Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Dante Exum. What do they all have in common? They are all mystical wonders of the world.
Like lighting in a bottle, Dante Exum has propelled his name to the top of NBA draft boards and quicker than a thief in the night has stolen Austin Powers’ moniker as the International Man of Mystery.
June 26, 2013. Dante Exum is in his home country of Australia closing in on the October graduation from Lake Ginninderra and the Australian Institute of Sport. Heavy on his mind is the thought and pressure of whether or not to enroll in college basketball in the United States and who would give him a scholarship. Oh, what a difference a year makes; or should I say a day? Thanks to the 16 points, three rebounds, two assists welcome-to-the-basketball-world performance that Exum put on at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit in a victory of the USA, Exum ensured himself that his life would never be the same.
June 26, 2014 will feel a whole lot different sitting in the Green Room waiting for his name to be called in the Top 5 picks of the NBA draft. The worry of college doesn’t seem too pressing anymore.
Exum is a transcendent talent with a unique skill set and unlimited potential. However, being able to turn that potential into productivity and longevity throughout his career is what will determine if Exum just a Next Great Thing flavor of the month or the real thing. Let’s take an in-depth look at exactly what Exum will need to do to live up to the hype and become an NBA superstar.
THE NOVELTY SYNDROME
It’s a proven fact of life, people are attracted to the newest and latest things and gadgets. The human brain falls prisoner in its desire of novelty. Now I won’t get all Bill Nye the Science Guy on you, but to sum it up the brain reacts to novelty by increasing a chemical called dopamine (the natural chemical responsible for excitement and motivation) and therefore enticing us even more to what is brand new and the intriguing unknown. In this ‘non-mad scientist’ case, Dante Exum.
I’ve spoken to a few close friends who are very well respected in the coaching ranks in Australia who know the Exum family well, one at the Australian Institute of Sport and the other at St. Mary’s University. The main debate on the Exum family’s mind from the beginning of the process has been whether or not to send Dante to college.
Both coaches I spoke to advised the family that Dante could benefit from a year of college but with his stock as high as it is and the novelty syndrome set in motion in the minds of NBA GMs, it was a no brainer: Dante had to declare. Strike while the iron is hot. But to say that Dante is a finished product and ready to contribute at a high level for an NBA franchise right from the start, well that might be a little bit of a stretch.
WHAT IS LACKING FROM DANTE EXUM'S GAME
Potential? Check. Through the roof.
Physical tools? Check. All of 6-foot-6 in shoes with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. For a point guard, Godzilla-esque.
Athleticism? Check. 3/4 quarter court sprint time – 3.19. Faster than Chris Paul or Damian Lillard. 10.75 lane agility drill, top at the NBA draft combine. 34.5 inch max vertical, solid.
So what exactly is lacking from Exum’s game? Let’s start with his most glaring weakness: perimeter shooting. Exum’s mechanics need refining if he is going to become a legitimate threat from the behind the arc. Currently, his release is too slow and his motion is not consistently fluid. Without the correct mechanics it will be a challenge to become a great shooter, but in Dante’s case, he really only needs to become a respected shooter. Think going from a Rondo-type shooter to a Chris Paul-type shooter. That is a bit extreme, but it is the difference in opening up the entire court for what makes Exum so coveted – his electrifying playmaking ability.
Currently Exum is releasing his shot at a 0.9-1.1 second clip, which is too slow. A slow release allows for defenders to help off elsewhere at a larger depth range and still be able to recover to contest Exum’s shot. Stephen Curry’s release is 0.4 – more than twice as quick as Exum. Part of his slow release is inhibited by his release point.
Instead of releasing the ball at the optimal trajectory point of 54 degrees, Exum brings the ball to the top of his forehead before he shoots, which causes for a slightly slower release time and also is the driving force behind why his shot is flat and most of his misses are short. Without the ideal arc, a shooter’s room for error on his shot drastically declines. For Exum, with his release point at slightly over nine feet, the ideal arc for him is between the range of 44-48 degrees.
Exum also shoots with too much of a ‘straight up-straight down’ shooting motion. This is also a proponent of why his misses tend to land short. The perfect finish is what I call five-and-a quarter. This means his feet need to finish five inches in front of where he releases his shot and his body needs to have a quarter turn. This quarter turn allows for his shoulder and arm to finish straight in the hoop every single time.
Finishing ‘straight up-straight down’ forces a shooter to make a slight upper body movement to finish with his control finger (index finger) directly in the hoop. This extra wasted motion can be the difference in consistent balance on each and every shot.
Exum has shown the ability to get hot and can be a streaky shooter at times; however, his overall consistency is not where it needs to be to be a feared threat from the outside. In Australian and International play Exum shot 41 percent in catch-and-shoot situations and only 17 percent off the dribble.
His free throw percentage of 61 percent is far too low for a point guard who is able to get to the hoop at will.
That leads me into my next point; Is Dante Exum a point guard or a shooting guard? Is this question raised due to his size? His athleticism? Has Dante Exum already been labeled with the Russell Westbrook effect? It’s an interesting question, but for a pure point guard it’s one that should never even be raised. Even the NBA draft combine had a tough time figuring that question out as they grouped him with the rest of the two-guards.
