Last night, the Utah Jazz held an open scrimmage at EnergySolutions Arena in preparation for the Las Vegas Summer League. The team will fly to Las Vegas today where No. 5 overall pick Dante Exum will see his first official action in the NBA, but the scrimmage marked the Australian guard’s debut in front of the Salt Lake City faithful. It’s only his first week on the job and what exactly can be discerned from a practice that, more than anything, is an exhibition for fans is debatable, but Exum clearly has some work to do. On the other hand, Rodney Hood gave fans plenty to be excited about.
From dunking in transition and showing defensive effort to connecting from three-point range, Hood was simply playing on a higher level than others out there on the court. As a late-first-round draft pick, history dictates that Hood could be out of the league in a few years. If anything can be learned from his performance in the scrimmage it’s that Hood probably won’t fall into that category. Jazz beat writer Tony Jones tweeted that he looked like a day one rotation player. I’m inclined to agree. He has good size for his position, and in the scrimmage he appeared to be a much better leaper than some may have anticipated. He also showed some of that rebounding prowess he had displayed in college prior to transferring to Duke.
Conventional wisdom is that the team still needs a veteran wing presence. But if Hood is able to maintain this level of play throughout the summer and into the season, he could find himself with the lion’s hare of the bench minutes behind the presumably-returning Gordon Hayward whether the team adds another small forward or not.
For his part, Exum showed flashes of the potential that had some discussing him as a potential No. 1 pick in the draft, but his night was less consistent than Hood’s. As an 18-year-old with limited experience, Exum has always been considered a player who would probably take some time to develop. He looked the part in the scrimmage.
Defensively, he seemed somewhat lost at times. He was shaken out of his shoes a time or two when his man on the perimeter attempted to drive to the basket. On more than one occasion, he was watching the opposing side run its offense as opposed to providing weak side help. On one particular possession, a rebound was coming into his area, but he made no effort to flag the ball down. Instead, an opponent came in from the outside and snagged the offensive board. On the other hand, after getting caught up in a ball screen on one play, he was able to use his length to recover and force an air-ball on a jump shot. He was also able to steal an in-bounds pass after a made basket, calmly wait for help and find a cutter for two points.
The brightest spot in Exum’s game Thursday night was his court vision. On his team’s first possession, he drove the baseline and hit Trey Burke for a corner three. This was just one of multiple plays in which Exum was able to find a shooter on the spot-up or a cutter in the lane. He also looked good in the open floor, though there wasn’t a lot of transition action in the game. His shooting form wasn’t bad, but he definitely will need to work to develop consistency with his shot. He misfired pretty badly on more than one attempted jumper.
Again, it’s just one scrimmage and a lot of the players were dealing with nervous energy, but in the first preview of what Jazz fans can expect, Exum showed promise (albeit inconsistently) and Hood looked like he could be the steal of the draft.