As the NBA draft unfolded Thursday night, Dante Exum became both the obvious choice for the Jazz and a risk/reward pick.
That’s not a contradiction. Exum’s development will be a thrill ride, because he’s definitely talented enough to merit a No. 5 pick and yet nobody’s sure just what he’ll become.
He’s Exum, the X-factor. He’s intriguing, mysterious, unknown … and a potential star, because of his athletic ability and passing skills. Shooting? Uh, that’s subject to development.
That’s all part of the package with an Australian player who will turn 19 next month and chose to enter the 2014 draft rather than attend an American college.
This will be fun to watch, that’s for sure. An NBA scout suggested to the Boston Globe that a team should “just draft his talent and let the coach figure it out.”
Quin Snyder is now on the clock. The 6-foot-6 Exum considers himself a point guard, and the Jazz took Trey Burke with the No. 9 pick last June. The reality is that the Jazz were going to duplicate their current personnel at one position or another in this draft, and Exum should be versatile enough to play alongside Burke. In that sense, Alec Burks may be the player most affected by Exum’s arrival.
Those are questions that remain to be answered. What’s clear for the moment is that Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey is good at this drafting stuff.
With one phase of his offseason work complete, Lindsey wore a tired, satisfied look as he walked into the Jazz’s practice gym late Thursday. “It’s a projection pick, an anticipation pick,” Lindsey said, “but [he’s] 6-6 and fast and a good kid. We really didn’t want to overthink it.”
If trading up to draft Burke was the signature move of his first draft, staying in place worked well for him this time. Lindsey may have failed in a quest for a higher position, but the top of the draft played out nicely. Joel Embiid remained in the top three, amid medical concerns, and Orlando surprisingly took Aaron Gordon at No. 4.
So Exum was available to the Jazz, and they grabbed him. And then they reportedly turned down Miami’s trade offer for the No. 23 pick and took Duke forward Rodney Hood, a Mississippi State transfer who may become the shooter the Jazz need.
Exum, meanwhile, is as Americanized as any lifelong Australian could be, as the son of a former North Carolina player. Cecil Exum was a little-used sophomore on the Tar Heels’ 1982 NCAA championship team that featured Michael Jordan and James Worthy, then became a ninth-draft choice of Denver in ’84. He never played in the NBA, but thrived in Australia’s pro league.
Dante Exum is from Melbourne, the hometown of former University of Utah star Andrew Bogut, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. Unlike Bogut, who proved himself in two college seasons, Exum was exposed to NBA scouts only in events such as the 2013 U-19 World Championships last summer and the Nike Hoop Summit — which is operated by Jazz international scout Rich Sheubrooks. Jazz management watched him practice for a full week in that setting in Portland, so he’s not entirely unknown.
“I like being a mystery,” Exum recently told ESPN.com, while suggesting that he’s improved since the last time he appeared in a game.
Exum did not work out for the Jazz in advance of the draft, because he was widely judged as a top-four pick. So that’s actually another good sign, amid all of the uncertainty about him.