Dante Exum, widely considered the top NBA prospect outside the United States, is getting closer to making his introduction.
The Australian native has been making waves on NBA radars over the past two years, most notably following standout performances at the FIBA World Championships and the Nike Hoops Summit.
He's now in the process of deciding between going to college or going pro (which he's eligible to do this June as a 1995-born prospect), but nobody expects the former given his red-hot draft stock. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Exum recently met with "eight powerhouse player representation agencies and left them a strong impression that he plans to enter the June NBA draft."
NBA scouts have pegged Exum as a potential top-five pick, regardless of how strong his competitors from the NCAA might be. Let's take a look as to why that is.
NBA Label: Scoring Point Guard
Exum will enter the draft with "scoring point guard" attached to his label. Like the Russell Westbrooks, Derrick Roses, Stephen Currys—Exum projects as a go-to option in the offense, yet one who can also initiate and run it.
|Notable International Competition|
|Event||Field-goal percentage||Points||Rebounds||Assists||Steals||3PT percentage|
|Under-17 FIBA World Championships (2012)||.439||17.2||4.1||2.5||1.1||.17|
|Under-19 FIBA World Championships (2013)||.446||18.2||3.6||3.8||1.7||.333|
|2013 Nike Hoops Summit (one game)||6-of-8||16||3||2||2||1-of-2|
Though a shoot-first, pass-second skill set might sound like trouble, Exum's extraordinary basketball IQ should ease some of your concerns. He's an extremely bright kid who understands his role and responsibilities (which ask him to do a lot more scoring in Australia) and doesn't appear to have his own personal agenda.
"I knew coming into this tournament there was going to be a lot of attention towards me, but I just wanted to come out and get my teammates involved because that's what basketball's about," Exum told Lee Gaskin of The Canberra Times following the Australian School Championships.
Exum has the skill set to excel at either backcourt position, but it's the mismatch his physical tools present that drive his towering upside.
You just don't see too many lengthy 6'6" guards who can handle the ball at the point and score it from the wing. Exum should have a physical advantage against just about any backcourt he faces.
|Height with shoes||Weight||Wingspan|
|Nike Hoops Summit 2013|
He's also a sensational athlete with trampoline-like bounce. Exum has a dynamite first step and an explosive last one, making him tough to stay in front of or hold in check around the rim.
And imagine how these physical tools might translate to the defensive end, where his length and lateral quickness can disrupt passing lanes and ball-handlers. Just take a look at rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who with similar size and length (6'5.75" height, 6'7.25" wingspan), is leading the NBA in steals.
Exum has the chance to emerge into one of the more versatile defensive weapons in the league, which plays right into his value as a two-way prospect.
Exum can take over a game as a primary scoring option—give him the ball and watch him work or slide him off it on the wing, Exum is a threat to score in practically any situation. But his core strength as a scorer stems from his ability to get to the rack, both in the half court and transition.
Exum's first step sets up the threat he poses in general. He's got the turbo feature that allows him to hit the jets when the defense least expects it.
He's one of those athletes who can seemingly hang in the air, wait for the challenge to fade and then finish at the rim when the coast is clear. Exum is a phenomenal finisher around the basket thanks to his ability to easily play above it. He scores over and around defenders using that length and athleticism, and he isn't afraid to initiate or take contact.
Exum averaged 9.6 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes at the 2013 FIBA World Championships. He beats defenders on the perimeter and rotations down low. You'd like to think with better spacing in the NBA (wider lanes to attack, more open floor), Exum could make a living at the stripe if he's able to convert there with consistency.
With the ability to separate by elevating, Exum can create clean looks for himself on the perimeter.
He's got range out to the three-point line, and though still a work in progress, he's certainly a threat.
Exum's stroke has definitely improved over the past year—after shooting it only 17 percent from three during the 2012 FIBA World Championships, he went on to shoot 33 percent in 2013 on 1.9 makes per game.
His mechanics aren't always on point—contested shots can alter his form and balance. But this is an area where he has promise and room to grow.
Exum also looks much more comfortable shooting off the catch then off the dribble, an area of his game he must improve for NBA play.
