‘It’s hard to get back’: How Dante Exum returned to the NBA and found success with Luka Dončić and the Mavs

Dante Exum nonetheless shoots it the identical. He’s like an motion determine standing there within the reverse nook, knees bent into a robust base, his movement after the catch nonetheless compact like he was barely taken out of the field again in Utah. His jumper seems to be practically an identical to when Exum joined the Jazz as a teen, nonetheless elevating the rock from his proper hip straight as much as his shoulder, cranking like a catapult till the very prime of his launch. And but, one thing has clearly modified for Exum this season with the Dallas Mavericks.

After two winters in NBA exile, after choosing the brains of Europe’s biggest shooters, Exum has returned to the league with a vengeance — most lately delivering a 4-of-4 show from deep, together with a dagger triple with 37 seconds left in San Antonio on Tuesday. He’s sporting a newfound accuracy, having now drained 50% of his 80 long-range makes an attempt on the marketing campaign, after years rife with taking pictures slumps and harm woes that derailed his NBA profession and left him labeled a bust.

His development extends far past the arc. At 28, getting into his prime, Exum is extra bodily along with his drives, packing higher oomph into each pound of the ball, utilizing all of that 6-foot-5 body and 6-foot-9 wingspan that helped make him a top-five select of Australia one decade in the past. He’s supplied Dallas with one other playmaker the Mavericks want behind their pair of All-Star creators in Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. He’s rebalancing the three-guard backcourt that yielded Dallas a visit to the Western Convention finals in 2022 after not factoring into the league in any respect.

“It’s been a whirlwind, simply what I’ve went by and every part I’ve accomplished,” Exum informed Yahoo Sports activities.

Dallas head coach Jason Kidd has discovered Exum’s resurgence paying homage to Shaun Livingston, the lanky ball-handler who joined Kidd’s 2013-14 outfit in Brooklyn, and parlayed that robust marketing campaign right into a three-year take care of the champion Golden State Warriors. Livingston was the fourth select of highschool in 2004, a promising 19-year-old rookie, earlier than a devastating knee and leg harm curbed his third season.

“[Exum] had setbacks with accidents,” Kidd says. “Coming again and at last stepping into the league. Understanding his basketball IQ is extraordinarily excessive. He is aware of play the sport.”

(Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports activities Illustration)

Like Livingston, Exum entered the NBA at 19, one of many youthful gamers within the 2014 draft, after he stopped taking part in dwell motion and earned the doubtful title as that class’ Worldwide Man of Thriller. He was thought-about such a query mark that, whereas Sam Hinkie’s 76ers evaluated all their choices with the No. 3 decide that might finally turn out to be Joel Embiid, Philadelphia insisted Exum’s then-agent, Rob Pelinka, now basic supervisor of the Lakers, decide one other participant for Exum to work out in opposition to one-on-one — just about unparalleled for a consensus prime prospect. The 2 sides agreed that Exum’s opponent could be Tim Frazier, a senior guard from close by Penn State who proceeded to prepare dinner Exum like he was bullying a helpless freshman after observe.

“That was most likely one among my worst exercises,” Exum says. “That was the primary time I performed and did something within the exercise, not one-on-zero.”

Utah grew to become Exum’s touchdown spot with that 12 months’s fifth choice. The Jazz watched him intently at Nike’s 2013 Hoop Summit when he performed alongside Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. They prioritized interviewing him on the 2014 Draft Mix, to study simply how he ticked. Utah understood Exum would mark a improvement undertaking, his skinny body so devoid of NBA-level mass, amid a rebuild that was already handing the keys to a younger Gordon Hayward.

Exum would play all 82 video games of that rookie marketing campaign. “That was one thing I needed to do, simply to expertise every part about it. Simply form of dive into it,” Exum says. Solely that following summer time, earlier than the 2015-16 season even commenced, Exum felt his left knee buckle within the paint whereas taking part in for the Australian nationwide staff. It was a torn ACL that price him his second 12 months. He’d return to see 66 video games throughout his third season, solely to have T.J. Warren fly into his torso by chance throughout a preseason recreation that following fall, separating Exum’s shoulder and leaving him in situation to see solely 14 contests for his fourth journey across the league.

His frustration mounted, his physique and destiny failing every part he’d skilled for. “I feel my outlook on that has modified a lot. I feel it needed to,” Exum says. “Simply with the issues I went by, how I’ve needed to bounce again.” Exum had grown resigned to Utah’s coaches viewing him as extra of a complementary 3-and-D participant, not the potential face of the franchise who may have partnered in pick-and-rolls with Rudy Gobert. That honor rapidly shifted to a shifty teenager named Donovan Mitchell. By 2019, Exum requested his illustration to request a commerce out of Salt Lake Metropolis. And two days later, two days earlier than Christmas 2019, a half an hour earlier than Utah would take the ground in Miami, Exum discovered he was being held out in opposition to the Warmth, that he was being dealt to Cleveland in change for Jordan Clarkson.

“I didn’t suppose it was gonna occur that quick. However I used to be completely satisfied, relieved, and simply prepared for that subsequent chapter,” Exum says. “I wanted a contemporary begin. I feel it was simply one thing I wanted for my psychological, simply to get again to taking part in basketball.”

That chance would by no means actually include the Cavaliers, who’d ultimately ship Exum to Houston as a part of the four-team, January 2021 blockbuster that delivered James Harden to Brooklyn. The Rockets waived Exum that October. He had a number of gives to affix completely different groups’ G League associates, “however that wasn’t the trail I needed,” Exum mentioned. As a substitute, he joined FC Barcelona, one of the crucial storied golf equipment of the Euroleague. “It was a method to kinda keep within the highlight with out being within the highlight,” he says.

