Mavericks guard goes from unknown to crucial piece

Nov 28, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum
Nov 28, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Dante Exum / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, the Dallas Mavericks won their 13th contest of the year. They defeated the Portland Trail Blazers by the score of 125-112.

With Grant Williams unavailable due to knee soreness, and likely fill-in Josh Green out due to an elbow injury, head coach Jason Kidd turned to Dante Exum as the fifth starter.

In his second start of the season, the former sixth-overall pick showed out. He compiled 23 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in 33 minutes of action. Exum also played with absurd efficiency. He went 9-of-15 from the floor and knocked down both 3-point attempts.

Even when Williams returns, Exum will likely be in for an extended role. Against Portland, Kyrie Irving went down with an apparent foot injury. As the injuries build up in Dallas, the offseason investment in Exum now looks like a home run.

The former Utah Jazz guard was once deemed a top-tier prospect, but his once sky-high appeal fizzled out rather quickly. After seven seasons in the league, much of them shortened by injury, Exum signed a contract to play overseas.

His time in the NBA appeared all but over. However, after two improved seasons overseas, the Mavericks decided to sign Exum to a two-year pact. The signing seemed a bit out of left field, as Exum was somewhat of a forgotten man amongst NBA circles.

Despite the unfamiliarity with how Exum's game would translate back to the NBA after his stint in Europe, he's held up over the first quarter of the season. In 18 appearances, Exum averages 5.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 12.7 minutes per game.

Nevertheless, after Exum's past two performances, he looks like the spot starter Dallas needs. Exum is the type of player that doesn't need to score to affect the box score.

On Wednesday night, against the Utah Jazz, Exum only scored five points. But, he recorded six rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. And perhaps most importantly, Exum led all Mavericks with a plus/minus of plus-40. And not to be mistaken, this isn't an outlier.

Exum leads all Mavericks in plus/minus this season, at plus-81. Additionally, he has the biggest swing of any Mav. Dallas is fourteen points worse with Exum off the court.

Luckily for Dallas, Exum will be capable of filling in for Irving. It seems as if Dallas avoided catastrophe, but for now, Exum will certainly be a dependable part of the Dallas rotation sans Irving.