Yes, it's only the NBA Summer League, but the early returns on Dante Exum are at the very least encouraging for the Utah Jazz.
All you need to know about the Las Vegas Summer League is that it had Nate Robinson's jersey retired. That's how serious it is. As an indicator of future success, the summer league is about as reliable as watching a movie trailer and then gauging its Oscar candidacy.
With that said, fans will always want to see their team's most promising players, especially the incoming rookies, look strong. Making a good first impression is always important, so what better way to start the upcoming season?
Anthony Bennett missed last year's summer league, which served as an omen for the 2013-14 regular season. Now, he's taking part, looking in shape and possibly primed for a bounce-back campaign.
Exum made his NBA Summer League debut on Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, finishing with 10 points and three assists.
The numbers weren't the notable part of his performance. What left many fascinated were the few snapshots of Exum's massive potential, and that's what the summer league is all about.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla thinks that the Jazz will only be happy with what the rookie accomplished on Saturday:
Watched Jazz-76ers game tonight @NBASummerLeague. Jazz will be ecstatic with some of things Dante Exum did tonight.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) July 13, 2014
Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune believes that Exum's speed will be a valuable asset:
This won't be breaking news for long: Dante Exum is fast. Really fast.— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) July 13, 2014
Liberty Ballers' Derek Bodner highlighted the 18-year-old's ability to penetrate:
Exum has been getting into the paint off the dribble all night. He keeps doing that and he's going to have a lot of success in this league— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) July 13, 2014
Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe believed that Exum is still pretty raw but that if his game comes along as it should, he can create matchup nightmares for the opposing team:
It's summer league, but the early review of Dante Exum is he's going to be a real problem to defend when he actually learns NBA game #jazz— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) July 13, 2014
One play in particular left many fans walking away excited for what could happen for both Exum and the Jazz. He picked the pocket of Jordan McRae and then threw down a two-handed jam. You can see the play below.
The initial takeaway was that Exum displayed great hand-eye coordination and reactions to not only get the steal but then have the wherewithal to quickly make a move and set up for the slam. Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears took notice:
It's just summer league, but just saw an amazing steal followed by a baseline two-hand dunk by Jazz rookie Dante Exum.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 13, 2014
The Cauldron's Andy Glockner went so far as to argue that the Orlando Magic might already be regretting passing up on Exum in the first round:
Fun game. Lot of guys to watch playing nicely. I feel like ORL is already swallowing a bit hard about passing on Exum for Aaron Gordon.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) July 13, 2014
Exum hit a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter that tied the game up at 68-68. Although Utah eventually lost out, you couldn't help but get swept up in the moment and envision Exum wanting the ball in his hands when his team's down in the final minutes.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder praised his mental fortitude, per Utah's Twitter account:
Part of what makes Exum's summer league somewhat important—relatively speaking—is that he was so much of an unknown before the 2014 NBA draft. Sure, everybody knew that he was one of the best players in the class, but few had actually seen him play enough to make a true assessment of his current talent level and possible ceiling.
These NBA Summer League practices, scrimmages and games are a great way for Exum to get his feet wet and for the Jazz to better understand what kind of player they have on their hands.
Utah is building for the future, and Exum will be a large part of its plans. Going off of Saturday night, it would appear the franchise is in good hands.