DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 28: Dante Exum #11 and Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz talk during the game against the Denver Nuggets on February 28, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

After weeks of frustration and setbacks, Danté Exum ready to make his return to the court

by Aaron Falk

On the nights the confetti fell from above, Danté Exum wished he could be on the floor celebrating a big win with his teammates. Even on nights when things broke the other way, the Utah Jazz point guard felt like he was missing out.

“You want to be with the guys,” Exum said. “That’s the been the most frustrating part of the whole thing.”

But after months of frustrations and setbacks, Exum is ready to get back into the action.

“I’m just glad to be back in the lineup,” Exum said before Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

When Exum stepped on Derrick Favors’ foot and rolled his ankle back in early January, the Aussie point guard did not expect to miss much time.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of ankle injuries before, but none that’s kept me out this long,” he said.

Exum’s sprain was compounded by a bone bruise. Combined, the injuries caused him to miss 25 games. The bone bruise is a “sharp, annoying pain,” Exum said. “It doesn’t go away. It’s constant every time you’re running or cutting. The best thing for it is rest. When you’re playing this schedule, you want to keep going and doing everything. That’s what was getting me in trouble, just wanting to get back and wanting to get out on the floor and maybe pushing it a bit too soon.”

With the setbacks, came frustration.

“There are points where you can’t help it,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s where you just dig in. That’s what he’s done.”

Exum has dealt with a number of serious injuries during his NBA career. During his latest rehab, the point guard said he relied on his teammates to help him through the most difficult times.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Exum said. “Just every day they wanted to make sure I was right.”

Exum will be on a minutes restriction as he returns to the court, Snyder said. But for a Jazz team missing point guards Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto due to injury, Exum’s return provides much-needed depth.

“You can kind of forget that we’ve been playing without three point guards,” Snyder said, “which puts a lot of pressure on both” Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles as ballhandlers.

The 6-foot-6 Exum will also provide another long defender on the perimeter.

“The biggest thing that Danté’s able to do that’s different is his ability to contain and pressure the ball, in the open floor and in pick-and-roll,” Snyder said.

Exum is averaging 7.4 points, 2.7 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game this season. But before his injury, Exum had been playing some of his best basketball of the season. The point guard had scored in double figures in four of the five games before the injury.

“We realize he hasn’t played in two months, but it will be good to have him back out there and start to work through some of the rust,” Snyder said. “… The longer you’re out, the more difficult it is to pick up where you left off. But there’s no reason he won’t get back to that.”

Exum, for his part, is looking to make up for lost time.

“My mentality is I’m going to give it my all,” he said. “I want to have the best game possible. That’s my goal every night.”

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