Dante Exum: The Draft’s Mystery Man
Dante Exum is one of the most intriguing players in the 2014 NBA Draft. At this year’s combine, he measured in at 6’6 with a 6′ 9.5 wingspan and 8’7 standing reach. He can play both guard positions and has a well-rounded game. He’s capable of torching a team with his scoring or making his teammates better as a floor general. With his size, athleticism and skills, he’s a truly unique prospect and he has tremendous upside at just 18 years old.
However, he’s also one of the most mysterious players in this year’s draft class. Today is the first time that many teams and media met Exum, as he is from Australia and has a limited body of work. The only opportunities to see Exum play on a big stage were at the 2012 adidas Nations tournament, 2013 Nike Hoops Summit and FIBA U-19 2013 tournament. While the top prospects in college basketball were under the microscope for the past year (or more), Exum is still somewhat of an unknown.
Exum hired an agent several months ago and has been training for the draft in Los Angeles for awhile. He has gained 10 lbs. of muscle and has switched to an organic diet to prepare for the NBA. While Exum can play both guard positions, he believes he’s a natural point guard and that’s where he prefers to play.
“I see myself as a point guard,” Exum said. “I’ve always played the point guard position, so that’s where I feel comfortable. That’s what I’m entering myself as into the draft, and that’s where I see myself playing. … Most teams looking at me are trying to look at a two point guard set-up, where they can get it to the point guards and they can run the show.”
This is similar to what the Phoenix Suns did last season with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Interestingly, Phoenix is one of the first teams that Exum met with when he landed in Chicago on Wednesday.
“I’ve interviewed with Phoenix, Philly, and Detroit; I have four more today,” Exum said. “They were good. It was good to finally meet them and put names to faces. … [They’re asking] the typical questions, just them kind of explaining why they want to meet with me because they haven’t seen me. They want to know what my game’s like and just get a feel from me as a person. … I guess they all have an idea of what I’m about, but they’ve seen some of the college players play 40-game seasons, but they haven’t seen much of me. When they’re trying to look at tape of me, they can’t find a lot of tape on me.”
When asked which NBA players he compares himself to, Exum said that he has watched a lot of Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili among others.
“I can’t look at one player and say that’s who I play like, but I can see different traits that players have that I see: I look at Russell Westbook as that explosive point guard that can get to the rim, and also Manu Ginoboli when he gets into the paint and the way he can finish,” Exum said. “It’s just looking at different players and what they can do, and how that can help my game.”
Exum feels like his workouts in L.A. are helping his progression significantly.
“It’s been good,” Exum said. “I’ve been going twice a day, shooting in the morning and strength and conditioning after that, then some skills work with trainers. It’s been a good process for me, fine-tuning everything I need to work on. … What I’ve really tried to work on was obviously shooting. That’s one thing me and my trainers are trying to get better at. Also, finishing around the rim. Stepping up to the next level is going to be a huge jump, so finishing and post moves. As a taller guard, that’s a good thing to have.”
While Exum is enjoying this process, he can’t wait to get back on the court and play an actual game again. It’s been awhile since these prospects have been able to play an actual game, and even longer for Exum since he has been working individually in L.A.
“It kind of gets to the point where you’re thinking, ‘When am I going to get to play some five-on-five?’” Exum said. “But I know with the summer ahead and Summer League and World Cup with the Australian National Team and then the NBA next season, I’ll get to play a lot of five-on-five. If I get to spend a couple of months just working on my game, then I’ll take it.”
Exum has embraced the role as this year’s mystery man, but soon he could be a household name.
“There are advantages and disadvantages because they haven’t seen me since last July, but I guess I’ve stayed hidden so it works both ways,” Exum said. “My game has changed a whole lot since those [YouTube] clips. I can beat my man off the dribble, find a hole and then find open players. That puts me in good position to be a point guard and also to be the kind of vocal leader that has a voice to tell players what needs to be done, to be that voice of the coach on the court.”
Hood Could Go Higher Than Expected
After watching Rodney Hood work out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, it’s easy to imagine him climbing draft boards and being selected earlier than expected on June 26.
Hood is automatic shooting the ball from just about anywhere on the court, but he insists he’s not just a shooter. He possesses a high basketball IQ and plays within himself. At IMG, Hood has been working hard to improve his ballhandling and ability to finish at the rim. He has also been spending a lot of time in the weight room in an effort to bulk up and add strength.
Hood is doing two-a-days in the gym at IMG, and he’s also doing a number of other things to prepare for the pre-draft process including swimming, weightlifting, doing drills on the IMG football field, following a nutrition plan and vision training.
“It’s been great,” Hood said of his experience at IMG Academy. With the weight room and the facilities here, it’s been great working with Dan Barto and Kenny Natt. There’s been a lot of individual attention, especially on my game. I have gotten a lot better just in my short time here. … It’s fun being out here at IMG working out with Dan and some of the other guys that are coming out of the draft. It’s been fun and it’s been a grind, but when you love what you do, it’s fun. When you don’t have to worry about school and getting in class and things like that, it just frees your mind up and you feel looser and you want to come to the gym all of the time. It’s just a fun environment.”
Hood believes that he’ll be able to make an impact right away and he’s confident that his game will translate to the NBA.
“I feel it’ll transfer very well,” Hood said. “In college, I was one of the main players so you see six eyes on you at all times. Being played one-on-one, I think that works to my advantage because I could put the ball on the floor. Everybody knows me as a shooter, but I could also do that.. … People label me as a spot-up shooter, but I can also put the ball on the floor and do a lot more things. I’m very comfortable with the ball in my hands. It’s something that I’m going to have to show in draft time and I’m capable of doing that. There’s also more spacing [in the NBA] and you find out that out just shooting from the three-point line; there’s a lot more space on the court.”
Hood also thinks he’s a better defender than people believe. At Duke, he was often guarding the opposing team’s best player and insists that he’s determined to make an impact on both ends of the floor in the league.
“My strengths are definitely my shooting and being a great teammate, just coming to work every single day,” Hood said. “I could score the ball from different levels. My weaknesses right now are finishing and going to the right; I’ve been working on that down here. Some people say that I’m not as good on the defensive end, but it’s something that I could easily show because I feel like I’m a really good defender.”
Hood is excited that the draft process is underway and he can’t wait to start his NBA career.
“I’m just ready to jump in it, I’m ready to compete,” Hood said. “It’s kind of nerve-racking because you haven’t went through it, but at the end of the day it’s just basketball. They’ve already seen me play, but to get up closer and personal, I’m ready for the challenge.”
He says he started realizing that the NBA was a possibility for him when he was a senior in high school.
“Probably my senior year in high school, I thought I had a chance and I just kept working,” Hood said. “Even though I went to Mississippi State, I always felt confident in myself that I would be able to make it. Then once I went to Duke I thought I not only could make it, but be a really good player. Coach K gave me that confidence so I got to continue to carry that out.”
Hood says he has drawn a lot of comparisons to Jalen Rose, who averaged 14.3 points over the course of his 13-year NBA career, but he has also tried to model his game after some other elite scorers as well.
“A lot of people compare me to Jalen Rose because we are left-handed, but I just try to be my own player,” Hood said. “I take stuff from different players like James Harden, [Manu] Ginobili, Kevin Durant, wing players that can do a lot of things. I try to take that into my game.”
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN