himself as a reliable and consistent contributor on any team. This lack of consistency has made it difficult for coaches and teammates to rely on Exum, further limiting his impact on the game.

The Injury Bug

In his sophomore season, this is when the injuries began to pile up.

Before the start of the season, Exum tore his ACL during an exhibition game with the Australian national team. This injury forced him to miss the entire 2015-2016 season, which was a significant setback for his development.

In the following year, Exum played 66 games. Although his minutes decreased to 18.6, Exum steadily increased his points to 6.2,his field goal percentage to 42.7%, and free throw percentage to a near 80%. As of 2023, this would be the last time Exum reached 66 games. In the following seasons, Exum averaged only 19.4 games played, with the last season playing only six games. This was all due to injuries, which included, a few ankle sprains, a bone bruise, and a tear to his patellar tendon in 2019, His best statistical year came in the 2017-2018 season, averaging 8.1 points, along with 48.3% from the field. This was only in 14 games however, due to a shoulder surgery that sidelined him throughout most of the season.

Defensive Prowess

Dante Exum’s offense was hard to watch, but his defense was really where he shined the most. During his tenure with the Utah Jazz, the team had 97.1 per 100 possessions in defensive rating when Exum was in the starting lineup. Exum was also the best defender in his rookie class, going up against superstars like James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Damian Lillard. His 6’9 wingspan against proved to be a problem against opposing guards. Along with superior lateral movement, Exum utilized this to contest shots at a high frequency.

Defense was where most of his talent came from. Many Jazz fans believed after some time, his offensive production would catch up to a potential two way player. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. His entire career averaged just 5.7 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 rebounds per game.

These numbers are significantly below average for a starting point guard in the league, illustrating Exum’s inability to make a significant impact on the offensive end of the court. While Exum is a solid defender, his lack of offensive production has made it difficult for him to stay on the court and make a significant impact on the game.

Trade Moves

After several underwhelming seasons with the Jazz, Utah’s general manager finally pulled the plug and traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 24th, 2019 in exchange for Jordan Clarkson. This proved to be a great trade for Utah, as Clarkson has flourished in his role as the sixth man and occasional starting point guard.

Exum spent little time in Cleveland, playing only a total of 30 games in two seasons before getting hurt again and later traded to the Houston Rockets on January 16th, 2021. His time in Houston was even more forgettable, as he didn’t play a single game there and was later waived the following season.

The Glaring Issue

It’s become quite the running joke for Exum’s appearance in the infamous MyCareer Mode in NBA2k15. Aside from this, there’s no doubt in people’s minds that Dante Exum is still a talented player. His height, wingspan, and lateral movement is extremely solid, but the main issue was his shooting ability, facilitation, confidence, and inconsistency on the offensive end. Also, Exum really wanted to be a point guard. His desire to facilitate the offense and be involved in every play hindered his main talent on the court.

Plus, it’s likely scouts and the media who touted him as the next Penny, Russell, or Magic may have influenced him and the Utah Jazz to change his natural playstyle. This was a problem because Exum was going against his own strength, which inevitably lost his confidence to showcase his original talents on the NBA floor.

While Exum is still a relatively young player, he still has time to change his course and make a return to the NBA. In 23 games of the Euroleague this season, Exum is averaging 13.3 points 2.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in nearly 23 minutes. If he can overcome these obstacles and develop his game, it might still be possible.


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