Dennis Lindsey stood in a corner of the room, talking privately about Dante Exum. He was excited about the Jazz’s young draftee, the 18-year-old kid from Down Under, who somehow had slipped through the first four selectors in last month’s draft, almost as though prospects from the Southern Hemisphere weren’t real, they didn’t actually count, spinning through the draft drain in the opposite direction, falling straight into the open arms of the Utah Jazz.
Crikey! There is a basketball god, after all.
Since that time, Lindsey had kept an eye on his new prize.
He was impressed by the maturity of a player so young. There’s speed there, talent and athleticism, the rudiments of an advancing game that a blind man could see. Sometimes Exum shoots like a blind man, too, but more on that in a minute. There’s also an ability and willingness to learn. That’s a fortunate thing, because there are those weaknesses to fix, holes to spackle and smooth and paint over, shooting to improve, especially barreling forward, going up against the best basketball players on the planet, most of whom left boyhood behind long ago.
“Patience,” Lindsey said. “I hope expectations don’t get too big too fast.”
That’s what happens when talent like Exum’s is both cloaked and fueled by the fog of mystery, a condition that enlarges imaginations yet unencumbered by the plain light of day.
Well. Those expectations have done nothing but blow up bigger with the excitement of the pick, even while fans still hadn’t seen the kid play. They may have checked out a few highlight videos, but nobody on the outside around here had watched Exum live and in person run up and down the court, shoot and pass the ball, drive hard to the rim or dish to teammates.
Until Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Exum was rolled out in an open practice on the Jazz’s home floor as a part of the club’s summer league entry slated to compete in Las Vegas starting this weekend. The Jazz offered free T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans who showed up — and they gave every one of them away.
What those curious fans saw was the same thing Lindsey has seen: a player who can do some things well, and a player who needs development.
Remember that word. Patience. This is going to take a while.
When Exum first stepped on the court, he was blown away by the ovation he got from the crowd. And perhaps a little freaked out. Ten-thousand people at a summer scrimmage for a rookie used to playing in high school gyms? It was a lot to absorb.
“When they started clapping for me, it kind of hit me a bit,” he said. “It took me a bit to settle down.”
Not sure that Exum ever did.
“My shots weren’t falling,” he said. “But it was about getting my teammates involved.”
Exum missed an open jumper. He bricked a 3. He clanked a reverse layup off a drive. He squibbed a shot that hit nothing but air. He shook his head in disgust.
Yeah, about that shot: “It’s something I’m going to have to work on,” he said.
Quin Snyder seemed unconcerned about the teenager’s accuracy, or lack thereof, mentioning how hard all the summer league guys have been working in practice, tearing down their legs.
Instead, Snyder stressed the positives.
“[Exum] sees things on the court,” he said. “That’s something you can’t teach. … He’s got a feel for the game.”
That seemed to be true. It’s much too early to draw conclusions, but Exum looks fluid on the floor and quick. He’s not a vertical player, but he can move. And he can pass. And he looks easily for open teammates. On one possession, Exum drove the baseline and drilled a pass to Trey Burke in the corner, from where Burke dusted the net with a 3. On another, he had his pocket picked, giving up the ball and a layup on the break.
It’s going to take some with the youngster. But the rudiments Lindsey talked about are there. It will be months, no … years, before we know how far those rudiments, mixed with hard work, will take Dante Exum. This is the on-ramp to an early undulating road.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.