When you break down Dante Exum on paper, specifically his strengths, it almost sounds like you're describing a basketball superhero.
At 6'6" with top-shelf athleticism, a 6'9" wingspan, lightning quickness, a tight handle, a potent scoring arsenal and a high basketball IQ, it's as if you've got him wearing an Iron Man suit for point guards.
Exum has every tool and attribute a playmaker can ask for. For an NBA draft decision-maker, the only thing that's missing is a highly decorated resume. He's got the suit and armor—we just haven't seen it tested yet against many NBA-caliber villains.
However, we have seen him torch other levels of competition over the past few years.
In the 2012 Under-17 FIBA World Championships, Exum led Australia to a silver medal after averaging 17.2 points as the tournament's fourth-leading scorer. In the Under-19s in 2013, he led Australia to a bronze after putting up 18.2 a game, following a 33-point outburst against Spain and a 28-point effort against Lithuania.
At the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, he went for 16 points against guys like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon.
We've seen what Exum is capable of doing—general managers will now just have to decide whether or not the firepower he's offered in the past will remain as potent at the NBA level.
And they'll also have to decide whether the visible upside that's attached to his blend of physical tools and skill set is worth reaching on over proven guys at the NCAA level.
Jabari Parker put up consistent numbers against some of the top teams in college basketball. He looks like as sure a thing as you can ask for in a 19-year-old prospect.
But though there isn't an official scale to measure upside, based on each prospect's strengths you could actually argue that Exum's ceiling is higher than Parker's.
A better, quicker and more explosive athlete, Exum has the potential to pose as a game-changing mismatch at the point, while his size and scoring ability should allow him to seamlessly slide off the ball. Exum also projects as a premier defender, given his overwhelming length, foot speed and height for the position. He's got the potential to blanket opposing ball-handlers and stick with 2-guards and wings.
Technically, Exum checks more boxes on the upside-evaulation form as a two-way player. He just doesn't have the production at the traditional pre-NBA level to show for it.
Would it be crazy for the Milwaukee Bucks to take Exum over Parker if both were on the board and Andrew Wiggins went No. 1? It's something they're at least going to consider. Exum met with Milwaukee in Chicago last week, and based on everything I've heard prior to the lottery, he's at least been in the conversation.
Either way, there's a strong chance that a team, say the Orlando Magic, will end up passing on a guy like Julius Randle, who averaged a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double and powered his team to an NCAA tournament final, for an 18-year-old-kid who's been playing in Australia.
There obviously has to be something really special about this Exum fella if teams are considering drafting him ahead of Parker, Randle, Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh and Gordon.
With an NBA game built on mismatches, Exum has the potential to present one that rarely comes around. And that's what makes him so intriguing.
He's got the size of a wing, the offensive takeover ability of a scorer and the mindset of a floor general.
And he gets it, too. Just listening to him speak or talk about his role, Exum, whose father played with Michael Jordan at North Carolina, has a tremendous understanding of the game.
I beat my man off the dribble and try to draw help to find different players. I guess that's what puts me in good position to be a point guard and also be that kind of vocal leader, to have that voice that tells players what needs to be done and be that voice for the coach.
Exum told me at the NBA combine that he absolutely wants that ball as a point guard. Just imagine this type of size, athleticism and playmaking skill at that position. If it turns out that his strengths are able to translate and his shooting continues to improve, that would likely make him the focal point of every opposing defensive scheme—the guy opponents have to specifically game-plan for in order to neutralize the mismatch he presents. And that usually means sacrificing elsewhere.
If Exum pans out, he's going to give his team a routine edge. You can't double-team a point guard. Defend him with a 2 or a 3, and your 1 is likely stuck guarding someone much bigger and stronger. Match up defensively by position, and Exum will almost always be looking at a significant physical advantage, given how few point guards in the league are above 6'3".
But at this point, all of the upside associated with Exum is just a best-case projection. We have an idea of what Exum could look like five years from now. And it's an awfully attractive one.
However, without seeing Exum play two or three times a week against Big 12, ACC or SEC competition, this image we have of him dominating NBA games is all just an idea.
And it will be interesting to see which team plans to bet on it coming to fruition.
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