Dante Exum may be from Melbourne, Australia, but he is well versed in the history of American basketball.
Exum’s dad, Cecil, was on the University of North Carolina basketball team coached by Dean Smith. On that same Tar Heel team was a young phenom named Michael Jordan.
Exum would love nothing more than to become the Michael Jordan of Australian basketball. Much like Manu Ginobili is the Michael Jordan Argentina and Tony Parker is the Michael Jordan of France.
There was a ton of buzz surrounding Exum when he participated in the NBA draft combine in Chicago. The buzz turned into shock and awe for those scouts and general managers in attention, as the 6-foor-6, 196-pound Exum wowed everyone with his quickness and athleticism. But the best part of his stay in Chicago was the interview process. NBA execs came away impressed with the 18-year-old on how he handled himself during the one-on-one talks, exceeding everyone’s expectations.
“He’s been a top-five pick in this year’s draft since the Nike Hoop Summit,” ESPN’s Chad Ford said of Exum, who interviewed with the Lakers, Magic, Kings and Bucks. He could go as high as No. 4 in the 2014 NBA draft.
“Yes, we haven’t seen him like we’ve seen other players, but it’s not like these are all manufactured,” Ford said.
One man who has seen him play a lot is ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla.
“At Prague, at the [under 19 world championships], he put on a show. He was bottled up by Marcus Smart but this was an undermanned Australian team,” Fraschilla said. “Dante Exum has everything you want potentially. You’re talking about a young player who is athletic and skilled, and he has the it factor.”
Tom Penn, former assistant general manager with the Portland Trail Blazers, calls Exum an “international man of mystery.”
“Think Michael Carter-Williams, think Shaun Livingston in terms of body type,” Penn said. “He’s real thin and rangy. He’s the prototypical guard of the future. He’s got star potential. He’s a great kid with good pedigree. He’s an impressive kid, but the key word is kid.”
It has been a while since experts got really excited about a draft. It may not be Hall-of-Fame good like 1984 or dynamic the class of 1996, but this year’s draft is loaded with talent. OneManFastBreak.net rates the 10 best prospects in this year’s draft:
6-6, guard, Australia
Scouting report: Exum is represented by Rob Pelinka, Kobe Bryant’s agent. Pelinka tried to keep him under wraps since last year but a superb showing at the combine in Chicago has let the cat out of the bag. Exum could very well become the best player to come out of this draft class. He is a big guard with a great feel for the game. He won’t turn 19 until July so he is a blank canvass. You can picture him as an All-Star in a few years. NBA comparison: Penny Hardaway
6-7, guard-forward, Kansas
Scouting report: A year ago the son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins was the consensus choice as the top player coming out of high school. But his one season in Kansas allowed scouts to pick apart his game. In terms of athletic ability, Wiggins checks every box. He has ridiculous hops and can change ends as quick as Usain Bolt. The problem with Wiggins is he tends to disappear during games. Sometimes you have to light a fire under him to get him going. NBA comparison: Vince Carter
6-8, forward, Duke
Scouting report: Before the NCAA tournament, Parker was almost a lock for No. 1 or 2 in the draft. But something happened during the Big Dance that turned off a few scouts. Parker mulled for weeks if he should return to Duke, ultimately deciding that he’s ready to make the jump. Parker is the most NBA-ready player in the draft and he could start for half of the teams right now. NBA comparison: Luol Deng
6-9, forward, Kentucky
Scouting report: Randle may be the most NBA-ready player on this list. He was a double-double machine (15 points and 10 rebounds) in his lone season for John Calipari and powered Kentucky to the NCAA championship game. He is a classic back-to-the-basket forward with enough quickness to blow by a defender. Randle doesn’t shy away from contact and is terrific rebounder. There is some concern about Randle’s right foot, which he broke during his senior year in high school. NBA comparison: Zach Randolph
7-0, center, Kansas
Scouting report: There is no question that if Embiid is injury-free he would be No. 1 on this list. One a good day he looks like Tim Duncan. On a bad day he looks like Michael Olowokandi. After suffering a stress fracture on his foot a week before the draft, another comparison has emerged: Greg Oden. Embiid, who had back issues in his freshman season at Kansas, is expected to miss six months. And there is no guarantee that he’ll play this season after this latest setback. Despite all the red flags, Embiid is too good of a talent to pass up. He only started playing basketball four years ago so he’s extremely raw. He was a volleyball player until he made the switch to hoops. It will be interesting to see which teams will roll the dice on the big man from Cameroon. NBA comparison: Serge Ibaka
6-3, guard, Oklahoma State
Scouting report: Smart returned to Stillwater, Okla., for his sophomore season to work on his game. But instead of getting praised for coming back to school, Smart was put under a microscope. His game was dissected inch by inch, and every little outburst was magnified. Smart’s passion is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. “I would rather calm a guy like this down than check for his pulse rate, which you have to do with a lot of guys,” said Fraschilla, who raves about Smart’s IQ. “He has the best IQ of anybody in this draft. He has an innate feel for the game.” NBA comparison: Baron Davis
6-8, forward, Arizona
Scouting report: If were strictly judging this draft based on pure athletic ability, then Gordon may be the second-best player behind Wiggins. At 220 pounds with a 7 foot wingspan, Gordon has the size and strength to be a lock-down defender. His best offensive move is the dunk, so teams will have to work on his outside shot to keep teams from sagging back on him. He’s a fabulous player in the open court and doesn’t need the ball all the time to be effective. NBA comparison: Blake Griffin
6-9, forward, Indiana
Scouting report: Vonleh probably would have been better served if he stayed another year in Bloomington to work with Tom Crean. What he could be is a solid power forward who can rebound and defend his position. At 247 pounds, he is extremely strong at the base. His 7-4 wingspan and extremely large hands make him a tough guy to score on, and he could become one of top defenders for years to come. He has more of a set shot than a jump shot so his offense will need some tweaking. NBA comparison: Kawhi Leonard
6-4, guard, Louisiana-Lafayette
Scouting report: Payton gained some new followers when Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard tweeted this about him: “Don’t sleep on Elfrid Payton… I watched couple of his games. He can hoop.” Payton comes from a mid-major school, so his games wasn’t on TV much if at all. But when you look at his highlights on YouTube you see a feisty defender with long arms and very good quickness. His jump shot needs work, so he’ll have to work on that. NBA comparison: Rajon Rondo
6-5, guard, UCLA
Scouting report: Some scouts thought LaVine was crazy for entering the draft after one so-so season at UCLA. But after his pre-draft workout with the Lakers in which he cleared the vertical bar with a jaw-dropping 46-inches, the only crazy about LaVine is his hops. He performed well at the combine, showing his range as a shooter and ball-handling skills. LaVine could be the sleeper in this year’s, someone teams will regret not taking with the first 10 picks. NBA comparison: Jamal Crawford
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.