Dante Exum Is The Best Basketball Player You Probably Won’t See Play This Year

With the 2013 NBA season about a month away, anticipation for another year of NBA basketball is beginning to rise. The doldrums of the summer that left us with only some uninspired summer league play are now long behind us. However, when the season tips off in October one of the best players in the world will not be setting foot on an NBA court because he’s still only 18 years old.

Dante Exum is the top international prospect as both DraftExpress and ESPN draft guru Chad Ford have him as their third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft (ahead of prominent U.S. studs Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart). At 6-6 and a stringy 188 pounds, Exum has the length, speed and athleticism to excel at either guard position. Yet while the likes of Smart and Parker will make almost nightly appearances on SportsCenter, Exum will be in Australia fine-tuning his game.

One of the first times the world got a look at Exum was during the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit. With a squad loaded with talent — Dennis Schroeder (17th overall pick in 2013 NBA Draft), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas Freshman), Lucas Nogueira (16th overall pick in 2013 NBA Draft), Sergey Karasev (19th overall pick in 2013 NBA Draft), Livio Jean-Charles (28th overall pick in 2013 NBA Draft),and Karl Towns Jr. (sixth overall prospect in Class of 2014) all were on the World Select Team — Exum chipped in 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in just 22 minutes. Besides Jean-Charles (the game’s MVP), Exum had arguably the best performance.

For the sake of comparisons, the almost undisputed No. 1 pick for the 2014 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins, had 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes. For those who had the privilege to view the abundance of international competition that took place this summer, they were treated to something rare. Exum took an Australian team — ranked seventh-best in the tournament — within five points of a gold medal game.

Exum has done some of his best work during FIBA competitions, and has played for his homeland Australia in five competitions: FIBA Oceania U16 Championship, FIBA U17 World Championship, FIBA Oceania U18 Championship, FIBA U19 World Championship and FIBA Oceania Championship. His total averages from each event come out to 13.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 3.2 APG, which are stunted by the 2.0 PPG, 1.5 APG and 0.0 APG average he posted in this year’s FIBA Oceania Championship.

In Australia’s two games against New Zealand — as the only teams in the Oceania “district” they face off against each other with both teams guaranteed a spot in the 2014 World Cup of basketball — Exum played a mere 11 minutes total as more experienced players like Patty Mills, Joe Ingles and Matthew Dellavedova saw the court instead. If you take that away, Exum’s numbers read as 16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 4.0 APG (much more telling of his jack-of-all-trades skill-set).

However, the one major flaw in Exum’s game is his jumpshot. Right now it remains inconsistent and something defenders try to force him to use. And while his skills as a penetrator are elite, he will need to be able to knock down free throws (he shot 60.9 percent in the u19 Worlds) to fully capitalize on his scoring opportunities. Exum missed six of 10 free throws in Australia’s semifinal loss to Serbia. If he knocks down half of those we get the matchup of the summer, Exum vs. USA for the gold medal and after his 33-point explosion against Spain, it’s not unthinkable that Exum could’ve lead the Aussies to victory.

Exum will graduate from high school in October, but he has ruled out enrolling in college this year, leaving him with just two options to pursue his NBA dreams: Enter the 2014 Draft as an international prospect or go to college for one season and then enter in 2015. Yet, no matter when Exum decides to enter his name… know this, he will be perhaps the best player in his draft class. His game resembles a young Penny Hardaway and that in and of itself is a scary thought. Hardaway was on the verge of taking over the league before injuries derailed his career. Exum is one of the best point guard prospects since Allen Iverson and he has the capabilities to match, and even surpass in a few categories, AI’s rookie year numbers of 23.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 4.1 RPG and 2.1 SPG.

The sky is truly the limit for Exum. For the moment he is at his best with the ball in his hands, but he has shown that he can also be effective off the ball as well. Let me blow your mind one last time: Imagine a Phoenix Suns backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Dante Exum. In the words of The Princess Bride‘s Vizzini, “INCONCEIVABLE!”

Is he worth a top-five pick?

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