When the Orlando Magic pulled off a trade with the Golden State Warriors the night of the 1993 NBA Draft to acquire the rights to Penny Hardaway, the immediate reaction of their fans was one of disbelief with more than a bit of outrage.
Compared to Chris Webber, who was taken with the No. 1 pick, they didn’t have much of a body of work on which to judge Hardaway.
If Hardaway was a virtual unknown back then, what does that make Dante Exum now? Only a few NBA general managers have ever seen him play live, with that taking place at last year’s Nike Hoop Summit. But should the Magic choose the 18-year-old native of Australia fourth overall, chances are good the announcement will be warmly received.
Exum has already drawn comparisons to Hardaway because of his size and athleticism. He stands 6-foot-6 in shoes with a 6-10 wingspan, measurements which are seldom seen in point guards. And his ability to get out in transition and be difficult to defend could conjure up further images of the four-time All-Star who helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in his second season with them.
While Joel Embiid, Anthony Wiggins and Jabari Parker are widely regarded as a lock to go in some order with the first three picks, Exum should be gone no later than fifth. That has rarely happened in recent years with foreign players who had no college experience.
Then again, there was similar hype around 7-footer Nikoloz Tskitishvili when he went fifth in the 2002 draft. The careers of Darko Milicic and Yi Jianlian were also fleeting at best. Even Yao Ming turned out to be a disappointment because of injuries.
And the less said around the Magic’s offices about the ever-elusive Fran Vazquez, the better.
Exum, who will turn 19 next month, has been timed as faster in the ¾-court sprint than Chris Paul and Damian Lillard. But what has impressed some observers just as much, if not more, is the body control he displays with the ball. He can create scoring opportunities for his teammates along with getting to the rim on his own, and he plays with what has been called a maturity beyond his years.
Beyond the question of whether he would benefit from a year at the college level, there are legitimate concerns. The mechanics of Exum’s jump shot will need to be refined if he is to become a threat from the perimeter and 3-point range. And other than Rajon Rondo, there aren’t many point guards in the NBA who struggle at the free-throw line to the extent of Exum, who is only a 61 percent shooter.
For that matter, is he even a point guard? While it’s no longer imperative for a guard to have a clearly defined position, there is bound to be a trial-and-error process for at least his rookie year.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD DRAFT HIM
Jameer Nelson can still be productive, but at 32, it’s time for the Magic to start planning for life without him at some point down the road. Exum doesn’t have the character-related questions which are dogging Marcus Smart, the other point guard being cited as a possible No. 4 pick. Pairing Exum with last year’s first-round pick, Victor Oladipo, will make the Magic not only a more exciting team to watch but should make them more competitive against the Eastern Conference’s more athletic backcourts. Think of George Hill and Lance Stephenson with Indiana and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with Toronto.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD AVOID HIM
After wrestling all season with how to best utilize Oladipo, do the Magic want to put themselves through pretty much the same thing with Exum? As tempting as his potential is, there are other needs which need to be addressed, particularly at power forward. And dividing minutes among Arron Afflalo, Nelson, Oladipo and Exum could be a challenge for coach Jacque Vaughn.
Exum’s father, Cecil, was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s on North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team and had a lengthy professional career in Australia.