Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

NBA Draft: Utah Jazz get lucky with Dante Exum, Rodney Hood

By Jody Genessy, Deseret News

Published: Fri, June 27 9:11 a.m. MDT

 Dante Exum, right, poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the Utah Jazz as the fifth overall pick during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York.

Dante Exum, right, poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the Utah Jazz as the fifth overall pick during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York.

(Kathy Willens, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Luck wasn’t on the Utah Jazz’s side in the NBA draft lottery last month.

That changed Thursday.

Even though the Jazz came into this draft with an enticing top-five pick — along with the 23rd and 35th selections — it was the common assumption that they were on the outside looking in at the most-hyped players.

It seemed Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum and perhaps even intriguing-but-injured Joel Embiid would be off the board before their turn to pick came around.

That also changed Thursday.

After being unable to pull off a trade with Cleveland to pick up Parker as hoped, the Jazz’s fortunes improved immensely as the four slots ahead of them were filled by Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and — surprise! — Aaron Gordon.

That made the selection of Exum, the quick Australian combo guard who had been projected as a possible top-three selection, a no-brainer.

The Jazz were pleasantly surprised later in the first round when Duke small forward Rodney Hood, the ACC’s top 3-point shooter, slipped to them at No. 23.

Two picks. Two players quickly snatched up in positions lower than they were listed on the draft board in the Jazz’s war room.

All things considered, this draft haul turned out to be a best-case scenario for a Jazz team that endured a rough, 25-win rebuilding season and grimaced as lottery-lucky Cleveland leapfrogged them in the draft order in May.

Although some around the Jazz expressed their thrill, describing the organization as being “very happy” and calling Thursday a “great night,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey took a more measured approach.

“I’m not really that concerned about winning the press conference and the emotion,” Lindsey told reporters at Zions Bank Basketball Center moments after the Jazz wrapped up their draft duties. “I want the fans and you guys to be exited about what we did, and I think we did some solid things. But, really, the valuation will be years from now on how Dante develops and how Rodney contributes.”

Though they ended up being drafted lower than expected, both Exum and Hood expressed excitement at being selected by the Jazz.

Exum, who turns 19 on July 13, said he's excited about Utah's "rich history and a good team culture" and, yes, about recently hired Jazz coach Quin Snyder, whom he had a brief chat with and called "the new head coach who's a point guard."

The 6-foot-6 guard was considered the International Man of Mystery coming into the draft because he didn’t have a lot of experience playing against top-level talent outside of a few international competitions.

But Exum’s potential as a multiple threat in the backcourt had some teams consider selecting him in the first picks.

“I just want to come in and try to help be a leader of the team,” Exum said during an interview from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I know I’m young, but I want to come in and establish that. As a point guard, (I’ll) try and be that guy people can turn to and rely on.”

Incidentally, one of the first people to congratulate Exum and welcome him to the Jazz organization was Utah point guard Trey Burke, who was a guest of honor at the draft.

“I think the exciting thing about Dante specifically is he has the speed to play guard, he has the size and length to play wing,” Lindsey said. “We’ll let nature take its course. … He’s coming in behind two great guards (in) Burke and (Alec) Burks. I think in time he’ll be a good contributor.”

The son of former North Carolina basketball player Cecil Exum, the Australian averaged 18.6 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds for the national team. The athletic talent really caught the eye of NBA scouts, including from the Jazz, when he tore it up at the Nike Hoop Summit during his high school playing days.

Lindsey cautions that Exum will have a learning curve because of his youth, but the Jazz are optimistic he’ll improve his shooting touch and work his way into becoming a two-way player. Utah is also confident he’ll be able to play point guard and shooting guard in a combination with Burke and Burks.

“Dante’s in store for an NBA introduction on how quick and how fast and how violent NBA basketball will be,” Lindsey said. “We ‘re confident over time that with his makeup and work ethic, he’ll be a good player.”

Exum and Hood will both fly to Utah from New York for an introductory press conference Friday afternoon before embarking on a whirlwind couple of weeks that will lead up to the Las Vegas Summer League next month.

“I've heard it’s a beautiful place,” Exum said of Utah.

Though Exum didn’t work out for the Jazz, thinking that he’d be gone by the fifth pick, Utah brass were impressed with his demeanor and attitude when the organization interviewed him in May at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

Some have compared his game to Penny Hardaway, but Exum said he’s got his own style.

“I honestly don't think I resemble anyone,” he said, adding that his speed and ability to push the ball are among his strengths. “I'm a very unique player.”

In Hood, the Jazz drafted a 6-8 small forward who averaged 16.1 points and shot 42 percent from 3-point range with Duke last season after transferring from Mississippi State.

Hood said he admiringly watched Al Jefferson play in high school in Mississippi and even played against Jazz center Derrick Favors as a teen.

“I'm excited to be a part of the organization,” Hood said after Utah used a pick acquired in last offseason’s trade with Golden State to pick him up. “It still hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m very excited.”

With their 35th pick, the Jazz considered drafting a player they could either stash away for the future overseas or in the D-League, but they ended up selecting Tennessee big Jarnell Stokes for Memphis. In exchange, Utah will get the Grizzlies’ 2016 second-round pick.

Lindsey admitted the Jazz tried to move up in the draft — and were tempted to do more wheeling and dealing — but ultimately stayed at the No. 5 spot. He vehemently denied that the Jazz attempted to trade Favors (although he didn’t mention him by name) and called such reports “wildly inaccurate.”

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com

TWITTER: DJJazzyJody

Dante Exum highlight video

Related Stories

Jazz get a Kobe...or a chance at one

Brad Rock
June 27, 2014

A complete list of all eight NBA draft day trades

The Associated Press
June 26, 2014
Recommended
1. Hoosier87
American Fork, UT,
June 26, 2014

I LOVE this pick - nice job Jazz!

This kid will bring in (back) a lot of fans. I for one am excited to see him play.

2. Kakashi
Tokyo, Japan,
June 26, 2014

I didnt understand the pick...knowing the fact that...Exum wanted to play for the Lakers...i dont know...i just have this sick feeling that he wont be with utah after his rookie contract

3. 1991Jazzfan
Provo/USA, UT,
June 26, 2014

Another PG!!! He's a kid, another player we are going to have to wait on to see if he is going to be any good. We needed a Center or Power Forward this is just another sign that Jazz ownership really doesn't care about who the put out on the floor. It seems like we have good coach now that Corbin is gone!!!. Noah Vonleh is Still on the board Just Saying..... As along time Jazz fan I'm sick of seeing the Jazz being stupid with their picks. Although the guy that is in Charge of the Jazz now built the San Antonio Spurs and they just won another title their 5th in 15 years so hopefully he knows something that we don't.

4. scalman
Temecula, CA,
June 26, 2014

Fantastic potential. long and quick, very young, very unproven, this is an intriguing, possibly astute pick. I think that the Jazz were thinking Embiid, Gordon, then Exum, but who knows, this kid could turn out to be an awesome NBA player. Barring an injury, he won't play much this coming year, so let's see who the Jazz go for next.

5. Jazz Source
Alpine, UT,
June 26, 2014

Easy choice.

The best player available. You don't draft need in the top 5....you take the best player available and many predicted Exum would not be available when we made our #5 selection.

Trey Burke better step up his game last year vs this year or he may be out of here. Trey struggled with length and getting inside. The Jazz got this year what they wanted last year.

Should be interesting.