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Dante Exum: The Point Guard from Down Under

The annual Nike Hoop Summit has uncovered many productive NBA players over the course of its 19 year history. Quality international players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Serge Ibaka all received great exposure from the event and every year another potential star is discovered.

In 2013, the prospect that most greatly benefited from his showing was Austrailain point guard, Dante Exum. The 6’6″ play-maker recorded 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists in just 22 minutes resulting in a World Team victory over the U.S. squad. Shortly thereafter, Exum began seeing his name as a top-end lottery prospect in the majority of 2014 NBA Mock Drafts.

Despite only being 17 years old and still having a year left in high school, Exum had basically locked up a lottery draft position on intrigue alone. He played in some tournaments and games during his senior year of high school, but exposure was limited compared to other prospects that scouts had the benefit of seeing for a large number of games in college. While those guys were getting picked apart and heavily scrutinized by scouts, Exum gave scouts little to work with.

Draft Combine Results

Although he did not participate in the shooting drills of the event, Exum’s measurements were sensational. He measured in at 6-6 with  shoes and showcased a 6-9.5 wingspan. Exum also demonstrated a 31.5-inch no-step vertical leap and a 34.5-inch max vertical. Both ranked average among the other participating point guards, but scouts familiar with Exum came in aware of his limitations vertically and his ability to post average results in the vertical department kept red flags from being raised.

The expectations for his quickness, speed, and agility were much, much higher, but he met them as well. Posting the fastest agility test score among point guards of 10.75 and second quickest 3/4 court sprint time of 3.19, Exum confirmed just how great of a first step he possesses. It is important to take these combine results with a grain of salt, however. Results from events like this should be used to confirm what the tape tells us, not build up a player into something he’s not. That’s how the Joe Alexanders go eighth overall.

Strengths

Elite First Step

Had Exum chosen to go to college for a year prior to entering the draft, there’s a good chance his team would have led the nation in time spent in the bonus. He also likely would have lead the NCAA in free throw attempts. That’s the impact his elite first step can have on a game. He penetrates the lane at will by setting his man up off the dribble and diving into the paint. This leads to a lot of contact lay-ups and assist opportunities if the defense collapses. I don’t believe his court vision is on an advanced level at this point in his development, but his ability to collapse the defense makes for limitless easy assist opportunities. They aren’t flashy by any means but it’s good, efficient basketball.

Here are a couple plays from when Exum and the Australian U-19 National Team played a loaded Serbian team containing 2014 draft prospects Vasilije Micic and Nikola Jokic. The first play demonstrates Exum’s ability to set up his man and finish strong at the basket. Watch as he uses just a single dribble to the right to get his man out of position and blow by him.

In this play he uses his teammate’s screen as a decoy and catches his man napping. Both of these plays also show his ability to finish through contact with his tremendous length.

Transition

The move that has made its way into the NBA that allows longer players to dominate the transition game is the euro-step and Dante Exum has a solid one. Long players like Exum can take gigantic steps and change their pace up to maneuver around the last line of defense on the break. His long arms keep the defender from being able to recover in time to block his shot. He’s not selfish in transition either as he always keeps his head up to look for a better option.

This play demonstrates many different qualities that Exum possesses. It shows off his athleticism, his vision, and his improvisation in the open court. The highlight also shows us what Exum is capable of with an NBA-caliber teammate (Ben Simmons, Class of 2015) instead of some of his less athletic teammates.

Weaknesses

Shot Selection

Exum’s jumpshot reminds me a lot of Russell Westbrook‘s. It’s pretty when it goes in but there are some ugly, frustrating misses sprinkled in. Much of this can be attributed to shot selection. But how often do you hear someone say, “This 18 year old kid takes only smart shots”? It’s something that good coaching and NBA experience should fix and I don’t imagine  it will be a major concern five years from now.

If you want a truthful idea of what Exum’s game is like and not just the sugarcoated highlight video version, watch this video. You’ll notice flaws in his shot selection, as well as other areas.

Free Throws

I mention this as a weakness not because his free throw percentage is in Aaron Gordon territory, but because it’s not where you want a guy who’s going to live at the free throw line to be. In his 2013-2014 year ,which covers a lot of different venues and talent, Exum shot 60.9 percent from the charity stripe.

Despite this number, there were games where he showed a capability to knock his freebies down, such as in his Australian team’s upset victory over number one ranked Spain in the U19 tournament. Exum managed to hit 12-13 free throws in that game. In order from him to be a consistent and effective player at the next level, he’ll have to get his percentage in the 75-80 percent range or above. His mechanics from the line are fine, however, so I don’t see this being impossible to overcome either.

How Would Exum Fit in with the Bucks?

Educated Bucks fans s called for a Brandon Knight-to-shooting-guard change for the majority of the 2013-2014 campaign and it appears that the Bucks organization is starting to come to terms with that idea as well. Chad Ford of ESPN.com mentioned in a mock draft of his that the Bucks “would like to move Brandon Knight to shooting guard”.

Now I’m not sure whether he actually got this information from someone within the organization or he’s simply speculating, but drafting Exum would make this transition smooth for the team. A tall point guard and a short-ish shooting guard would work just fine because the two could always switch defensively. In this scenario, the 6-6 Exum could guard all of the opposing shooting guards while Knight would be responsible for corralling the other team’s point guard.

Assuming Larry Drew stays on as head coach for season, which seems somewhat likely at this point, Dante Exum is the perfect point guard for the offense that he runs. Drew’s offense revolves around the point guard working the high pick and roll while shooters wait in the corners for open looks. Exum’s ability to work his way into the lane would create many open looks for guys like Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Will the Bucks Take Exum at Number 2 Overall?

Most scouts believe that this year’s draft consists of the big three (Embiid, Wiggins, Parker) and then Exum at number four. This isn’t to say that Exum couldn’t potentially be better than one or more of those top three prospects, but the mystery surrounding him makes it difficult to roll the dice on him over three “sure thing” prospects.

My best guess is that with the new owners trying to change the culture of the team and re-energize the fading fan base, the Bucks will take one of the safe picks at number two overall. They have specifically stated, however, that they represent the business side of the team and that they will let GM John Hammond and the Bucks’ scouting staff do their job. Hammond does have a track record of not being afraid to take risky picks, so Exum will be an option for the Bucks.

If the Bucks are seriously interested in Exum, though, they would be smart to see if they could trade down to pick four and pick up some extra assets in the process. A team like the Orlando Magic, who currently own the fourth and 12 overall picks in the draft, could look to trade up if they value one of the big three that much more than Exum.

Whether it’s the Bucks, the Magic, or a different team that selects Exum in the upcoming June draft, that team will receive a subtle star-in-the-making to build their future around.

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Tags: 2014 NBA Draft Dante Exum Milwaukee Bucks

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