The pull-up jumper is an important weapon for point guards when you consider how far they typically play from the basket. When a driving lane isn't available, Exum will need that pull-up jumper as a counter to traffic and rim protection.
Shooting consistency will clearly be on Exum's must-improve list moving forward, though you could probably say the same for just about every other prospect on the planet.
A wizard with the ball in his hands, Exum can create offense at will.
His assist numbers playing in and for Australia haven't been anything to write home about, but you can attribute that to his role as a No. 1 scoring option. With the ability to lose defenders off the dribble and find open scorers, Exum is one of those players who can make his teammates better.
Exum is a nightmare to contain off the bounce thanks to some blow-by quickness and a tight, crafty handle. He can change direction on the dime at high speeds. With some shake-and-bake in his shoulders and a slippery back, Exum can hit defenders with an array of different crossovers and spin moves from any angle on the floor.
His ball-handling ability makes him a dangerous threat one-on-one, where he can break down defenses and create scoring opportunities.
Considering how elusive he is off the dribble, Exum can penetrate perimeter defenses via the pick-and-roll or in simple isolation. He creates four-on-threes by triggering the help and eventual collapse.
And once he's gotten through that first layer—forget about it. If he's not getting all the way to the rim, he's either driving-and-dishing to shooters or dumping it off to bigs.
That golden first step and handle, along with the awareness to capitalize on them as a passer, allow Exum to keep that "point guard" label despite his dynamic scoring repertoire.
Exum's 2-guard size and scoring repertoire allow him to play away from the ball as well as with it. He doesn't just operate off the dribble—Exum can play off the catch as a spot-up shooter, cutter or slasher.
It really emphasizes the versatility he offers as a backcourt option. You can play him as the point guard or alongside one as a 2.
He's an intelligent player—Exum knows how to get himself open by reading the defense and anticipating how it will react. With a live motor and wild athleticism, he's just not so easy to keep up with, as he constantly gives teammates an active target to hit.
Exum is like a Ferrari in the open floor, with the ability to accelerate and weave through traffic on the way to the basket. He's a guy who can start the break and finish it off turnovers and defensive rebounds, and remains a coast-to-coast threat the defense has to pay attention to. You'll often see him beating all five guys down the floor.
Exum is a lethal weapon in the open floor, whether he's running the break himself or filling a lane as a finishing target. Whoever lands Exum might want to pick up the pace to their offense, given how deadly he can be with room in front of him to attack.
He tends to get a little out of control at times, both as a playmaker and scorer. You might see Exum recklessly drive straight into traffic or take a low-percentage jumper on the perimeter.
Exum will ultimately have to learn to balance scoring with distributing from a timeliness standpoint. His shot selection isn't always spot-on, while he's vulnerable to coughing it up.
Based on his style of play, Exum probably won't win any awards for his assist-to-turnover ratio, but he can definitely improve his efficiency as a primary ball-handler and decision-maker.
Though it's just a small part of the game, Exum's free-throw shooting numbers have been too erratic—especially for a guard who thrives on attacking the rim.
He's shot poorly from the line in most of the major showcase events (66.7 percent at the 2012 FIBA World Championships and 60.9 percent in 2013).
It's not going to drop him on anyone's board, but it's something to keep an eye on once he eventually makes the jump.
Exum is one of those can't-miss prospects who comes around once every so often. A high-character kid whose dad played for North Carolina, you won't find a red flag no matter how hard you look.
There is a lot of pressure on him, but he is very grounded and he is keeping it all in his stride. Dante could be thinking about that next stage, which is a massive stage, yet he has still shown the willingness to come and compete for his school at the Australian School Championships.
It's pretty rare to call an international prospect a safe pick on draft night, but based on his strengths, track record and background check, that looks to be the case with Exum.
He really does have the upside to justify No. 1 overall value. If we're talking about a ceiling comparison, think Penny Hardaway meets Carter-Williams.
Based on team needs, the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks could all be strong suitors for Exum at the top of the draft. I wouldn't even be surprised to see teams with starting point guards show interest as well.
Despite this year's ridiculously talented draft pool, expect Exum to get looks at every spot on the board. He might not be the favorite to go No. 1, but he's in the conversation.