An Eye on Free Agency: Dante Exum

Here we take a look at upcoming free agents this summer and look at the possibility of the Pacers pursuing the player; today, it’s Dante Exum.

Dante Exum was the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, right after Aaron Gordon and right before Marcus Smart. Described as a scoring point guard with a high bball IQ, the Jazz hoped he would become their starting point guard and grow into an elite player. He had size (6’ 6”), athleticism, and was young (19). Though he had not played against much competition in Australia, he was firmly part of their youth development and played well in international competition, especially during the FIBA U19 World Championship.

Unfortunately, after an underwhelming rookie season where he started 41 games, scoring under 5 points per game on limited minutes, his second season, often the season where young NBA point guards begin to find their groove, was marred by an ACL tear. He didn’t play a single game. In his third season, he started 26 games and improved marginally in several areas, though he battled George Hill for minutes and never found his role. He played in fewer games and in fewer minutes per game, and though he improved in a few statistical categories, they must be taken with a grain of salt.

This season, he looked to have a great opportunity to show what he could do. His body would be more mature, he would be two seasons removed from a major knee injury, and he wouldn’t be competing with George Hill. But, in a pre-season game, Exum separated his shoulder, requiring season-ending surgery. There is still a chance he could play this season, but he will likely be shutdown for its entirety.

So, why should this matter for the Pacers? Exum’s qualifying offer from the Jazz is a shade under $7 million. Likely, the Jazz will offer this to Exum, making him a restricted free agent. If they do not, he will become an unrestricted free agent with the Jazz forfeiting their right to match any offer.

The Pacers would be in a position to force the Jazz into a deal with more money for that one year, something the Jazz might find difficult to do based on their cap situation, or sign Exum to a longer deal, something the Jazz might hesitate to do based on his injury history and the rise of rookie Donovan Mitchell possibly making Exum expendable.

So, should the Pacers pursue Exum?

Why They Should Do It:

  • Opportunities to gamble on lottery-level point guard talent are few and far between, and the Pacers ability to exceed his $7-million qualifying offer mean the Jazz must truly believe he is a long-term fit next to Donovan Mitchell to match whatever the Pacers offer.
  • As a position of need for the Pacers sooner rather than later (DC is 30 and on a short-term deal), Exum would represent a still young point guard who is primed for a breakout season, having played fewer minutes than most top five picks historically.
  • Exum’s size would compliment Oladipo on the perimeter.
  • In Exum’s time of the court, there have been flashes of what he can bring, including 22 points off the bench against OKC in his first season back after his ACL injury, and 12 assists against Denver late in his rookie season.

Why They Shouldn’t

  • Exum’s injury history is concerning for his long-term development and for his ability to stay on the court.
  • Spending money on Exum now, assuming a multi-year contract was offered would make it harder to spend big money on potential All-Star free agents in 2019, like Kemba Walker.
  • Exum has not proven he can consistently hit jump shots from distance.
  • Though possessing excellent physical tools, he is not yet an above average defender.

So, should the Pacers pursue Exum? Positionally, it makes sense, especially with Cory Joseph possibly opting out of his contract this summer, but without knowing how well he can come back from shoulder surgery, and knowing he cannot reliably stretch the floor, he might present too much of a gamble.

There have been reports that the Pacers will be players in the RFA market with a few stories naming Aaron Gordon as a possible target. Historically, the Pacers have basically passed on any restricted free agents per the owner’s directions, but perhaps that could change.

In GM Joe’s mind, though, I’m making the Jazz blink: three years, $30 million, team option in year three. If the Jazz decide to take it, they believe he is Mitchell’s long-term partner; if Exum comes to the Pacers and doesn’t produce, his contract still allows the Pacers to make other moves while maintaining cap flexibility. But if he does produce like a top-five pick in a new environment (where have I seen this before?) while staying healthy, that third year could become very interesting on the court.

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