When teenage prospects from overseas make the transition to the NBA, they are often considered sort of mystery men among the other draft-eligible players. These players have often not been tested by top-notch competition, and there is limited film with which we can use to evaluate them. Last year, Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was our mysterious 18-year-old NBA hopeful - this year, that title belongs to Australian guard Dante Exum.
At 6-foot-6 and 196 pounds, Exum has some impressive size for the point guard position, which is what many hope he will be able to play in the NBA. If Exum does not pan out at the point and slides over to shooting guard (which some believe is the most likely scenario), he'll still have plus size at that position.
What I like best about what Exum displays on the court are his abilities around the rim. Exum displays exceptional focus when he lunges towards the hoop, and he uses high-level balance and body control to absorb contact and get his shot off. He seems to have a great sense of where the rim is, so even when he is stonewalled in the air, he can adjust his shot and get it sailing towards the hoop. He is also very adept at drawing fouls when he gets into the paint.
Exum can get into the paint often thanks to a quick first step that is aided by his long legs. Exum may not always look explosive when he blows by a defender, but he'll end up knee-deep in the paint in the blink of an eye.
Once Exum gets into the paint, he can do more than just score. When Exum gets penetration, it often draws more defenders to the center of the court, and Exum is great at finding the shooters on the perimeter who are subsequently left open. He also possesses great vision in transition and can make some creative passes to set up his teammates with easy buckets. Sometimes he doesn't even need to pass in transition, as Exum has proven capable of leading a one-man fast break - he pushes the ball with great tempo and puts backpedaling defenders out of position as he rises to the rim.
Something that I was highly impressed with in regard to Exum's game was his ability to take advantage of his size when being defended by smaller guards. At 6-foot-6, Exum has a size advantage on most of the players who defend him, and he can get the ball down low in the post and score at a high rate. He is very crafty in the post for a guard, and he can win with a number of moves.
Other positives of Exum's game include his ability to cut and set up easy assists for his teammates, as well as the defensive versatility brought on by being a quick 6-foot-6 player.
While Exum displays proper jump shot mechanics that could eventually see him hit at an efficient rate, his shooting is a weakness at the moment, particularly from deep. That will likely be a focal point of his development early in his NBA career.
Though he is athletic with a fairly explosive first step, Exum is not an above-the-rim type of player. Exum gets into the bodies of defenders and finishes with contact rather than going over them, which could be much tougher when dealing with massive, explosive NBA big men.
Exum also forces passes too often and is not always smart with the ball in his hands. As a result, he has played off-ball in many of his higher-profile games to this point in his career, and that has led to questions of whether or not he can play point guard in the NBA. That being said, Exum has displayed some great court vision at times, and simply trying not to do too much could go a long way in regard to his point guard skills.
While Exum possesses NBA-caliber height, he needs to fill out his slight frame with strength and muscle. Exum will find it hard to bang with NBA players for rebounds and could end up being posted up by bigger guards. Exum also needs to get smarter on the defensive end, where his awareness is suspect. He has the raw tools to be a dynamic defender, but gets lost on that end of the floor too often. Exum has particular trouble defending the pick and roll - he often gets screened and seems like he has no idea what to do.
Exum is one of the most intriguing players in this draft class because he is still just 18 years old, possesses great length for a backcourt player, and has a lot of great raw ability. The biggest concern is probably how he will handle a sharp spike in the talent of his competition. First and foremost, Exum should probably get stronger, or else he'll be at pretty significant risk of being constantly outmuscled or suffering an injury.
If Exum can bulk up while maintaining his burst and body control, improve the consistency of his jump shot, and cut down on mental mistakes when passing the ball, he could become a dynamic offensive weapon. His defense should also improve significantly with the help of NBA coaching, and he has the tools to become a versatile defender who can cover either guard position or even small forward. I highly doubt that Exum makes an impact in the near future, but he could become a dangerous all-around player in a few years.
Exum reminds me of a longer Rajon Rondo with less passing ability. It seems like an odd comparison to make given that passing is Rondo's biggest strength, but hear me out. Both players struggle to shoot the ball, but are still able to get by defenders to get into the paint and finish at tough angles with contact. Neither player is an above-the-rim type, but both are able to be effective around the rim thanks to body control and crafty finishes. While Exum is unlikely to ever have the exceptional vision that Rondo possesses, he will hopefully learn to set up players in similar fashion thanks to his ability to draw multiple defenders, just as Rondo does.