Australian free agent guard Dante Exum is signing with the Houston Rockets, and his path to minutes is becoming clearer by the day.
As reported by NBA insider Shams Charania, Exum is set to return to the Rockets after last season’s short stint with the franchise in which he didn’t play a game due to a long-term calf injury.
The biggest barrier to success in the NBA for Exum has been his health. Since being drafted in 2014, he has managed just one full season, and hasn’t played more than 42 games in a season since 2017.
When he’s on the court, he offers tanalising length at a guard position with his 207-centimetre wingspan. That’s where he has found his success in the league since being taken with the fifth overall pick – the Australian can pick up full court with his lateral quickness and is always a passing lane threat with great defensive anticipation.
The 26-year-old put it all together in the Boomers’ bronze medal run at Tokyo 2020 in the off-season. Exum averaged nine points and nearly three assists off the bench for Australia. He was often part of crunch-time lineups, with his defensive versatility and ball-handling capacity proving vital down the stretch.
Possibly the biggest factor for Exum’s success in Tokyo was his increasing aggression on the offensive end. He found success in finishing at the rim with his superior athleticism, and started to drive with regularity.
This was a stark contrast from his tentative play in the NBA after several seasons of gruesome injuries.
His Boomers play – combined with an improving three-point shot that should break through his 35.1 per cent high watermark – gives him an exciting outlook for the 2021/22 season.
Rockets’ guards run deep; but for how long?
Despite another rebuilding outlook for Houston this year, its guard depth is valuable. The Rockets drafted Jalen Green with the second overall selection in this year’s draft to add to its youth movement.
The G-League Ignite product lit up Summer League for the Rockets, recording 20 points per game. With the Rockets heading in a full-blown youth movement, the 198-centimetre rising star is expected to start at shooting guard this season and command upwards of 30 minutes a night.
The other major piece of this rebuild is Kevin Porter Jr., who balled out in the second half of the season when given the keys to run Stephen Silas’ offence. He formed a dynamic connection with big-man Christian Wood, and figures to start at point guard after averaging over six assists to go with 16 points per game last season.
That leaves John Wall as the odd man out, who is now on the trading block.
As reported by Shams, both the five-time All-Star and Rockets organisation have agreed to work together on a suitable trade, given the outlook of the franchise and the fact that Wall has turned 31 and is searching for success after an injury-interrupted career with the Washington Wizards.
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It opens the door for Dante Exum to compete for minutes at both guard spots this season.
Veteran point guard DJ Augustin is well past his best years, and comes into the organisation as a mentor for the younger ball handlers. Eric Gordon has struggled to stay healthy but is a spark plug off the bench at shooting guard or small forward for Stephen Silas when fit, while David Nwaba and Avery Bradley don’t warrant big minutes given their age and impact in previous years.
Other guard options are Danuel House – who is more likely to see minutes at small forward – and rookies Daishen Nix and Josh Christopher, who will spend their time in the G-League to start.
So could Exum conceivably forge 14-16 minutes off the bench as a back-up one and two this season?
What he offers the Rockets is untapped upside on both ends of the court, a good match with the offensively minded duo of Green and Porter Jr., and another playmaker for a franchise that was bottom six in the league for both points and assists per game.
Exum has shown his ability on the court when he is fully fit, now it’s up to him to put it all together because a role is there for him to carve out in Houston.
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