Suffering a serious injury can be one of the hardest things for a basketball player to experience. These setbacks are always frustrating, and recovery time can vary from player to player.
While the negatives of injuries are obvious, there can be some good that comes from going through this process. Of course, players may not admit that during their road to recovery, but there is an opportunity to take some positives from their time on the sideline when they return to the court.
For Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum, his road back from an ACL tear a year ago has allowed him to see some of those positives that come with riding the pine. Exum missed all of last season while rehabbing from a torn left ACL and spent a lot of time watching from the sidelines.
During this time, Exum was able to gain a better understanding of the game, which helped boost his basketball IQ. Sitting injured on the sidelines is obviously not where a player wants to be, but it proved to be a learning experience for him.
“I was sitting with a coach every game and on the road I was watching every game,” Exum told Basketball Insiders. “I was watching so much basketball and just getting the chance to learn away from the game not being able to play. I still think the best way to learn is to play, but it gave me a different perspective.”
Each player’s path in rehab can be different. Some respond to treatment quicker than others. Players that have suffered serious injuries, like an ACL tear, say there is a lot of downtime in the process.
It’s easy to see how some players can become down on themselves during this time, as there is a lot of uncertainty regarding ACL tears. Guys have returned from knee injuries and picked up where they left off, while others have needed more time to return to playing at a high level (or they simply don’t reach that level again).
Part of the process of getting back on the court includes increasing their confidence and being able to trust their body again during games. Once a player is able to return, a big part of returning to form is playing as if no injury occurred.
“[Gaining confidence] was the biggest thing that we were trying to work on throughout this whole rehab,” Exum said. “Definitely in the later stages, when it got to that point where I was starting to play again, it was just about getting the confidence back in the knee and the ability to play again. It took time but I had [confidence] before the season started.
“I think in the flow of the game, I definitely don’t think about it. Once it gets hit once in awhile, it kind of reminds you that it’s there. You kind of go, ‘Okay, yeah it’s there.’ It’s fine and I keep playing and it’s back to normal.”
Exum suffered his injury while playing last year with the Australian national team. News of the injury proved to be a huge blow to the Jazz last season as it left a huge hole at the point guard position. The team was forced to rely on several point guards throughout the season, like Trey Burke, Shelvin Mack, Raul Neto and Erick Green.
While Exum had a relatively quiet rookie season two years ago, his absence in the lineup still proved to be a big loss. For a team that prides itself on its defense, losing a great defender in Exum was a blow to their defensive identity. Even without Exum, the Jazz still finished inside the top 10 in defense last season.
For a few seasons now, the Jazz have been labeled as a team on the rise. The Jazz’s young core of Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Exum and others is among the best in the league. The team went out over the offseason and added veterans like George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to give its lineup some good balance.
The Jazz finished just one game out of the playoff race last season. The young core had some inconsistent play over the last month of the season, which allowed the Houston Rockets to sneak into the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Adding the three veterans seems to be helping so far this season.
The team has gotten off to a solid 7-4 start this season and find themselves fifth in the West. The defense currently ranks fourth in the NBA, giving up just 99.4 points per 100 possessions. The 7-4 start seems impressive as the team just wrapped up a five-game Eastern Conference road trip that saw them win four of those contests.
In 11 games this season, Exum is averaging 6.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His shooting percentages have improved compared to his rookie year, as he’s shooting 43 percent from the floor, including 36 percent from three-point range. Exum said he didn’t believe his shot was necessarily broken, but just needed to find some consistency.
With so much time spent during the rehab process, Exum is back stronger than ever. He said he worked out his upper body a lot during rehab and even his lower body once he was able to. It seems like a safe bet that he’ll continue to improve this season as he gains his confidence back and adjusts to playing with his teammates.
“We had all of September to kind of work that out and through preseason as well,” Exum said. “It was obviously hard last year being out of the team kind of feeling like an outsider, but I definitely feel like I’m back on the team.”
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