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Can Dante Exum sustain his production in a bigger role for the Mavericks with Kyrie Irving sidelined?

The journeyman guard is finding his footing back in the NBA, but can he keep up his great play for the rest of the season?

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks
Dante Exum of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 12, 2023 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

After struggling for much of last season and eventually tanking to get out of the playoff picture, the Dallas Mavericks appear to have found a formula that is working to begin the 2023-24 campaign. Dallas is 15-8 and is riding a four-game winning streak after taking out the Lakers Tuesday, who had strung together four dominant wins prior to the matchup with the Mavericks.

The biggest surprise in Dallas’ win was the play of Dante Exum, who tallied 26 points on 7-9 shooting from behind the arc. Exum has been getting extended playing time with Kyrie Irving sidelined indefinitely due to a heel contusion, and Exum has taken advantage so far. Is his production sustainable and how should he be looked at in fantasy basketball and DFS lineups?

It’s been a weird NBA journey for Exum, who was a highly rated combo guard out of Australia entering the 2014 NBA Draft. Exum didn’t play college basketball and decided to train during the year ahead of the draft, but that did nothing to impact his stock. He was taken fifth overall by the Utah Jazz and actually appeared in every game during his rookie season. A torn ACL during a match against Slovenia while Exum was playing for Australia would take the guard out of action for his second season, but he did return for his third season and played 66 games. Exum never quite clicked as a guard in Utah and despite appearing in 17 playoff games for the team, he was eventually phased out of the rotation and roster. He was part of the trade to the Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson.

Exum eventually went abroad for a few season but found a home with the Mavericks this year. He was largely out fo the picture as a backup guard, averaging 4.8 points, 1.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game for the first 17 games of the season. In the last three games with Irving sidelined, Exum has put up 21.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in 34.7 minutes per game. He’s shooting 63.9% from the floor and 66.7% from deep.

Obviously, that shooting number isn’t sustainable. No player can go through a long stretch at that clip, and Exum has historically never been a strong perimeter scorer. However, his per-36 numbers have generally aligned with the idea he can be efficient when given a consistent workload. His per-100 numbers are resulting in a net positive rating for the second time in his NBA career, according to basketball-reference.com. Exum managed a 110 offensive rating and a 106 defensive rating in his fourth season. This year, he’s at a 131 offensive rating and a 116 defensive rating. The 131 is a bit inflated by the shooting splits at the moment but it won’t go down too much depending on how big of a role he has.

The Mavericks are optimistic Irving avoided a long-term injury, but have maintained he is out indefinitely. That leaves Exum with a tremendous opportunity to stick on this roster for this season and beyond. He’s started out well on that path. Fantasy managers should look to at least have Exum on the roster, and he’s going to be a good FLEX option in DFS lineups as long as Irving stays out. Dallas seems willing to let Exum take some usage away from Luka Doncic, and the point guard will get enough minutes leading the second unit to boost his production. Exum is only rostered in 10.2% of ESPN fantasy leagues, so he’s likely to be available.

We’re about to get a better read on Exum’s viability in this Mavericks system. Dallas plays the Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets, Spurs and Suns in the next seven games, with the last contest taking place Christmas Day. Three of those teams (Minnesota, LA, Houston) are in the top six in defensive rating, while Denver isn’t too shabby at 13. If Exum can sustain his production through this stretch, he may have carved out a nice niche in this rotation even when Irving does come back into the fold. The Mavericks have been hoping for this type of player with every dart throw around their two star guards. They may have hit the mark with Exum this season.