2018 NBA free agency grades: Jazz will keep Dante Exum

(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Dante Exum has reportedly agreed to a contract extension with the Utah Jazz that will keep him around for the next three years. Let’s take a closer look at this surprising deal.

According to ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dante Exum and the Utah Jazz have agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract extension. The agreement shows general manager Dennis Lindsey’s commitment to the former fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The size of the contract comes as a big surprise considering Exum’s injury history and lack of production during his time in the NBA.

Exum played all 82 games in his rookie season after being drafted by the Jazz at the age of 19. His numbers weren’t very good, but he showed promise. However, things took an ugly turn in his second year when he tore his ACL over the summer and had to sit out the entirety of the 2015-16 campaign. He also missed nearly all of the 2017-18 season due to a shoulder injury.

Exum has a lot of potential, but his contract will also carry a lot of risk. There are positives and negatives to consider when evaluating this upcoming deal.

The positives

Needless to say, the start of Exum’s career has been a rocky one. Given his awful career averages (5.7 points, 2.2 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game on 39 percent shooting) and his propensity to get injured at such at young age, it would’ve been reasonable of the Jazz to give up on their young point guard.

Instead, they have agreed to bring him back for three more years. At first glance, it’s a puzzling move, but Exum has shown significant improvement in his injury-plagued career. He has raised his shooting percentage from 34.9 percent in his rookie year to 42.7 percent in 2016-17 and 48.3 percent in 2017-18 (although that last number comes from a sample size of just 14 games). In those 14 games last season, he averaged 8.1 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in just 16.8 minutes per game.

While these numbers are not eye-popping, they are certainly respectable given the minutes he was given, and they should inspire some confidence for the Jazz going forward. The numbers also do not show Exum’s talent on the defensive end. He doesn’t rack up many steals or blocks, but he certainly is a very solid defender at 6’6″ especially for a young player who’s missed so much time.

The negatives

Those are the positives, but there are also some negatives that bear mentioning. First and foremost is Exum’s awful 3-point shooting. This season he shot an abysmal 27.8 percent from deep, down from 29.5 percent in the season before. As a point guard, if your shooting is this bad, defenders have no incentive to step out and guard you and they can just slip under every single screen with no consequence.

Another negative, of course, is Exum’s health. So far in his career, he has shown an inability to stay healthy, and this is a major problem for a player as young as he is at just 22 years old. The Jazz are taking a big gamble by signing him to such a lengthy contract given his injury history. The next three years will probably make or break not only his career with the Jazz, but his career in general.

Overall, it’s a pretty bold move by the Jazz to offer Exum such a lucrative and lengthy contract. He has shown great promise, but his inability to stay healthy is a major red flag. Two serious injuries as unrelated as a knee and a shoulder are not a good sign at all.

Some players just never seem to be able to get their body in balance, and Exum certainly seems to be one of them at this point. There were other, safer options that the Jazz could have targeted at the point guard position. If Exum suffers another serious injury in the next couple of years, the Jazz may find themselves seriously regretting this deal, but for now, his potential at 22 years old is what sealed this new agreement.

Next: 10 candidates for breakout seasons in 2017-18

Grade: B-