During Australia’s exhibition game with Finland in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, Utah Jazz fans were given a scare when Dante Exum landed badly following an attempt to dunk the basketball. Though early reports claimed it was a knee injury, Exum stated after the game that it was a “minor ankle sprain.” This may leave Jazz fans feeling nervous about their players participating in FIBA games, especially given the Paul George situation. However, the fact remains that the World Cup experience is invaluable for Exum and others.
Injuries are part of the game and can occur at any time or place. As disturbing as George’s injury was, it was really the first of its kind for USA Basketball since NBA players were allowed to participate in 1992. The same thing might have happened during a pick-up game or a training session. As frightening as the prospect of Gordon Hayward, Exum or Rudy Gobert falling prey to such a mishap might be, the importance of this summer’s games to their career development cannot be overlooked.
Hayward has a real chance to make the US squad. Doing so and being able to play and spend time with all-league players like Derrick Rose, James Harden and others could be a catalyst of sorts for his potential transition from steady hand to star player. Rose won the MVP the season after jumping on board with Team USA. There are several other examples of players who saw a bump in productivity after getting run with the national team. Not to mention how it could change his perception around the league, with officials, in the media, etc.
For Exum, its a chance to play 5-on-5 basketball against high level competition. As he has spent most of the past year in preparation for the NBA Draft, Exum’s forays into that setting have been few and far between. At this point, he just needs to play basketball and get his legs back. There is no better place to do that this summer than the World Cup, where he’ll get the chance to go head to head with a myriad of world-class point guards.
The Jazz have others in the tournament that stand to gain a lot as well. There’s the aforementioned Gobert. Exum’s Australian teammate Brock Motum, who played with Utah in Las Vegas and has been invited to training camp. Then we have Raul Neto and Ante Tomic, former second round picks whose rights belong to Utah. Tomic is less likely to leave Europe now due to his age and the Jazz’ frontcourt surplus, but Neto was in Salt Lake City as recently as this summer, working out with assistant coach Johnnie Bryant. The experience of international play is huge for him.
So while fans and the teams they follow don’t want to see any fluke injuries to their players and media hyperbole concerning NBA players and the injury risk in FIBA games has hit fever pitch, the pros continue to outweigh the cons, especially for the young core of the Jazz.