The mysterious unknown: Australian Dante Exum

Milwaukee has embraced an Australian before. Will it have the chance again?
Milwaukee has embraced an Australian before. Will it have the chance again?

This week Bucks Fans we scoured the game tapes and scouting reports to give you a breakdown of this draft’s ultimate mystery man, Dante Exum. Intrigue is a beautiful thing. As sports fans we salivate over guys like Giannis who, while unseasoned, offer glimpses of potential greatness on a nightly basis. Exum is projected as a top-5 pick. Reflecting on Exum’s supreme talent, gracefulness and developing physique, Paul Sutton, the sports editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, calls Exum the Antetokounmpo of the 2014 draft.

Dante Exum Breakdown

So who is Dante Exum? Well, for one, this Australian wonder boy certainly has the lineage to back up his reputation and sleek 6’6” frame. His father, Cecil Exum, played alongside Michael Jordan and James Worthy on the 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels championship team before he went on to play professionally in the Australian Basketball League.

While Exum is a self-described point guard, he possesses the size and skill set to play either guard position in the NBA. He has a lengthy 6’9” wingspan and at 18 years old, he might not be done growing. Like many of his potential teammates in Milwaukee, he needs to add muscle to his slender 190 pound frame. Although he is slight, Exum does not shy away from contact and his athleticism allows him to elevate over opponents. During the FIBA 2013 Under 19 World Championships in 2013, he averaged 18 ppg on 53% shooting (but only 33% from beyond the arc).

He tallied just under 4 apg and 2 spg in the 9 game tournament, including a 33-point outpouring against a talented Spanish squad. Exum models his game after Derrick Rose. Exum’s ultra-quick first step and ability to slash through even the slightest crease allows him to get to the basket with ease. He isn’t quite as quick or springy as Rose but once he gets past his defender he aggressively explodes to rim.

At the basket he is able execute difficult, acrobatic shots through contact, dunk or get to the free throw line. Exum’s quickness alone, however, does not explain his ability to get to the basket so easily. He is also very creative with the basketball. He breaks down defenders with a lightning-quick crossover and he possesses the ability to change speeds on a dime. On top of his ability to get to the basket and score, Exum also has a knack for finding the open man once he’s drawn a help defender.

In addition to his physical gifts, Exum also has a high basketball IQ. He knows where he needs to be on the floor, how to create shots for others, and has good court vision. What has impressed scouts in particular has been his off the ball movement and recognition of mismatches. Depending on the team that surrounds him, he has the ability to score or distribute as needed on any given night. Another part of Exum’s game worth noting is his post game. Because of the mismatches he presents as a 6’6” point guard, Exum has been working on his back to the basket game.  Additionally, Exum uses his height and athleticism along with his nose for the basketball to pull down a number of rebounds on both ends of the floor.

Exum has the potential in the future to be very effective defender. His lateral quickness enables him to keep up with speedy guards and his length allows him to disrupt passing lanes and challenge shots. He will also have the ability to guard multiple positions which is always an asset at the next level.

Exum Cons

As with most young players, there are several things that Exum needs to improve in his game. While Exum is able to work magic with his slashing, dribbling, passing, and basketball IQ, his shooting is inconsistent. He has a terrible jump shot when he shoots off the dribble but in catch and shoot situations (when he has a chance to square up to the basket) he performs much better. He also struggles when a hand is in his face.

In terms of mechanics, there are some issues that Exum is working to improve. He’s reworked his form to rid himself of his naturally low and slow release but this is a work in progress.  Due to inconsistent mechanics, his shot has a tendency to fall flat. For example, sometimes he shoots not when he is elevating, but just after he starts his descent back to earth – which forces him to then use too much of his arms making his shot more of a throw.

By not allowing his legs to propel the shot up, his shot comes out flat. He needs to learn how to slow down from the dribble, catch his balance, square up, and shoot with confidence at the top of his leap. He is also a below average free throw shooter, which is not good for a player that creates a ton of free throw opportunities. At the U19 Championships, he shot just under 61% from the line. His ability to make the mid-range shot with consistency will make him a dangerous player in the NBA.  On this subject Chad Ford notes, “If Exum can become a lights-out shooter, he has the chance to be a superstar.” Compounding the issue is the fact that Exum sometimes forces shots and falls in love with the 3-ball.

While his speed his one of his best assets, his tendency to play at a high speed makes him prone to turnovers. He sometimes goes too fast, and goes completely out of control, or forces a shot when a pass might be the better option.

