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Dante Exum Getting His Confidence Back

Dante Exum talks about bouncing back from his ACL tear and regaining his confidence.

Cody Taylor

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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.”

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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