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Unknown Exum begins NBA life in the spotlight

POSTED: Jul 13, 2014 3:07 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper,


Dante Exum made four-of-10 shots in his Summer League debut.

It happened a few times already, on Saturday night inside Thomas & Mack Center, the very first time Dante Exum wore a Jazz uniform on the court. It's going to happen a lot, especially once games start to count and attention is magnified.

Exum is going to do something special and probably spectacular. He is too explosive, too capable of creating his own pyrotechnics and his instincts are too good, even at this early stage, for it not to happen. Plus, the smile. Cameras will magnetically stay on him.

In other news, it doesn't matter.

For all the hype surrounding Exum's arrival as the teen sensation from Australia and fifth pick in the draft, an emotion that increased Saturday by the end of the first half of his first summer-league game, the real read moving forward will be on how he handles the every day: Can he make the right passes and decisions to develop into a dependable point guard amid skepticism from many front offices around the league, can he grow a consistent jump shot to become something more than a YouTube wonder on fast breaks and back-door lobs?

Similarly, Utah games here are the first step in the assessment of whether point guard Exum and point guard Trey Burke, the 2013 lottery pick, or whether the Jazz will have a position battle watched with unusual interest for two young players on a team that likely misses the playoffs again. Those are the important outcomes, and none will be determined by "SportsCenter" highlights.

Rookie Ladder

1. JABARI PARKER, Bucks (previous ranking: 1)

Parker was not great in the opener-slash-showdown of top picks on Friday, a 70-68 Cleveland win over Milwaukee, but showed a lot of the complete game that makes him the most NBA-ready of the Class of 2014 while finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes.

2. NERLENS NOEL, 76ers (2)

Noel moved well while playing three of the five games in Orlando and sitting out the other two, the Sixers said, to rest, an encouraging start to the next phase of his comeback from knee surgery. Philly next game is Monday.

3. JULIUS RANDLE, Lakers (3)

He did not play in the opener Friday and remained unsigned as of Sunday morning as the Lakers tried to finish the majority of their free-agent business before committing cap space to Randle's contract. If that continues while others are producing, there's probably a hit in the rankings, through no fault of his own.

4. JARNELL STOKES, Grizzlies (4)

The second-round pick, No. 35 overall, finished Orlando averaging nine rebounds a game in 26 minutes, without ever playing more than 30 minutes. Though struggling with his shot at times, Stokes still scored 10, 16, 11 and 12 points in the limited time.

5. JAMES ENNIS, Heat (5)

Small forward Ennis had already made a strong case to go from former longshot -- No. 50 in 2013 and playing in Australia and Puerto Rico last season -- all the way to the Heat roster, no matter what James decided. Miami is pushing hard to add a replacement starter at the position, but Ennis could push as hard to make the rotation.

6. JORDAN ADAMS, Grizzlies (6)

Adams left Orlando on a bad note, by making just five of 13 shots and scoring 11 points against the 76ers, but that was after scoring at least 19 points in three of the four previous games.

7. DANTE EXUM, Jazz (10)

Playing mostly off the ball when Trey Burke was in the game but getting time at the point nonetheless with Burke logging 30 minutes, Exum made four-of-10 shots, scored 10 points and had three assists against one turnover in 27 minutes on Saturday.

8. ANDREW WIGGINS, Cavaliers (8)

The No. 1 pick struggled with his shot in the opener, making one of eight three-pointers, seven of 18 overall and three-of-six on free throws. His elite athleticism should allow Wiggins to get into the lane and draw fouls.

9. DOUG McDERMOTT, Bulls (7)

He is one of the many Bulls who will benefit from the presence of free-agent signee Pau Gasol, who will find open shooters. That's McDermott from a lot of spots on the court, even if the first game ended two of eight from the field and two of five from behind the arc.

10. K.J. McDANIELS 76ers (9)

He has missed the last two games and most of a third because of a sprained ankle. It seems to be more precautionary than anything, after McDaniels' encouraging early showing in Orlando. There was no early word whether he plays Sunday.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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