This week, we’re looking at the least-known and most enigmatic of the Bucks’ draft options at #2: Dante Exum. Instead of spending a year of college in the US, Exum elected to take a year away from organized basketball after leaving the Australian Institute of Sport to prepare himself for the 2014 NBA draft. As a result, he didn’t have the media exposure that Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Jabari Parker experienced during their year of experience against NCAA opposition and we really don’t have a lot of material with which to judge the young Australian. Here’s what we do know:
- Great size for the point guard position
- Claims to be a distributor, not a shoot-first player
- Dude’s pretty quick
- Real tight with Kobe Bryant, but downplayed his desire to play in LA
- Has an Australian accent, which is fun
As you can see, we don’t have a whole lot of basketball-related information to go on. This is starting to sound like the situation surrounding one Giannis Antetokounmpo last year, is it not?
The best footage we have for evaluative purposes is his brief showing against Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Championships, a game in which he played a scant 11 minutes (all credit to Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, again, for the cutup and evaluation).
Since we have such a limited reel from which to evaluate him, I had to revert to the old standbys:
[table id=39 /]
(Height, weight, wingspan, standing reach, and max vertical measurements courtesy of DX. Lane agility and 3/4 court sprint courtesy of nba.com/stats. See, this is what happens when prospects show up to the combine! More points of comparison! Hooray!)
While he has the lowest measurement in the ALL-IMPORTANT max vertical, Exum tests out excellently in every other category. His size would make him one of the tallest and longest point guards in the league from the minute he steps onto the court. That, combined with above-average quickness and lateral agility, bodes well for his defensive potential, even in situations where he may line up against taller wing players (we’ll return to that idea later). While he’s not going to jump out of the gym, Exum’s height and long arms allow him to finish over taller opponents, which is definitely a desirable trait to have in the NBA. If he sticks to his stated commitment to being a distributer and facilitator to his teammates in the NBA, Exum could be an intriguing weapon for the Bucks.
Interestingly, he measures up closest to last year’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams. The agility measurements, specifically, point to an encouraging similarity between the two – and if Exum can run in transition like MCW did in Philadelphia, Bucks fans would be happy campers all around. While Exum has the size to compete with most backcourt players in the league, he would draw the most mismatches lined up against the opposition’s point guard. He’s already shown a willingness to play in the post, both in a scoring and distributing capacity – and that size means that a post game will continue to be a viable strategy for him in the NBA. Among other point guards we looked at, only John Wall and Russell Westbrook have the size and length to come close to matching Exum in that capacity.
Of course, as with most young players, he has some shortcomings to be addressed as well. In the above DX analysis, Exum’s lack of strength was exposed on several occasions when Marcus Smart and Justice Winslow were able to simply outmuscle him for position on inbounds plays. While his length is advantageous, he will need to work to fill out his frame to be able to play against the more physical opposition he’ll face in the NBA. In addition, he can be harassed into bad decisions, whether those be ill-advised passes or dribbling into double teams that lead to turnovers. While he does have the vision to make accurate – and sometimes amazing – assists from nearly anywhere on the court, he’ll have to improve the consistency of his decision making and cut down on turnovers to reach his full potential.
As currently constructed, Exum could slot very conveniently into the Bucks’ backcourt. With last year’s nominal point guard, Brandon Knight, looking like not-a-point-guard, Exum’s length and distributing tendencies would allow Knight to play off the ball without sacrificing backcourt size. An Exum-Knight-Antetokounmpo lineup would also bring us a step closer to a super-fast up-tempo killer-transition attack that would be incredibly enjoyable to watch.
However, outside of transition, that lineup would be missing serious outside threats to stretch the floor in half court sets. Knight (39.6% from midrange and 32.5% from 3 in 2013-14) and Antetokounmpo (18% from midrange and 34.7% from 3) still have room to improve as their young careers develop. But until then, heavy doses of Khris Middleton, the returning Carlos Delfino, or an improved O.J. Mayo would be necessary to add a long-distance threat to the lineup and open up room for Exum and the Bucks’ big men to operate.
As it stands, Exum doesn’t appear to be a great jump shooting threat either – most of the damage he did in international competition came due to his quick first step and ability to leverage his length to finish at the rim. That’s not to say that he can’t become a credible shooter; but I suspect that were he so inclined and given the green light in his rookie year he’d put up shooting numbers similar to Carter-Williams’. I do believe that with time and NBA training he’ll improve, but we’re not talking about Steph Curry here.
Defensively speaking, Exum would be a boon to the team’s flexibility. He and Knight both have adequate size to guard either backcourt position, allowing the team to choose matchups based on the players’ attributes. Exum’s length and quickness would allow him to keep up with taller players, for example, while Knight’s thicker build would match up better with more physical players. As Exum builds strength and experience in the league, he could develop into an outstanding perimeter defender to compliment what we hope will be a stout interior defense anchored by a calmer Larry Sanders and John Henson.
If the Bucks do elect to pick Exum, they’ll have something the team hasn’t experienced in at least 5 years – a “true” point guard, not a shooting guard that handles the ball a lot. Combined with his prototypical size and speed, Exum could quickly develop into a two-way threat and eventually develop into one of the league’s elite distributors.While his selection would represent one of the greatest risks the team could take with the #2 pick, the potential the Exum will bring into the league may well be worth that risk. The team’s front office rolled the dice last year with the Antetokounmpo selection, and it seems to have worked out so far. If you believe that the team can come up with a winning lottery ticket two years in a row, the pairing of Exum and Antetokounmpo could form the basis of a new era in Milwaukee and haul the Bucks back to prominence.