How Exum Fits With Giannis and Co.

One can only say so much about Exum at this point in his career. On the subject of Exum long time coach and analyst Fran Fraschilla said: “He reminds me of a young, 1982 circa North Carolina Michael Jordan,” Fraschilla said of Exum. “He’s not going to be as great, obviously, unless I’m wrong… but he kind of reminds you of a young colt that’s just about to run his first claimer race, and you’re looking at him (thinking), ‘This guy could win the Kentucky Derby someday.’”

Sound like anyone you know?

Many athletically gifted, but unproven foreign players have come and gone through the league. In fact, while somewhat subjective, numbers show that foreign players are more likely to “flop” than their American counterparts. Names like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Jan Vesely and Darko Milicic come to mind as guys who came to the league full of promise only to disappoint in the end. While Exum has dominated amongst the world’s best in his age group, he has yet to prove himself with the big boys. Exum will undoubtedly share some of the growing pains that we’re seeing from Giannis this season.

He is extremely gifted but his body just isn’t there yet. On top of that, he’s making the jump from the Australian high school leagues to the NBA.

Like Brandon Knight, it’s yet to be determined whether Exum is better suited as 1 or a 2 in the pros. He has good court vision and he plays unselfishly but we’ll only know when the time comes whether he’s suited to run an NBA offense. He models his game after Derrick Rose but he reminds me of a young Penny Hardaway. Between Exum, Giannis, Henson, and Sanders the Bucks may have to change their name to the Condors.

His end-to-end speed, penetrating abilities and ranginess would immediately help next year’s Bucks squad. When asked what he’ll bring to the team that drafts him, Exum stated, “Someone who is ready to learn.” Exum is humble, well-spoken and charismatic. Unlike Marcus Smart, he comes in with no red flags. It’s easy to envision Giannis and Exum disrupting passing lanes and racing down the court together like a couple of gazelles. Exum’s game thrives on drawing help defenders and dishing to an open man for jump shots.

If Exum and Giannis were to man the court together I expect that fans would be in awe one moment and frustrated at both player’s tendency to go too fast and turn the ball over the next. One could question whether Milwaukee needs yet another slightly built player on its roster, but at the guard position this is less of an issue. Brandon Knight is playing better with each passing month and we are seeing in Phoenix this year that athletic combo guards are capable of thriving together in the backcourt. Exum is not as NBA-ready as someone like Parker or Randle but his talent is undeniable.

If Exum finds his way to Milwaukee next year fans will be welcoming yet another young, intriguing ‘freak’ to their team.

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Categories: Draft Talk

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  1. In my opinion should be number 4 pick in the draft after J.Embiid, A.Wiggins, and J.Parker. The Bucks will be adding significant talent with any of these players, but D.Exum is probably the one that’ll require the longest amount of time to develop his game for the NBA.

    • That is if Parker doesn’t decide to stay at Duke another year. I’m willing to be he returns to coach K for another year. The SI article last week portrayed their relationship as enamored with one another. And he thinks he can be great with another year of learning the game from Coach K. We shall see though.

      Exum is intriguing, and definitely the sort of personality the Bucks need to thrive. Just a huge question as to what level of player he will actually develop into.

      • I read that SI article, as well and we will talk about it in our write up of Parker. I’d be VERY surprised if he stays but you make a good point.

        Re: Exum – definitely a gamble but the level of intrigue that he’ll bring as the least known of the big names at the top of the draft will generate A LOT of buzz; similar to what we’re seeing with Giannis this season. He also sort of has the baby-faced, “aw, isn’t he adorable” thing going on. I know these factors are inconsequential when it comes to wins and losses but in terms of bringing Milwaukee into the conversation as one of the league’s young exciting teams, Exum will definitely help to build on what Giannis has started.

        • If Parker doesn’t leave, then Coach K needs to be fired.

          Injuries, poor play, perceived struggles, shooting slumps, or scout burnout– all could cost him millions of dollars over the course of his first contract. Look no further than last year’s potential lottery selections Marcus Smart (who would have went in the top three, at least, last year, but, because of a long-distance season-long shooting slump, now profiles as, at best, the fifth pick), Mitch McGary (injured back will likely push him to the second round), and and James McAdoo (who also profiles as a second rounder after a perceived poor season).

          If K is truly about his players (as he claims), this is a no-brainer.

