You may have heard about him, but if by chance you missed the Austrailian National High School Basketball Championships – which I’m certain you didn’t – then you may not be as familiar with Aussie baller Dante Exum. Hailing from Melbourne Austrailia, the 18-year-old Exum is quietly one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft. No longer laying low and coming in at 6’6” and near 200 pounds, he's found himself a bit more sought after following the foot injury to top projected big man Joel Embiid.
There isn’t much footage, but what we learned from the 2012 FIBA Under-17 Championships and the 2013 Under-19 Championships is that Exum is pretty much a good fit on any NBA team, especially the Jazz, who selected him fifth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
His versatility is his calling card, and he has the ability to be a one-man fast break. He looks really good posting up smaller guards, showing patience and good vision from the low-post. He’s talented and young enough that the Jazz should be able to help him develop his game and put on a few pounds, allowing him to play and guard multiple positions. His raw ability reminds me of Penny Hardaway, who showed exemplary ball handling and vision for a taller wing player. Exum still has a ways to go on defense, but his athletic ability leads me to believe there is plenty of room for improvement.
Leading up the draft, the Exum hype train never made it far from the station, primarily because collegiate prospects like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid hogged the spotlight. Top international prospects are often the topic of speculation and Exum remains a mystery man in terms of his role and position, yet truly seems like a high-character player that will quickly make an impact in Utah and the NBA.
A Mystery Remains
The Jazz have been searching for exciting, consistent guard play since losing Wesley Matthews in 2010 and Deron Williams in 2011. While Exum's positional versatility is a huge plus, his true niche position still remains a question mark.
Exum considers himself a point guard, but it will be interesting to see what Jazz view him as. He has the height to play either guard position, but much of his brief career has been spent at the point and he has certainly flashed great ball handling and vision. One issue is that the Jazz already have Trey Burke at the point and the promising swing-man Alec Burks at the two. I think, in order for Exum to fully blossom in Utah, a trade for Burks might be in the works - but if the Jazz deem that Exum is indeed their point guard of the future, perhaps we’ll see Trey Burke in a different jersey next season.
Assuming Gordon Hayward is retained and Burke and Exum can coexist as a very compelling, dynamic backcourt, a Burke, Exum, Hayward lineup sounds pretty fun.
For some added perspective on how Exum can help his new team, consider that, last season, the Jazz held the third-worst nERD rating in the league at 24.7, the secon- worst defensive efficiency rating at 111.3 and the sixth-worst offensive efficiency rating at 103.5. It can’t get much worse than that, so expecting a significant improvement in those areas with the addition of Exum is completely within reason – especially when you consider who he is replacing. The Jazz employed a handful of league castoffs during the year, in due part to Trey Burke’s injury as well as overall lack of production at the guard positions.
Remember the contributions from Diante Garrett, Jamaal Tinsley, Mike Harris, Ian Clark, Brandon Rush, Malcolm Thomas and John Lucas last season?
Yeah, me neither.
It seems to me that Dante Exum has a great opportunity to start on the Jazz for foreseeable future, and he should give them the versatile guard play they have been lacking since losing Deron Williams.