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.”