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Scott Howard-Cooper

Dante Exum
Dante Exum is projected as a lottery pick, but some question if he's a true point guard.

Australian Exum eager to prove he can run point in NBA


Posted Jun 24, 2014 1:14 AM

If he's going to play with gum in his mouth, train with gum in his mouth. That's one thing, one little thing that made so much sense, Dante Exum learned, from famed trainer Tim Grover, since moving from Australia to the United States just after the NBA's All-Star break.

Remember to drive on the right side of the road. That's another thing. Desiree Exum has already instinctively steered to the left -- on a Los Angeles street! -- during a visit to see her son, before catching herself in time to avoid catastrophe, and Dante has had to pause to think before answering when quizzed about the proper direction in America.

What happens on the court gets you to the NBA, what happens off the court keeps you in the NBA. Exum calls that the biggest lesson, and so he has prepared for workouts with teams and even his own typical, daily sessions behind closed doors with a business-like approach.

Oh, yeah. Many NBA teams are not convinced he is a point guard. He has learned that too.

"A lot of them try to kind of put me as a two," Exum said. "I just say straight up, 'I'm a one. The one position has got me here and that's what I'm going to keep going forward with.' "

Talk about potential catastrophe. Exum is an electric athlete, Exum by all indications handles himself better at 18 years old than a lot of players do in their mid-20s, Exum can be a demon mismatch as a 6-foot-6 ball handler, and Exum has had very good moments at major international testing grounds. But days before the Draft, days before a front office could spend as much as a top-three selection to get him, there is considerable doubt around the league that someone's lottery-pick point guard of the future is even a point guard.

Or as one executive, whose team is not in the lottery, put it: "Whoever takes him, they've got to have big (guts)."

"Ultimately," said another, "I think he's a 2-1 more than a 1-2. He's going to have a big learning curve. ... He's got some ability, but he's not a great ballhandler if you're going to be a point guard, he's not really a fantastic shooter if you're going to be a two guard. You can screw it up a lot easier than you can make it perfect."

Teams have drafted on spec before and been rewarded for the risk, a daily reminder in Oklahoma City with the investment in an unproven Russell Westbrook, an especially relevant analogy because Exum likes to compare parts of his potential to Westbrook as a big point guard who can explode to the rim. But it is such an instinctive position. Making someone into a point guard when it's not hard to find teams saying he doesn't have a position, that Exum is actually a combo guard who has to play the point by default, because he can't shoot, now we may see what steering into oncoming traffic really looks like.

Exum has mostly topped out against high school competition in Australia, before finishing his career there in January and relocating to Los Angeles, where agent Rob Pelinka is based, to prepare for the Draft. He had a very good showing in the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., against a U.S. team that included likely fellow lottery picks-to-be Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, and Aaron Gordon, but mostly played off the ball for the World squad. He was likewise impressive later that summer in leading the Aussies to fourth place in the under-19 world championships in Prague, but while posting a poor assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.8-2.3.

A lot of that could easily be explained away as teammates playing more like typical teenagers who were not almost exactly one year away from being picked in the NBA Draft, except that scouts and executives saw the holes before and after. They want to fall in mad love with the potential for greatness undeniable, the athleticism and the desire to get better obvious, and the physical skills that separate Exum from most others who will be picked Thursday night, but there are doubts in several camps.

"My game has changed a whole lot since those clips," he said of the highlight reel from the Prague tournament, the primary scouting opportunity for most fans and media. "I'm a get-to-the-rim type of player. I beat my man off the dribble and try and draw help to find open players. I guess that's what puts me in a good position to be a point guard, and also to be a vocal leader. I can have that voice to say to players what needs to be done. That kind of voice on the court for the coach.

"I see myself as a point guard. I've always played the point-guard position. That's where I feel comfortable. I think that's what I'm entering myself into the Draft as and that's where I see myself playing."

This is part of the learning as well. People learning about Exum.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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