Tuesday 20 March 2018 / 06:57 AM

Dante Exum, our Aussie phenom

Last Thursday, Dante Exum was selected fifth overall by the Utah Jazz in the 2014 NBA Draft. Shortly thereafter he signed a two-year contract worth nearly A$5 million per season.

He’ll join compatriots Andrew Bogut, Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes as the NBA seems to be loading up these days with Aussie-born talent.

Dante reportedly inquired to Jazz coach Quin Snyder about how many meat pies he could buy in America with 5 million clams. A dejected Exum soon learned that there are indeed no pie shops in Salt Lake City.

All jokes aside, the 18-year-old dubbed the ‘Boy Wonder from Down Under’ will face quite the challenge in his quest to adapt his game to the NBA level.

Having chosen to forgo a year or two of NCAA or NBL ball for experience, he’ll be thrust right into the fire with relatively little familiarity in playing against top-calibre talent.

Exum dazzled at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Prague, averaging 18.2PPG and 3.8APG over nine games, but he did struggle against the USA team that was stacked with fellow 2014 lottery picks Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

With four turnovers and just seven points on three attempts, he didn’t look great against the tourney’s most talented squad. Then again, three phenoms to one isn’t exactly a fair match-up.

But forget all that garbage and cut Dante Exum some slack.

Drafting NBA prospects, regardless of their experience, will always be a crap shoot. Listen. Here are three other guys that came into the league under heavy scrutiny due to their decision to register for the NBA draft right out of prep school: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

While we’re at it, let’s give a shout out to the guy who started it all. Moses Malone.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Exum’s compared to Penny Hardaway, and for good reason


Dante is a one-man fast break. He goes end-to-end effortlessly and attacks the rim smoothly at full speed. Exum excels at pushing an up-tempo rhythm and finding the open man in transition.

But he’s also a skilled passer and manager from the top of the key. He can either run the offense or execute a flawless drive and kick out. He possesses excellent special awareness and understands where all of his teammates are at on the court at any given time, allowing him to make heads up plays.

Due to his size and length, he’s extremely effective in the post for being a point guard. His pivot is quick and he leaps quickly to the rim.

He’s a great shooter, possesses a quick release jumper off the dribble and can drain the corner three.

On defense Exum uses his wide wing span to disrupt opponents’ guard play out on the perimeter. He’s a fluid athlete that defends well, both in the open court and half-court. His quickness allows him to burst into position and draw the charge.

Weaknesses and concerns


On offense the biggest concern surrounding Exum is his tendency to force the ball inside and loft weak lob passes down low. Slow, hanging passes into the post simply won’t cut it in the NBA. This issue, however, is not due to a deficiency in talent, and can easily be corrected with proper coaching and game experience.

On defense he struggles to push through screens and is susceptible to losing his man on the pick and roll. Dante turns 19 next month and is very much still working with a lanky, boyish frame. There’s no doubt that the Jazz training staff will be getting him into the gym to bulk up prior to the start of next season. An extra five kilos of muscle mass will help him bust through those picks.

A grounded player with an excellent supporting cast


For a young guy who has just become an overnight millionaire, Dante Exum has got a solid head on his shoulders and his parents do a great job of keeping him focused. He’ll be in a much better position to handle his newfound fame compared to other underage incoming rookies. He’s a well-rounded kid with a strong work ethic.

Cecil Exum, Dante’s father, won a National Championship with Michael Jordan and James Worthy at North Carolina and went on to play 7 seasons in the NBL before settling down permanently in Melbourne. He’ll surely have a lot of great advice to impart on his son with regards to handling the pressure of life in the limelight and keeping his feet on the ground.

But with no offense to Cecil, Dante’s got the potential to far outreach his father’s accomplishments. He has both the talent and physical capabilities to one day supplant Luc Longley as the greatest Australian basketball player of all-time.

Having fun with his ‘International Man of Mystery’ status


While it’s not fair to say Exum has played completely under the radar of NBA scouts thus far, he certainly hasn’t been under the same watchful eye as top high school prospects in the United States.

The lack of scrutiny works both for and against Dante as he makes his giant move across the pond to play ball with the big boys. One thing, however, is for certain, and that is he plans on having fun with this whole ordeal. Check out these hilarious Adidas advertisements that aired during the draft poking fun at Dante coming to grips with his newfound celebrity.

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Michael Airhart

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