NBA Prospect Watch: The intrigue of Dante Exum
The NBA has proven it will scour the globe for any sign of talent. If there's a player with a high ceiling and intrigue somewhere, an NBA scout will find him.
The recruiting net of college basketball teams also now extends around the globe, as the best players from other countries know the best route to the NBA tends to be through the NCAA.
But that doesn't mean there aren't exceptions to the rule.
Enter Australian prep superstar Dante Exum, who recently signed with an agent and plans to declare for the 2014 NBA draft. As a 17-year-old, Exum shined at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit, and as a 6-foot-6 point guard with big-time scoring ability, NBA teams see him as a potential All-Star and sure-fire lottery pick.
In July, SB Nation declared Exum the "the best NBA prospect you probably don't know," which is exactly what NBA GMs are afraid of. They've been burned by elite international prospects in the lottery before, leading to a certain amount of hesitancy among even the biggest optimists.
But Exum, unlike several recent international players to be drafted in the lottery, has already proven himself against elite young talent from around the world, both on the Australian National team and at exhibitions like the Hoops Summit in Portland.
At his size, there are some similarities in his game to Evan Turner: a big guard who can play either backcourt spot, initiate the offense, score when needed and play solid defense. But his ceiling far exceeds Turner, who is a more limited athlete in terms of quickness.
Exum has shown the foot speed to beat guards off the dribble and frequently get to the rim. His first step is absolutely lethal. He also possesses a 6-foot-9 wingspan and while he isn't explosive dunker, he can finish around the rim with an array of moves with either hand.
Unfortunately, Exum has the same issue as another elite point guard in this draft, Marcus Smart: the mechanics on his shot are not consistent, and as a result, neither is his jump shot. The good news for Exum is that NBA teams love to take chances on ultra-talented guards with his size, even with questionable jumpers. The success of the similarly built and talented Michael Carter-Williams in Philadelphia only enhances Exum's case.
In a video posted on Bleacher Report, former college coach and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla raved about Exum:
"He has got instincts for the game that belie his age. While I don't want to compare him to Michael Jordan -- that's totally unfair, we are talking about maybe the greatest player to ever play the game - at the same age he has got the body type and some of the instincts that Michael possessed."
The sports editor for Sydney Morning Herald compared Exum's potential as an NBA rookie to Milwauke's Giannis Antetokounmpo: a freakishly athletic talent who isn't quite physically ready for the grind of an NBA game.
But Exum appears to think he's ready to play. The prospect recently told the Canberra Times in Australia, ''I want to go to a place that needs me, I don't want to go somewhere like the [L.A.] Clippers who have Chris Paul and be stuck behind him,'' he said. ''I want to go to a team which is going to want and need me, and hopefully get minutes in my first season.''
Like with Antetokounmpo, many NBA teams are coveting Exum despite his limited body of work. Draft Express has Exum at No. 5 overall, the top point guard, ahead of Marcus Smart. ESPN's Chad Ford puts Exum at No. 4 as does our own Chris Mannix in his latest Big Board. NBADraft.net has Exum a bit lower, but still No. 7.
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- The rollercoaster season for Wiggins continues. Kansas' highly touted freshman had arguably his best game of the year against Iowa State with 29 points and seven rebounds, while shooting 10-of-16 from the floor. True to form, he followed that up with a seven-point clunker in a brutal loss to Texas, a game in which Wiggins shot 2-of-12 and fouled out.
As a wing player with limitless athleticism, Wiggins has attacked the basket with much more ferocity lately and you can see his confidence is growing. It seems odd to complain about a freshman who leads his top-10 team in scoring, but that's how massive the hype was surrounding Wiggins. He remains a top-3 near lock.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke -- Syracuse exposed some of the flaws we already knew Parker had in his game. The length and athleticism of the Orange zone, with players like Jerami Grant and Rakeem Christmas was an enormous problem for Parker, who had his shot blocked at the rim a number of times. Parker's main source of scoring against the Cuse -- in what was a phenomenal game overall -- was dump offs for dunks or from the foul line.
Parker also fouled out late in regulation, but for all his struggles was just a rebound away from his fourth straight double-double. His 21 and 11 helped catapult his team over Pittsburgh on Monday, but Parker's efficiency remains a serious issue. In his last four games, Parker is shooting just 21-of-60 from the floor.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- We're starting to see more diversity in Randle's offensive game, but the concerns over his ability to be a factor on the defensive end linger. Kentucky boasts a loaded roster, so the burden doesn't fall on Randle every night to score, but he hasn't been the same sort of factor down low in the last month as he was early in the season.
Randle had his worst game of the year against LSU with just six points and five boards. He posted 18 and nine against Missouri, a solid bounceback effort for Randle, but his inability to challenge shots as become a problem for the Wildcats and underscores concerns teams have about his ability to defend NBA power forwards.
Joel Embiid, C/F Kansas -- Saturday's game against Texas was the first time Joel Embiid shot below 50 percent in a game since Nov. 11. In fact, that's the only other game this season in which that has happened. Embiid is hardly a scoring machine, but his ability to score with efficiency and efficacy stands out. He was solid against Iowa State -- though not the dominating defensive maven he was in the first meeting -- with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and still grabbed 10 boards against Texas despite battling foul trouble.
One thing Embiid has already proven this season: in matchups he ought to dominate, he usually comes through. Too often at the college level we see players with favorable matchups unable to take advantage. Embiid finds ways to impact every game, especially with his defense and rebounding. Teams have also taken to double-teaming him on the post and passing out of the double is something at which Embiid has already shown marked improvement
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- The shooting numbers have become downright ugly for Smart, who now shoots it at 41.8 percent from the floor. After a terrible shooting game against Baylor, Smart is shooting just 25.4 percent over his last four games.
It appears, in an effort to show off his improved shooting stroke, Smart has abandoned the things offensively that make him so good and that's getting into the paint. But, as has been the case all season, Smart always finds ways to help his team. In a loss to Baylor Saturday Smart had six rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He also got to the line 11 times. We are still talking about a lottery pick and legitimate NBA lead guard.
Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse -- Other than Embiid, Ennis might be the biggest riser on draft boards after leading Syracuse to a 21-0 start. Ennis has a little bit of Chris Paul in him with the way he's able to control games without scoring for stretches as a passer and defender. Then, when his team needs him, he's impossible to keep out of the lane and can finish with dexterity around the rim.
Ennis is also a 40 percent three-point shooter and has a 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. Is the CP3 comparison starting to make more sense? Ennis doesn't have the same kind of quickness Paul has, but is one of the most poised and in-control freshman point guards in recent memory. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim doesn't like to shower praise on many freshmen, but he can't say enough good things about what Tyler Ennis does for the No. 1 Orange.
Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan -- Stauskas, like Ennis, burst onto the scene over the last month by playing some inspired basketball with leader Mitch McGary out of the lineup. Saturday's six-point effort against Indiana notwithstanding, Stauskas has been arguably the best player in the Big Ten in 2014, lighting up three top-10 opponents en route to Michigan victory.
Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, isn't a great athlete, but is a lights-out shooter. Comparisons to players like Kyle Korver, though, may be a little unfair as Stauskas has a solid overall game and isn't just a spot-up shooter. That being said, he shoots it as well as any player in the country and has a chance to shoot 80 percent from the line, 40 percent from deep (he's shooting 45 percent now) and 50 percent from the field.
Monday Feb. 3 No. 16 Iowa State vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State (9 p.m. ET)
A Big 12 showdown is the perfect time for Marcus Smart to break out of his shooting slump, but Oklahoma State has Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash -- both NBA prospects -- to carry the offense if Smart's shot continues to elude him. Melvin Ejim is a load for the Cyclones, who boast one of the nation's top offenses. Expect all three of the Cowboys' NBA prospects to get plenty of shots in this game.
Sunday, Feb. 9 No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Wisconsin (1 p.m. ET)
Michigan State has struggled at the Kohl Center while the Badgers have been just flat-out struggling. First-round prospect Sam Dekker couldn't even stay on the floor for Bo Ryan late in the game against Ohio State and his shot hasn't been falling. Michigan State boasts an NBA-ready backcourt with Gary Harris and Keith Appling, both of whom will have to play well against the Badgers defense in search of a signature win.