Dante Exum is this year’s International Man of Mystery.
He has hardly been in the spotlight — or played much organized basketball — in the past year. While the celebrated high school class of 2013, spread out for their one year in college and the attention it gives American fans, Exum stayed home in Australia far away from the prying eyes of the media, cameras and the basketball world.
He popped up here and there. His draft status seemed set after he competed against and beat many of those freshmen at the Nike World Hoops Summit in Portland. Further hints of his talent and athleticism were on display at the FIBA U19 Championship last summer.
Exum’s play could only be seen in scattered YouTube highlights and whispers. It is very much the way basketball scouting might have been before the ubiquity of the NCAA and the Internet.
Of course, rumors and whispers are not a reason to draft a guy. Certainly not when it comes to the Magic. The Magic like observing and gathering as much information as they can when it comes to any prospect. This has been the groups process when it comes to evaluating rookies. There is precious little video of Exum and precious few opportunities to see him play. It is no surprise then that the Magic are thought to be among the teams that have done the most research on this Australian wunderkind.
But what kind of player is he?
At 6-foot-6, Exum has a unique physical skillset to bring to the point guard position. And that is very much what makes him so unique. There has not been a tall, coordinated point guard like this since Shaun Livingston. The Penny Hardaway comparisons have been made too as he is one of the true athletes of this draft with the ability to handle the ball and run a team. Considering Victor Oladipo is already on the roster and a bit undersized to play shooting guard all the time and can handle the ball some himself, it feels like a natural pairing.
Exum though is going to be a lead guard at the next level. He is just too adept at getting into the lane and using his speed to get past defenders. He did it so proficiently against his peers — averaging 18.2 points per game and 3.8 assists per game for Australia at the FIBA U19 Championship last summer — it is hard to ignore him.
The problem is that he decided not to go up against his peers this past year. He made the interesting decision to turn professional and train on his own for a year rather than attending school. That means he has not played any competitive basketball since the summer of 2013. Nobody knows quite what this young player is.
Such are always the mysteries of the Draft.
The Good: Exum is big for a point guard. But he is not a big point guard. He feels like he naturally fits the position. Really he looks like Penny Hardaway in so many ways. Thus you can feel the excitement among 1990s NBA aficionados, let alone Magic fans. Exum has a ton of speed and an ability to create and get to the basket. There are few guys who can handle the ball with Exum’s speed and height. The reports are too that Exum just loves to play basketball. That is very much who he is. Give him a ball and a hoop and he will just go. That is something you like to hear from an 18 year old. There is a drive within him that bodes well for his upcoming career.
The Bad: Exum is an 18-year-old point guard who has not played competitive basketball in a year. No one is quite sure whether he filled the holes in his game that he had before taking that year off to train on his own. That year off is the big question mark when it comes to Exum. How will he respond to playing against NBA-level opponents? How will he even play in Summer League against professionals and college-level players? These are big questions. So too is the question about his developing jumper. Exum has always used his speed to his advantage. At the NBA, Exum will have to work the pick and roll and hit that jumper coming across the screen. That is the next development in his game.
Draft Sites Say:
NBADraft.net: The 18-year-old Aussie is a fluid and versatile athlete, who shows a great deal of potential … Good size for a guard, and should fill out nicely over time … Excels at getting to the basket and drawing fouls . . . Level of competition is the biggest knock against Exum. He has not proven himself against a high enough level of competition to make anyone feel completely comfortable drafting him in the top 5 … Some of his best performances have come in games (Under 19 World Championships) where he appeared to be one of the most physically advanced players … Playing for the Australian National Team, he was given free reign to create offense for himself. Can he be as succesful without being given the same level of freedom?
