(Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast AP)

2014 NBA Draft: Multidimensional Dante Exum has potential to be elite guard


He’s the international man of mystery when it comes to lottery prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft. Tales of his play are widespread, but who exactly is Dante Exum and why might he be the league’s next great young guard?

Strengths

In terms of elite positional size, no one in this draft has more of it than Exum. Officially, the Australian combo guard measures out at 6-foot-6, but it’s his 6-foot-9 ¾ wingspan that makes him a bonafide top-5 pick come June 26. He looks like Shaun Livingston and Michael Carter-Williams and gets to basket like Derrick Rose. He scores over big men in the paint with relative ease, distributes proficiently with either hand, has tremendous fluidity and burst with his dribble and is an active boarder on the glass. To be honest, there are very few glaring holes in his game — as illustrated by his sensational play at the FIBA Under 19 tournament in 2013.

Weaknesses

If there is a knock on Exum, it’s his ability to create for himself off the dribble. Sure, he has the handles and athleticism to get to the cuff, but when forced into jump shots off the dribble, he’s not exactly dynamic. Mechanically, there doesn’t seem to be a major flaw in his release or form, but Exum, at times, has been prone to flat-footed attempts. At times, his shot lacks the necessary arc — which results in harmless attempts off the front rim.

X-Factor

Several talented prospects — Luc Longley and Andrew Bogut just to name a few — have come through the Australian Institute of Sport, but very few have the star potential Exum possesses heading into the NBA.

For Exum, it comes down to improving his mid-range game and harnessing all of the tools he possesses at the point guard position.

As mentioned above, his length, ball-handling skills, burst off-the-dribble and finishing skills make him elite as it pertains to the other players at his position in this draft.

However, he has struggled to play within structure — something he’ll need to learn in the United States.

Nine games in FIBA U19 tournament is a small sample size to judge Exum on, but there were instances his game –especially at the offensive end — came off as sloppy and somewhat casual (3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes).

While he has dominated play against both his peers and fellow countrymen, making the leap to NBA won’t be an easy one if Exum doesn’t learn to appreciate discipline.

How he would fit with the Suns

Exum is the type of talent that could be a fit for any team — which is probably one of the main reasons why Suns general manager Ryan McDonough met with the 18-year-old at the NBA Draft Combine.

With that said, arguably the Suns’ two deepest positions are also the two Exum could plug in at right away: point guard and shooting guard.

While Eric Bledsoe (restricted free agent this summer) and Goran Dragic’s (player option after 2014-15 season) respective long-term futures with the organization will not officially be known until after the draft, especially the former’s, given the likelihood they stick around for quite some time, another ball-handling guard who excels driving to the basket and in pick-and-roll situations is probably not at the top of the Suns’ priority list.

Maybe a year earlier, Exum is the selection with the No. 5 overall pick. But times have changed in the Valley, meaning that the foreign import likely won’t be in the cards even if a package deal is worked out by McDonough.

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