He discovered familiarity inside FIBA play, the model he grew up perfecting, with out the personal charters and splendid locker rooms, with the higher game-to-game competitors throughout Europe’s shorter seasons. His passport collected so many stamps visiting so many international locations, Exum now must renew his papers for a clear ebook with free areas for brand new stamps. He sought taking pictures counsel from Alex Abrines, the previous Thunder draft decide, and Kyle Kuric, the Louisville product, who compiled back-to-back 50-40-90 taking pictures seasons in 2021 and 2022. He watched their routines. He puzzled get away of a droop. There was nothing mechanical to tweak.

“I feel it’s simply comfortability, consistency and confidence,” Exum mentioned. “That was the one factor I’ve tried to enhance. However I feel numerous instances whenever you’re taking pictures and also you miss one, you kinda get in your head a bit bit. I strive to not let that occur anymore. At what level do you turn out to be a shooter within the sense of what number of am I prepared to overlook earlier than I cease taking pictures? And I would like that quantity to be excessive.”

BELGRADE, SERBIA - MARCH 28: Dante Exum (R) of Partizan in action against Alex Abrines (L) of Barcelona during the 2022-23 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 31 game between Partizan Mozzart Bet Belgrade and FC Barcelona at Stark Arena on March 28, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)

Dante Exum spent the earlier two seasons in Europe, working towards an NBA return. (Photograph by Srdjan Stevanovic/Euroleague Basketball by way of Getty Photos)

Nonetheless, every recreation, Exum would go away the court docket charting his efficiency, feeling it slope towards an NBA comeback after robust outings or sputter towards additional purgatory with every wrestle. Final season, Exum opted to affix Partizan in Belgrade, the place legendary head coach Željko Obradović had returned after 30 years to pilot the membership’s inaugural stint by Euroleague. “It was like, ‘No, I’m simply specializing in profitable, specializing in what I’m doing proper now,’” Exum mentioned. “If the NBA occurs, that occurs. And I feel that helped me simply kinda dwell within the second.”

After Exum helped Partizan win the native ABA league, the crazed fan base flooded the ground. “However it wasn’t simply random folks,” Exum mentioned. “It was followers who had been there the entire season and seen every part since recreation one, on the court docket with us, celebrating, crying. The flares going off.” Forgetting about his future made his dream a actuality. The Mavericks got here calling, with sufficient assured cash to go away numerous robust European gives behind.

“It’s all the time a threat. Not many individuals go to Europe and are in a position to come again,” Exum says. “It’s onerous to get again.”

Exum has introduced his NBA return quietly and steadily, through the downbeats of every recreation. If Irving arrived in Dallas to switch Jalen Brunson’s second act behind all of Dončić’s pick-and-roll wizardry, then Exum acquired again to the NBA entering into the footwear crammed two years prior by Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s not coming off the bench itching to microwave factors every evening. However Exum will get the Mavericks up the ground and taking part in with tempo. His drive and kicks come on the proper time and place, usually a primary battering ram that clears the best way for a extra essential blow. Together with his efficient stroke, Exum is aware of the evolving coordinates that assist house the ground for Dončić and Irving, whether or not holding that reverse nook or reducing off the horns units Dallas runs with all three ball-handlers bunched on the prime of the important thing.

DALLAS, TEXAS - DECEMBER 12: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after a basket by Dante Exum #0 of the Dallas Mavericks in the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on December 12, 2023 in Dallas, Texas.  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. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

When Exum shares the ground with Dončić, good issues occur in Dallas. (Photograph by Tim Heitman/Getty Photos)

The lineup information is small however substantial. Throughout video games the place Exum has been accessible, Irving and Dončić truly sport a -2.9 internet score in 511 minutes collectively with out their Australian operating mate, per PBPStats.com. When all three have shared the ground, over 100 minutes, the Mavericks sport a 124.8 offensive score — three factors above the Dončić-Irving output, increased than the league-leading Celtics — with a 112.9 defensive score, stage with a top-10 unit on the season for a Mavericks staff that’s been caught within the backside third of the NBA on that finish of the ground.

The Mavericks have closed loads of battles with all three guards sharing the ground. Exum’s calming presence instructions the belief of teammates, who know the veteran has the instincts to maintain their offense afloat. He even permits Dallas to play Dončić off the ball every now and then, unlocking the Mavericks’ MVP candidate as a screener. Exum’s lengthy strides are so purposeful as he trudges by the paint. He has nifty hooks and floaters with both hand, which he can masks so deftly whether or not they’re a shot try or a sneaky lob to one among Dallas’ deep bullpen of rolling bigs.

“The expertise in Europe, for Exum to play over there and struggle to get again right here, has helped him lots,” Kidd says.

“He’s match proper in with taking part in off Luka and Kai. He’s performed at a really excessive stage from operating the present to pulling down 3s after which defensively serving to us as an enormous guard.”

And now that he’s returned from proper knee and foot accidents that sidelined Exum by a lot of January and February, he’s been a useful platoon at any time when Dončić or Irving miss time. General, in 405 minutes collectively this season, Exum and Dončić are sporting a 14.4 internet score, with a monstrous 128.7 offensive score, when Irving is off the ground.

The Mavericks have received six of seven video games within the West’s crowded struggle to claw above the play-in match, seven of the 11 since Exum returned from the coach’s room. It doesn’t really feel or appear to be a coincidence. Even when Exum seems to be like the identical combo guard from yesteryear, he and Dallas now seem on a unique trajectory, even when none of this was direct.

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