Nate Duncan, Basketball Insiders: The two reasons Exum is being talked about as a top-five pick are his blinding quickness and great size for a point or shooting guard at 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan. The former asset is his greatest, as he creates massive separation with his crossover. Pressuring him up out on the floor is death for all but the quickest guards. Exum is particularly adept at crossing over from right to left on the left side of the floor and beating the big men to the rim, where he has a number of crafty finishes. He also possesses a nice in and out dribble, and it seems that he will be very difficult to keep out of the paint almost immediately in his career. Exum regularly draws a ton of fouls out on the perimeter as he blows by players who reflexively put their hands on him to arrest his progress. He would probably be the quickest player 6’5 or taller in the league almost immediately. This space has previously decried over-reliance on combine numbers to gauge a prospect’s athleticism, but in the case of Exum the testing confirmed the quickness that was very apparent on film. He finished second among all prospects in the lane agility drill, seventh in the shuttle run and eighth in the 3/4 court sprint.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: This is as much about Orlando’s belief in whether Victor Oladipo can really become a point guard or it should call off the experiment and put Oladipo at shooting guard, his natural position. The problem is, Exum, for all the hype, is no clear answer. Some teams see him as more of a combo guard, or even more shooting guard, than playmaker. The Magic could dodge the entire problem and take one of the power forwards to partner with Nikola Vucevic.
Jake Pavorsky, Liberty Ballers: I’m going to get this out of the way: In the current stages of their career, I hate the fit of Dante Exum and Victor Oladipo playing in the same backcourt. The combination of those two are going to put up some remarkably poor perimeter shooting numbers and will probably struggle to move the ball. But this instance in the Liberty Ballers NBA Mock Draft is the perfect example of a team needing to draft the best player available, and that’s the Cabbage Patcher, which is a sweet nickname for someone from Exum’s part of Australia.
NBA Draft Room: Exum has exceptional quickness and explosiveness. Gets by defenders with a lightening quick first step and then elevates effortlessly. An elite level athlete with great length. . . . Will have to add strength to defend at the next level.
Zach Reynolds, The Lottery Mafia: In seeing him live at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2013, Exum showed an impressively quick first step that allowed him to get to the rim and finish. His length (he tested a 6-9.5 wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine) was on display defensively, as he picked up a pair of steals against the highly touted guards of the USA squad – a cast featuring the Harrison twins, Kasey Hill and Demetrius Jackson. While Exum was squarely on the radar of many scouts before the game, his efficient 16-point outing at the Nike Hoop Summit was his coming out party toward becoming a top-five selection candidate.
Zach Harper, CBS Sports: I can’t get past the idea of pairing Dante Exum and Victor Oladipo in the same backcourt for the next decade, and the Orlando Magic shouldn’t either. Even if Exum doesn’t end up being a star guard in the NBA, he’s unlikely to be a bust. You’d have a backcourt that can wreck the league defensively and is good enough offensively to pair with a very good big man.
AZCentral: Exum, who turns 19 in mid-July, has excellent size and length (a nearly 6-10 wingspan) for the point guard position. He has potential and versatility as a defender, where he could make life tough for smaller guards. On offense, he penetrates the paint and has potential as a shooter. He will force every team in the top half of the lottery to evaluate him extremely closely.
Allen Moll, The Hoop Doctors: Exum is this year’s International man of mystery but many project him in the mold of Anfernee Hardaway as an athletic PG with offensive capabilities. Pairing Exum with Victor Oladipo could shore up the Magic backcourt for a decade.
Ryan McNeill, Hoops Addict: The chance to pair Victor Oladipo and Exum is a match made in heaven for the Orlando Magic. Julius Randle will probably win Rookie of the Year, but Exum is the better long-term fit.
Jim Brighters, Sports Network: The Magic get their point guard of the future in Exum, finally replacing Jameer Nelson. Exum and Victor Oladipo would represent an exciting, high- motor, unconventional backcourt.
Final Word: The Magic want a point guard bad. They tried Victor Oladipo at point guard his rookie year to various success. Oladipo’s future is definitely at shooting guard. It is just difficult to envision him as the long-term solution. That is where Exum comes in though. He can share the load as a natural point guard and, at least, size complement to Oladipo. These two ball-handler lineups have really gained a lot of traction in the NBA recently. This fits that nicely. If both develop a jumper they would be a killer quick guard combo that would be tough for the NBA to handle. There is a lot of potential in Exum and a lot of belief that he can deliver. Even if you have never seen him.
Follow Dante Exum on Twitter @daanteee.