Monson: Sunshine is breaking through on the Utah Jazz
NBA • Exum, Hood, Gobert all giving Jazz management reason to smile
Published: July 16, 2014 09:59AM
Updated: July 15, 2014 11:08PM
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Gordon Monson. Tribune Mug. -(This is Gordon Monson's first choice for column mug)- Photo by Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune 6/20/2006

This is not meant to blow sunshine in all directions or any direction. It’s not meant to overestimate or to oversell the situation. It’s not meant to provide a lot of hope where there is little. Nobody knows how this is going to turn out.

But what is happening with the Jazz right now seems a promising, positive thing. There are indications that the moves they have made are nudging them upward and onward from last season’s nadir. Somebody once said: “A wise man sees as much as he should, not as much as he can.”

Let’s see what we should, then.

• The drafting of Dante Exum was a good idea.

The teenager from Australia has a lot to learn about the NBA game. He also has a boatload of ability, some of it yet undeveloped and unrefined. When Exum is on the floor, it’s like watching a baby deer run. He wobbles a bit here and there, sometimes he accelerates when he should hit the brakes, sometimes he backs off when he should hit the throttle. The jump shot needs work.

But the speed is there. The court savvy is there. The vision is there. The ability — and the willingness — to set up others is there. Exum can get to the rim and get the ball to the rim for rolling teammates. He’s a creative young player who has mastered, as Quin Snyder has already said about a thousand times, “things you can’t teach.”

Dennis Lindsey said on Monday the Jazz have to find the right course in Exum’s development: “The gifts are obvious. The question is, how do we best get those gifts out of him on a consistent basis? How do we support him appropriately? And keep those gifts on the court as long as possible, so if there’s a potential 14- or 16-year career here with us, let’s get it all out. Not try to do too much too soon.

“I hesitate to put any expectations on him or to limit him in any way,” Lindsey said. “We have to be careful not to put too high of expectations where they’re unrealistic at this point in time. Players and teams are like water. They always find their level. Dante will find the right level. His humility and his makeup are just as exciting as his speed. There’s a piece of clay here. We just have to do it the right way.”

• The drafting of Rodney Hood was a good idea.

There’s always danger in drawing too much from summer league games. Want proof? Greg Ostertag once dominated Tim Duncan in a game in the summer. No lie. That’s a thing that happened. Another thing that happened — Monday night — was Hood putting 29 points on his old college teammate Jabari Parker and the Bucks’ entry in Vegas. Hood went deep, was efficient, had a great floor game and helped the Jazz win by more than anyone cared to count.

At times during that game, the question crossed nearly everyone’s lips: How did this guy last until pick No. 23?

It’s not a question the Jazz care much about anymore. They have him and are glad they do. One of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season — and that’s a crowded list — was shooting. Hood is a shooter, a shooter who doesn’t seem overly concerned about whether the attempts he puts up drop in or bounce out — and those are the most dangerous kind. He already knows enough of them will hit the net. And Snyder and the crew are encouraging him to fire up the open shots he gets.

One other note on the pair of draft picks, as Lindsey mentioned: If there are two rookies with better, more conscientious approaches to their early NBA experiences, they’d be hard to find. Hood: “I want to learn, work hard and win.” Exum uttered darn-near those exact same words. By all indications, they meant them.

• The Jazz overpaid for Gordon Hayward, but they had to. The checks will be large, and, in hindsight, the Jazz could have saved themselves some cash by offering Hayward a bit more before the start of last season and gotten that deal done. Lindsey was asked about that on Monday and he acknowledged that the Jazz would examine and evaluate the way they handled their business. But he also was happy to have Hayward aboard.

Although the Jazz overpaid for Hayward, strange as it sounds, the $15 or $16 million per season over a relatively short-term deal won’t really hurt them as they move forward.

“It doesn’t really impact us in the short term of how we’re building the team,” Lindsey said. “There are very little opportunity costs. … We’re comfortable with the decision.”

Regardless of the money, competitively speaking, the Jazz are better with Hayward, and they need his skills. He’s a good defender who gets up the floor quickly and he’s a gifted passer who fits into the team form they’re attempting to mold.

After Monday night’s summer league game, Snyder spoke repeatedly about the successful ball movement the Jazz achieved.

That idea, even at an embryonic point, should excite anyone who watched what the Spurs did with that offensive philosophy in the playoffs. It’s the Jazz’s goal to replicate that the best they can.

• Derrick Favors has grasped and embraced the importance of leadership.

The Jazz big man has been involved from jump at Snyder’s hiring, and, despite not playing on the club’s summer league team, has been working out with the youngsters, watching film, sitting on the bench during practices and games, supporting the whole deal. That’s more significant than it normally would be because some critics questioned whether Favors had that drive in him. Apparently, he wants to show that he does.

Said Lindsey regarding Favors’ efforts, “I’m jumping out of my skin with excitement.”

• Rudy Gobert remains an intriguing prospect.

He’s long and raw, but Gobert appears to be making the kind of progress for which the Jazz had hoped. He still needs to get to his offensive spots quicker. His free-throw shooting is an adventure. But the man can block shots, clog the middle, and help the Jazz overcome some of their defensive liabilities from a season ago.

“Rudy really used last year wisely,” Lindsey said. “He worked hard with the coaches. … His body’s improved. He’s put on eight pounds of good weight. He’s worked hard on his free throw shooting. He’s worked hard on his jump hook. He’s naturally competitive. He cares about his career. We’re seeing natural maturation. The mental maturation has been bigger than the physical. But he still has a long way to go.”

As do the Jazz.

Their rebuild is in about Stage 2 of a process with many stages to come.

But there are bits of sunshine breaking through. There’s a decent amount of promise here. A blind man can see that. A wise man will see what he should.

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