  2. To say that Exum will take longer to develop than the other players ahead of him is a given, everyone knows that. He seems to have the game Brandon Jennings had at the same age, but not the ego which is why I wont mind him as a pick. I’ll reserve judgement for which of those top 4 I think the bucks will pick until I know exactly where they are going to be, and after the college season is over so I can take a look at who showed up when or how serious injur(ies) are going to be.

    dear philly, go back to the beginning of the year and win a few games please lol

  3. Exum’s drives to the hoop are likely going to be much more difficult against NBA-level talent. That means he’ll have to rely much more on a broken jumper to sustain any kind of threat. His handle isn’t all that great, he hasn’t learned tempo as a lead guard, and he tends to call his own number too much.

    He’s a wildcard, certainly, but one on which I’d pass.

    Having said that, he sounds an awful lot like Michael Carter-Williams. He’s going to be ROY, so what do I know?

    At this point, I’d go Parker, Wiggins, Randle, and trade down for more picks. (And Randle is really iffy, at this point.) The difference between Exum and, say Vasilje Micic isn’t enough for me to take the Australian 20 picks earlier.

    I’d much rather gamble on a guy with one unique or outstanding skill (Parker’s basketball IQ, Wiggins’ athleticism, Micic’s passing, Rodney Hood’s shooting, Cauley-Stein’s shot-blocking, for example) than a prospect like Exum, who seems to be more of a jack-of-all-trades.

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  5. I like Exum’s upside but what really makes me nervous is that we don’t know what he is PG/SG. IMO for the younger players to develop properly they need to know their roles in the organization. Too many “tweeners” that will play heavy minutes next year (Knight, Giannis, Middleton, etc) make it difficult to find a role that fits.

    So if we have a choice I would rather go for a player that fits a more specific role (i.e. Parker, Embiid, etc) if the teams goal is rapid improvement (which it seems to be). Exum might get the Bucks another early pick in the 2015 draft, though, if we can take another year of rebuilding.

    • Interesting point about defining roles on the Bucks, a good matter for discussion. I’d really like to get a dynamic young point guard with leadership abilities and creative passing skills, and pair him with a crafty veteran like Andre Miller. I think if we get something going solid at point, it will help all the other guys to find and fulfill their roles.

      • Disagree. Players have had strict positions for only around 30 years. Before that, you were a guard, a wing, or a big. I love that the Bucks’ versatility could theoretically keep their offense fresh and interesting, which would, in turn, make it much harder to defend.

        Thanks to defensive minds like Tom Thibodeau, shoe-horning a player into a specific role is tantamount to playing four-on-five.

        • I think knowing your role on the team is more important than having a defined position. There are cases like Derrick Williams for example where being a “tweener” is really a problem. He isn’t big enough to play with the power forwards nor is he quick enough/a good enough ball handler to be effective at the SF position. For me, the important thing is whether a team fits together at large. It was easy to predict that things were going to be disastrous in Detroit this season because the parts simply do not fit. I could be totally wrong about this but given their ability to both play either guard position and their agreeable personalities, I don’t anticipate a major clash putting Knight and Exum together in the back court.

          • Then he (Williams) wouldn’t be versatile, so much as a bust, right?

            I like versatile players. The NBA is going to a system wherein it (again) relishes the generalist rather than the specialist.

            Giannis looks like he might develop into a guy who could play one of four positions. (The only guys in the league right now who can do that are James and Durant. Perhaps Batum in Portland.)

            This season, Knight’s shown the ability to play two spots.

            Henson may, with added work, show an ability to play two spots.

            Same with Sanders.

            Middleton might as well.

            Wolters could if he can fix his shot.

            All of these guys are young and have time to develop further. There’s hope here, guys.

    • I think Exum’s tweener status could make him a good pairing with Knight. Knight seems like he’s clearly a SG — but is too short to defend the position well. Exum would be tall enough to have him defend SGs and have Knight defend PGs, giving both players a clear role. Thoughts?

      Of course, I’d still rather have Parker or Wiggins if possible.

      • I had the same thought process (with Exum playing PG on offense but guarding the SG on defense). Defensively I think their roles would compliment each other well. What makes me hesitant is that neither are particularly good from the 3 point line. Sounded to me a bit like a spacing nightmare. I was trying to think if there were any successful PG/SG combinations with that little outside shooting and I couldn’t come up with anything. If they’re paired with Middleton/Ilyasova it might be ok, but if they’re paired with Henson/Sanders…