Utah Jazz

Are Dante Exum and Trey Burke in Each Other's Way as Utah Jazz Point Guards?

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 26: Dante Exum poses with Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz after being selected number five overall by the Utah Jazz during the 2014 NBA Draft on June 26, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jesse. D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

Dante Exum wasn't even supposed to be available to the Utah Jazz.

Almost every mock draft on the Internet had the Orlando Magic reaching for the next Penny Hardaway at No. 4. When they surprisingly took Aaron Gordon, Jazz fans rejoiced.

Nobody expected Exum to fall to No. 5, not even Exum himself. According to Jazz play-by-play announcer David Locke, that's why he didn't work out for the Jazz prior to the draft.

Exum has insisted all along he's a point guard, despite measurements—6'6" with a 6'9.5" wingspan according to DraftExpress—that would suggest he could even be a small-ball 3.

He's maintained that stance, even after spending a lot of time off the ball during the 2014 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. According to The Deseret News' Jody Genessy, Exum said, "I think I’m still comfortable at the point. I still want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible. I didn't get it a lot in my hands these last couple of games."

Burke sat out Utah's summer finale with an upper respiratory infection, giving Exum his chance to start at the point. Despite shooting just 3-of-11 from the field, he finished with a game-high plus-17 in the win. He made the right read in just about every pick-and-roll and set up his teammates for several more assists than the three he registered.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JULY 8:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives during an open scrimmage at Energy Solutions Arena on July 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Ph
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Throughout Utah's five games in Vegas, it was clear Exum was more comfortable with the ball in his hands. The same can be said of Burke.

So what does Utah do? Continue with the new vogue "positionless" basketball Quin Snyder's been talking about? Work on Exum's off-the-ball skills?

That may work for a while, but Utah could soon be faced with a tough realization—Burke and Exum are just in each other's way.

If the team accepts that, determining which one has more long-term potential is the next step. Based on what we've seen so far, it's a no-brainer.

Start with this summer league.

As a 19-year-old kid who's spent most of his life competing against Australian high schoolers, Exum understandably struggled. Burke didn't have the same excuses.

2014 Summer League
MINPTSASTREBTOTS%
Trey Burke27.09.04.04.03.037.0
Dante Exum26.67.22.82.63.039.9
NBA.com

After a full regular season's worth of starts, Burke should have stood out in Vegas in a good way. Even second-year players who struggled as rookies, like Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett, showed out. Burke, on the other hand, continued to look slower and smaller than the rest of the action around him.

Burke's lack of size and athleticism made creating shots for himself in the half court a nightmarish endeavor. It's why he was one of the worst shooters in the NBA.

In 2013-14, 53 players averaged as many field-goal attempts as Burke's 12.8. In that group, Burke's true shooting percentage of 47.3 was 52nd. Only Josh Smith was worse.

His struggles translated to the defensive end as well, as Utah gave up four more points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.

It wasn't all bad for Burke, though. He led the Jazz in assists with 5.7 per game and posted a solid assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.02. If he would focus more on facilitating than trying to score, he'd be much more effective. 

His ceiling is that kind of floor general who can establish a pace, settle an offense and ultimately pilot a second unit.

Exum on the other hand, is a potential franchise player—a point guard with the lateral explosiveness of Russell Westbrook and the size of Anfernee Hardaway.

A backcourt with him and another 6'6" super athlete, Alec Burks, could create a maelstrom of matchup problems for opposing defenses. A backcourt of Exum and Burke could amount to little more than a physically outmatched floor general and an inexperienced slasher playing out of position.

According to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah wants Exum to get plenty of in-game experience during his rookie season.

Hopefully, a good chunk of that time comes at point guard, as Utah stands to gain a lot more by developing him there than Burke.

That doesn't mean Utah should give up on Burke, though. A solid decision-maker piloting the second unit would be beneficial to the rest of the reserves. And he could still be on the floor at the same time as Exum, depending on game situations, foul trouble, etc.

Whatever the rotation is at the start of the season, there's little doubt that by the end, Utah should be pushing its backcourt of the future. 

That backcourt features Exum at the 1.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.

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