Last year, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart was widely viewed as the top player eligible for the 2013 draft. This time around, he’s not being seen by most as the best player at his position. By and large, Australia’s Dante Exum is being looked at as the best point guard in the 2014 draft.
At 6’6″, Exum has tremendous size for the one guard position with a frame reminiscent of Shaun Livingston. On top of that, the 18-year-old (19 in July) has a wingspan that is slightly larger at 6’9″. That size helps to make Exum a legitimate threat to score in the low post and gives him the ability to see the rim in a lot of positions that your typical point guard couldn’t. From close range, your average-sized one guard is likely to get burned. Exum can force a lot of switches, opening things up for the entire offense.
Exum also boasts a lightning-quick first step and overseas opponents have been struggling to stay in front of him at every level. He’s also a very adept ball handler who can change direction in no time, allowing him to seemingly penetrate at will. No guard in this year’s class can slash to the basket better than Exum which is why he is expected to be the first backcourt player off the board.
The Australian is more than a scorer, of course, as he’s proven himself to be a very solid floor general, both in transition and in the halfcourt set. A quick scan through YouTube shows Exum dishing crisp passes to open teammates, putting them in prime position to score. He’ll also trigger a fast break in no time, whether the rest of his squad is ready to get out and run or not. Often times, you’ll see Exum take the ball wire-to-wire and finish on the other end with nine guys left in the dust.
As we’ve established, Exum is quick, athletic, and very capable of scoring at the rim, but his shooting definitely leaves something to be desired. The book on Exum over the past few years has been that his shot is somewhat flat and doesn’t have enough of an arc to regularly find a home in the basket. He’s made strides with it as of late, but he’s no Stephen Curry. His off-the-dribble shot leaves much to be desired and he’ll have to improve that if he wants to be a true triple threat at the next level.
Exum’s shot selection has also been questionable in the past. For a so-so outside shooter, he has fallen in love with his downtown shot at times, like when he hoisted up 7.7 three-pointers per 40 minutes at the FIBA Under-19 Championships in 2013 and knocked down just 33.3%. He’s also been known to force up low-probability shots closer to the rim when he’s smothered by the defense, rather than kicking out. While these aren’t irreparable problems, they are adjustments that will have to be made.
Opinions on many of this year’s top prospects have shifted over the course of the last year, but Exum’s standing as one of the very best players in the 2014 class seems to have held up. DraftExpress has Exum ranked as the No. 5 prospect out of this group and ESPN’s Chad Ford (Insider sub. req’d) rates him as the fourth-best, but he could go in the top three depending on how the ping-pong balls fall. The Bucks (owners of the league’s worst record), Magic (third-worst), Jazz (fourth-worst), and Lakers (sixth-worst) are all reportedly high on the guard and there’s no reason why one of those teams couldn’t tap him before Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle.