Dante Exum signed a two-year, $6.15 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks to return to the NBA after the former number five overall pick spent the last two years in the Euroleague. Injuries and offensive limitations prevented him from catching on in the NBA during his first stint. New Mav’s advisor Dennis Lindsey was part of the front office in Utah when Exum was drafted, and was likely a big reason Exum has landed in Dallas.
His international production has been promising. His defensive energy and versatility have remained a constant, and his shooting numbers seem to have rounded into shape. After six NBA seasons that saw him average 40% from the field and 30.5% from three, his two seasons in the Euroleague with the clubs Barca and Partizan saw his shooting numbers jump to 52% from the field and 41.9% from deep. On top of that, he had a solid showing in the FIBA World Cup with the national team, where his shooting numbers remained solid and head coach Brian Goorjian mentioned needing to find him more playing time and called him a “vital” part of Australia’s top-10 finish. Exum was third on the team in both points and assists per game with 11 and three, respectively.
Is he an NBA rotation player? That’s what Dallas is looking for. They’ve kicked the tires on players like Frank Ntilikina and Justin Holiday, looking for serviceable depth, but now that they’ve parted ways with both Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock, they’re in semi-dire need of a solid piece who can defend and knock down the open shots that Luka Doncic generates. Exum’s recent international run certainly makes him seem like a shoo-in for that role.
As mentioned, his shooting numbers are greatly improved, but the volume leaves a bit to be desired. (Finney-Smith and Bullock both averaged over five 3pa/game. Exum averaged half of that, just 2.5 attempts in his most recent season with Partizan.)
Best Case Scenario
Bullock and Finney-Smith were both starters for this team and heavy-minute playoff players. Even in the most optimistic view, Exum won’t be that. But, if he could be the 20-minute-per-game version of those guys, that would be something Dallas could certainly use. Exum also brings some ball handling that neither of those two former Mavs had, which should help solidify his role as the floor leader off the bench. Ideally, you’d want Exum to get some minutes with Luka, as no one is going to generate the looks Exum could get running with Doncic, but there’s also value in having him on the floor as a dependable veteran creator as Dallas brings along Jaden Hardy in his second season.
Worst Case Scenario
He gets the Frank Ntilikina treatment. Ntilikina was another lottery-pick reclamation project that didn’t pan out. A defender that just couldn’t catch on or develop an offensive game. With how much head coach Jason Kidd values defenders, it seems like they’d have a much longer leash than, say, an offensively talented liability on the defensive end, cough-Christian Wood-cough cough.
From a monetary standpoint, there’s little risk in the two-year minimum Dallas has invested in Exum, but from a team-building standpoint, missing on this swing could be a not-noticeable blow to the team’s depth. Dallas needs players who can contribute when Doncic and Kyrie Irving aren’t on the floor.
Shoot four three-pointers a game. Dallas attempted the third-most threes per game last season with 41 per contest. The three-ball is a crucial part of the Dallas offense and they’ve lost a lot of volume shooters. Tim Hardaway Jr. remains, but he’s already taking nearly eight per game. Seth Curry is also back in a Dallas uniform, and he’ll only be on the floor for one reason: to shoot. Doncic and Irving can certainly let ‘em fly, but they’ll no doubt be taking some of the most highly-contested shots on the team. Roleplayers like Exum are in a prime position to backfill some of that deficit, and if he can do it at a league-average clip or, even better, north of 40%, that’s a big win.
On paper, Exum seems like the ideal player to take a flier on, and his recent run of success overseas and in FIBA bodes well for his return to the NBA. Dallas didn’t have much room this offseason to do much more than make some tweaks along the margins, and this could be one move that pays much bigger dividends if it pans out.