Many NBA execs also question what position he will play. Exum fancies himself as a combination of Manu Ginobli and yes, Westbrook. Throw in the body type of Michael Carter-Williams and you’ve got Dante Exum. Interesting combination to say the least, but what stands out in that mixture isn’t as much pure point guard as it is ‘playmaker.’ I think this is where a lot of scouts and execs get misled, why does a player necessarily have to be a pure point guard?
A playmaker is more valuable than a pure point guard. Ultimately, that is what every team wants of its point guard, to be a playmaker. In the European game, they don’t even use the term point guard. You guessed it; the term that is always used is playmaker.
Westbrook catches a lot of grief and it’s often questioned if he is a point guard, but you would be crazy to not want a dynamic playmaker like Russell leading the charge. Point guard, two-guard, drop the label. Exum is a playmaker. Minus some of the questionable shot selections and shot volume of Westbrook, the dynamic Exum has the capabilities of being the perfect mixture to run the show.
WHY DANTE EXUM WILL BE AN NBA SUPERSTAR
Talent and potential at times can be deceiving and players who stand out on the international level aren’t able to translate that production into the NBA. Remember the Hall of Fame careers of Darko Milicic and Yi Jianlian? Yeah, neither do I. This is not the case for Exum. Whether or not Exum becomes a solid player in the NBA is not the question at hand, it is whether he can become a bona fide superstar and one of the great international gems.
It’s easy to see why NBA execs and GM’s get more excited than a contestant on the Price is Right when you look into the crystal ball of his potential and skill set. Exum is extremely smooth and fluid with unbelievable body control, allowing him to dissect defenses by getting into the lane at ease in the flow of the offense and weaving in and out of defenders like a Porsche in the open court.
His ability to get out in transition and speed with the ball in his hands is top 10 in the NBA right now. There are a lot of players with great speed, but Exum’s ability to cultivate that speed with the ball in his hands is what makes him so dynamic in the open floor. If his world-class speed wasn’t enough, Exum is able to shift gears and change speeds very effectively making him an extremely tough player to defend in transition.
The toughest players to defend aren’t always the quickest and most athletic players, it is the players who are able to constantly change speeds and always put pressure on the defense. This is where Exum’s personal analysis of himself really does draw comparisons to Manu Ginobli; shifty and unassuming.
A great skill set ability that more NBA players need to realize the importance of – deceptiveness. Exum has harnessed this skill set at young age and with his high level ball control and natural feel for the game, he is able to utilize this craft to create for his teammates. Hence, why I have labeled him as neither a point guard or a two-guard, but instead simply as a playmaker.
All of these weapons in Exum’s arsenal are great and extremely tantalizing to an NBA franchise. And I haven’t even mentioned his explosive first step, rebounding range for a guard, and ability to draw fouls at the rim.
But the single most telling factor of why I am convinced that a player this skilled but still less seen to the public than a UFO sighting in a cornfield will be highly successful at the next level is his basketball IQ and maturity. Maturity and 18-year-old kid are not often seen in the same sentence or anywhere close for that matter. But that is not the case for Exum. He is mature beyond his years and has a basketball IQ and natural feel for the game that makes it appear like he was born to play basketball. Well, I guess he was.
Thank his father Cecil Exum for that. A teammate of Michael Jordan on the 1982 North Carolina national championship team and a stint in the NBA followed by a long career in Australia, basketball is literally in Exum’s blood. His ability to see the next play before it happens and pick and choose the correct situations throughout the flow of a game when to look to score and when to look to create is the Basketball IQ savviness that that Exum possesses.
The true testament of a valued player that will contribute at a high level in win shares (stat that records the overall impact a player has on each win) is his ability to make teammates around him better. Though only a small sample size has been seen with Exum, all signs and DNA point to a player who will be of this caliber.
At the draft combine, Exum was treated as if a Kardashian had just showed up at a high school prom. Cameras, media, scouts, NBA execs, interviews left and right; Exum took it all in stride. Very impressive for a teenager who only a year ago was worried about what college he might attend.
This was exemplified at the combine, where Australian draft prospect Cam Barstow, Exum’s roommate, relayed to me that Dante was being interviewed and peppered night and day with questions. NBA cxecs and GM’s that I spoke with raved about his interviews and quoted, “he’s older than his age” and “a young kid with a good head on his shoulders.”
Many players have fallen victim to the NBA lifestyle and let the money and fame retract from their on-court focus. Just imagine what you would do at 18 years old with $5 million in the bank and people catering to your every need. You can see why it would be a challenge. Coupled with all of Exum’s intangibles (feel for the game, body control, world class speed, natural playmaking skills, height and length) his maturity off the court and basketball IQ on the court are the driving factors why Dante Exum will be a high-level player in the NBA for years to come.
Exum’s inefficiencies and inconsistencies on his perimeter shooting and shot mechanics can be fixed. It will take some time and intensive work, but landing with the right organization that is progressive and realizes the importance of a shooting-specific coach, it can be done.
Franchises bet the farm on potential, why not hedge your bets and make sure the hope of a player becoming a good shooter becomes knowing a player will be a good shooter? The teams that are at the top – Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Mavericks have figured that out.
Even in the technology, instant-information age that we live in, there are still some mysteries and unknowns out there. These unkowns aren’t always meant to be answered and sometimes are better for our own imagination if they are not. Dante Exum, he’s the real deal. Give him 3-4 years and we’ll look back and wonder why we all ever wondered in the first place.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsShooting.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.