The breakout campaign of Jazz point guard Dante Exum will have to wait at least a year.
During an exhibition game for the Australian national team against Slovenia, Exum landed awkwardly during a jump stop in the lane.
The extent of the injury wasn’t initially known, as the 20-year-old even returned to the Australian bench with his knee wrapped as team doctors examined the damage.
Days later, after he flew back to Salt Lake City for further testing, including an MRI, doctors discovered Exum tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, an injury expected to keep the fifth overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft sidelined for a majority, if not the entire, 2015-16 season.
For the second summer in a row, an NBA team saw one of its key players suffer a major injury while playing in an exhibition contest for a national team.
Indiana’s All-Star forward Paul George managed to play just six games last season after breaking his leg while participating in a Team USA scrimmage last August.
Since 1992, when professional players from the NBA were cleared to participate in the Olympics and the FIBA Word Cup of Basketball tournament, George and Exum are the first players with severe injuries in international play.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league would review the guidelines for playing for national teams, but didn’t anticipate any drastic changes.
Players have the option to compete for roster spots for FIBA and Olympic teams throughout their entire career.
To make Exum’s injury even more frustrating, it happened without any contact from another player, so the result was completely poor luck.
Typically, a torn ACL requires at least six months of recovery time, but teams have been reluctant to rush players back from the injury.
Philadelphia kept Nerlens Noel out for the entire season, even though he tore his ACL four months before the NBA Draft.
Exum’s sophomore campaign was when he was supposed to quit relying on long range shots and become an intricate part of Utah’s offense.
During his first season in the NBA, 63.5 percent of Exum’s shot attempts came from behind the 3-point line. Of the 22 players to suit up for the Jazz in 2014-15,, Exum took the third most shots from beyond the arc but attempted just the seventh most field goals.
The 6-foot-6 guard converted just 34.9 percent of his attempts from the field, but once he replaced Trey Burke in the starting lineup, Utah’s defense turned into the most formidable in the league.
Coinciding with Exum’s promotion into the starting lineup, Utah also dealt away Enes Kanter, opening the starting center position for Rudy Gobert, allowing him to blossom into one of the most effective shot blockers in the league.
Exum each of his final 43 appearances for Utah and during that span, the team surrendered 100 or more points just 10 times.
To open the season, opponents scored 100 or more points in 15 of the first 25 games of the season and surrendered 102.3 points per game during that span, a figure that would have been tied for the fifth worst in the NBA.
Instead, at the end of the season, Exum was able to help Utah limit the opposition to 94.9 points per game, the fewest in the league.
The remarkable improvements defensively had the Jazz slated to snap a three-year playoff drought, but without Exum, the challenge is even more daunting.
Among the 111 players to attempt enough shots to qualify to be a league leader, Burke was the exact opposite, as he converted 36.8 percent of his attempts from the field, the lowest out of the group.
Burke’s confidence in his shot was so shaken, that his free throw shooting nearly decreased by 15 percent from his rookie year.
In his second season, Exum was supposed to take the next step towards becoming another prominent Jazz point guard, instead he will have to prove the injury hasn’t taken his remarkable first step away.