Australia's Dante Exum has been perceived as a prize—a one-of-a-kind prospect whom dozens of NBA teams will be heavily targeting. He jumps off the court and screen like he's three-dimensional.
With standout showings at the FIBA World Championships in 2012 and 2013, along with a strong game in last April's Nike Hoops Summit, Exum had established himself as an obvious can't-miss prospect.
He's had big-time college programs knocking on his door, and there have been agencies looking to sign the next global phenom. And now, it's official: Exum has decided to hire Rob Pelinka and Brandon Rosenthal of Landmark Sports Agency, and he'll be declaring for the 2014 NBA draft.
Exum and his family told Chad Ford and ESPN:
We are excited to be working with Landmark Sports. Our family felt The Landmark Team represented our style and manner of treating people, and in doing businesses. We also all shared a common commitment to achieving excellence in all things. The fit is just great and we are really pleased to now begin the work.
It's pretty exciting news for any basketball fan with a pulse. Like Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Exum has that face-of-the-francise, brand-name potential.
The immediate attraction to Exum stems from the physical tools he has to work with at the position he's comfortable playing. At 6'6", Exum is a point guard—an extremely tall, long and exceptionally explosive primary ball-handler.
Worst-case projection, we're talking about a Michael Carter-Williams—a mismatch at the point who can navigate through traffic and get to any spot on the floor. Like Carter-Williams, Exum can switch back and forth between pass-first and scoring mode. And with an extra few inches of height and length, he's able to see over the defense and make plays within it.
These are guards with the size and athleticism of NBA wings, which is what ultimately drives the mismatch they present at the point.
However, both players share similar offensive weaknesses. Carter-Williams' shooting range is fairly shaky. He's only knocking down 29.9 percent of his three-pointers at the moment, an area of his game with which he struggled back at Syracuse.
Exum's shooting consistency can also suffer. He only made six of his 35 (17.1 percent) shots from downtown during the 2012 FIBA World Championships and went 17-of-51 (33.3 percent) in 2013. I wouldn't say it's a concern—Exum can catch fire at any moment—but to reach that NBA level of superstardom, his stroke will have to become a more consistent threat to the defense.
If Carter-Williams and Exum never really take that superstar step, inefficiency will likely be what holds them back. Erratic shooting, turnovers, poor shot selection—these are the traps and dark clouds to avoid.
What separates the top-tier players from the second-tier players is the ability to tap into their elite talent on a game-to-game basis. Exum happens to have that top-tier talent. For him, it's just going to be a matter of channeling it into consistent, everyday production.
If he eventually catches the current and hits his NBA stride, we could be talking about a potent blend of Penny Hardaway and Russell Westbrook.
Like Penny, he's got the size, handle, passing and scoring instincts to take over a game in any way. And like Westbrook, he's got that hidden jet pack strapped to his back—the one with the turbo feature that allows him to explode like a rocket ship or cannonball. Exum uses a lightning-quick first step to blow by defenders and a dynamite last step to sky over them.
You're just not going to find another point guard who's as dangerous attacking the rim, especially in the open floor, where he can be absolutely unstoppable. I'd imagine Exum will be spending a fair amount of time at the free-throw stripe over the course of his career.
As a point guard, Exum is constantly in a playmaking position, thanks to his ability to effortlessly penetrate the perimeter defense. He's always forcing help, which Exum has the brains to recognize and ultimately exploit. Drive-and-kicks, drive-and-dump-offs—his ability to win the one-on-one battle off the bounce opens up shots and scoring chances for his teammates. And that allows him to rack up the assists.
As a scorer, Exum can be lethal. At the 2013 FIBA World Championships, he went for 33 points in a strong win over Spain, 28 in a tight loss to Lithuania and at least 20 three other times during the nine-game tournament.
Though labeled a point guard, you can easily play Exum off the ball on the wing, where he can work as a slasher or go-to offensive option. With the ability to elevate and separate from any defender he faces, Exum can create his own shot at will.
He's an extremely confident player, though you rarely see him ever get too high or low. And while his jumper is still a work in progress, that offensive confidence can translate to perimeter points in bunches.
And don't forget about his potential defensive impact. Exum has the tools to completely blanket and overwhelm opposing ball-handlers. Quick feet, long arms, high I.Q.—he's got the physical attributes and intangibles to evolve into a premier defensive ball-stopper.
In terms of NBA ceilings, Exum's is as high as anyone's in the 2014 class. He has the size, game and mindset to excel at either backcourt position, along with some promising basketball genes (his father, Cecil Exum, played at North Carolina, as Fran Fraschilla details in the video below) and one of the most likable personalities you'll encounter.
This isn't just another intriguing international man of mystery—one of those hit-or-miss prospects who might be pretty good five years down the road. Exum is the real deal, and he's bound to be a star whenever he settles into the league.
The only true question is what level of stardom he'll eventually reach.
Don't expect your team to have a shot at Exum without a top-five pick. Quite frankly, I wouldn't even be surprised if he finishes atop a number of NBA draft boards by the time June 26 rolls around.
Exum has the chance to evolve into a world-class point guard, and I'm not sure how many teams will be willing to pass on that opportunity.
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