This being Dante Exum’s fifth season with the Jazz and Raul Neto’s fourth, there was hope that the minutes starting point guard Ricky Rubio spent on the bench would be in solid and capable hands.
It’s hard to make that argument, though, after Utah’s just-completed three-game road trip.
If it was memorable for Exum, then it was so for the wrong reasons: a total of 8 minutes and 48 seconds played, one point scored, 0-for-3 shooting, one assist, three turnovers, and one dreaded “DNP—CD.”
The 23-year-old from Melbourne, Australia signed a three-year contract this summer worth up to $33 million, with the idea that he’d be the primary backup to Rubio, that he’d be a defensive force in the backcourt, that his game-changing speed would make him a stalwart on the team’s second unit.
Instead, he has struggled, to the point that he’s barely needed to take off his warm-ups in recent games.
Coach Quin Snyder said the 6-foot-6 reserve simply needs to embrace the competition for minutes and improve his game.
“I just wanna see him keep getting better. The way for him to keep getting better is to just keep competing, take his shots when he’s open, attack, defend, and make mistakes,” he said. “When you’re out there, you have a chance to get better and learn more about yourself.”
Neto, meanwhile, had been seeing his minutes ramp up since his return from a hamstring injury suffered just before training camp — until the past two games, anyway.
NOT ON POINT
Backup point guard Dante Exum’s minutes have been on the decline recently, as he played less than nine minutes total on the team’s recent three-game trip. Raul Neto’s, meanwhile, had been steadily increasing — but abruptly started to decline again once Donovan Mitchell returned from injury. Here’s a look at their last five games, and their season averages:
Dec. 2 at Heat*3:07*2*1-1*0-0*1*0
Nov. 30 at Hornets*8:32*3*1-1*1-1*3*2
Nov. 28 at Nets*15:28*11*4-8*1-3*2*2
Nov. 26 vs. Pacers*15:41*6*3-6*0-2*3*2
Nov. 25 at Kings*18:51*9*2-6*1-1*5*2
Dec. 2 at Heat*1:55*1*0-1*0-1*0*0
Nov. 30 at Hornets*DNP—CD
Nov. 28 at Nets*6:53*0*0-2*0-0*1*3
Nov. 26 vs. Pacers*16:25*9*3-11*1-4*1*3
Nov. 25 at Kings*20:03*4*2-5*0-0*1*0
He’d played 19 on Nov. 25 in Sacramento, then 16 the next night vs. Indiana, and 15 on the trip-opener in Brooklyn. The next two games, though — just nine minutes in Charlotte, and only three in Miami on Sunday.
Snyder acknowledged before the Heat game that Neto’s minutes likely always will be in flux, but that his dependability when his number is called is a definite asset.
“Raul is so … I think ‘reliable’ doesn’t really do it justice,” Snyder said. “To have a player that you can put in for a minute if you need to, and that minute sometimes becomes four minutes, and then four can become six, and then you can play him again in the second half; and then to be able to have games where you don’t play — a player that has the ability to do that and actually play well when they’re in there, and that’s reliable, that you know what you’re gonna get [is valuable].”
Since returning from injury, the 6-1 Brazilian has appeared in seven games and is averaging 10.4 minutes off the bench Snyder said that, even in limited opportunities, Neto finds ways to contribute.
“He really is thinking about other players on the team. Regardless of who he’s in the game with, he has the ability to make people better,” Snyder said. “You saw a play a few games ago where he stole an inbounds pass, threw it back, and someone hit a 3. Things like that — those minutes can be really impactful, even if they’re short.”
Neto has defensive deficiencies, though, that make it hard to give him much more time than what he gets. Still, that’s at least been more than Exum of late.
The two saw their fair share of action while starting shooting guard Donovan Mitchell missed a pair of games with a rib contusion. Against the Kings and Pacers, Exum played 20:03, and 16:25, respectively, while Neto was on the court for 18:51 and 15:41.
Once Mitchell came back, though, Exum’s minutes went away.
Perhaps that’s because his production was incongruent with the time he spent on the court. Against the Kings, he had just four points (on 2-of-5 shooting) and one assist; and vs. the Pacers, he fired up 11 shots, but made just three, totaling six points and one assist, while committing three turnovers.
Offensively, he’s been too loose with the ball of late, and his shot too bricky (he’s hitting only 37.1 percent overall and 26.3 percent from deep for the season); and defensively, there have been a surprising number of lapses recently — too many, anyway, to make up for the miscues on the other end.
For the season, Exum is averaging 16.3 minutes, 6.4 points, and 2 assists. Snyder, though, is clearly looking for more. Rubio is averaging 29.9 minutes per game, and on the trip, his minutes went up — he played 32 vs. Brooklyn (despite shooting 0 for 9), 33 in Charlotte, and 36 against Miami. When he does come out, Mitchell and forward Joe Ingles have increasingly handled the ball and run the offense.
Perhaps Tuesday’s game against San Antonio at Vivint Smart Home Arena will offer up a new chance.
“He’s in a good place,” Snyder said. “I just want to see him keep working.”
JAZZ VS. SPURS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV • NBA TV, AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 11-13, Spurs 11-12
Last meeting • Spurs, 124-120 (March 23)
About the Jazz • Utah dropped the finale of its three-game road trip Sunday in Miami, falling 102-100 to the Heat. … The Jazz had a 19-point first-quarter lead in that game, which disappeared when the team missed 14 straight shots and went more than 8 minutes without scoring. … Donovan Mitchell scored 35 points in the teams’ previous matchup, which took place near the end of the 2017-18 regular season.
About the Spurs • San Antonio has made the playoffs for 21 straight seasons, but lost the last big ties to its title-contending teams this summer as Manu Ginobili retired, Tony Parker signed with Charlotte, and Kawhi Leonard was traded to Toronto. … The Spurs had been blown out in two straight games before Sunday’s 131-118 victory over the Trail Blazers, in which DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 36 points. … LaMarcus Aldridge scored 45 in last year’s final meeting with the Jazz.