Should Dante Exum be treated as a High School Prospect?

I remember sitting in a Humvee just outside of Baghdad a decade ago. It was 2004, the last time the Magic had won the draft lottery and were all but certain to select some guy named Dwight Howard with the first overall pick, from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Like most lottery winners the Magic had come off a terrible season(21-61) and star player Tracy McGrady was begging the team to trade the pick for veteran help, instead it would be McGrady who would be traded. I also had a new driver, a replacement who came to the unit late and joined us the middle of a yearlong tour. In a war zone its pivotal to integrate such people as soon as possible and make them feel like part of the team. Upon discovering he was an avid basketball fan (though a 76ers fan), I engaged him in a discussion of the upcoming draft. I asked him about potentially taking Dwight Howard and got a visceral response

"no way that dude is Kwame Brown you gotta go Emeka Okafor".

I looked up the Orlando Sentinel Online, Lakeland Ledger, and ESPN pages; the comments from the most fans mirrored this. After all, Emeka had just led UCONN to the National Title, he was a shot blocking machine, was the NCAA tournament MVP , and was an Academic All-American. Howard was a well talked about high school phenom but much more of an unknown commodity. New GM John Weisbrod though was clearly touting the superior athleticism of Dwight and would ultimately make the call in that direction. Fans had no connection to Howard, the average one had never seen him play so I understood the general negative sentiment, being more of far more knowledgeable on the NFL draft evaluation process though I decided to simply trust the scouts. My driver and all the fans at the time who advocated for Okafor where clearly wrong, though in fairness my driver was right that Jameer Nelson was the absolute steal of that draft.

I think I’m compelled to apply the same logic to Dante Exum this season. He’s 18 years old(Turns 19 July 13th making eligible), and has scant or no connection with the fans. He’s played in just two tournaments FIBA’s Under 17 World Championships in 2012 and this past season in FIBA’s under 19 World Championships (with Magic GM Rob Hennigan in attendance). The sample size is simply too small and teams are compelled to simply evaluate on talent and nascent skills. His dad, Cecil, did play with James Worthy and Michael Jordan on 1982 UNC Title Team though, had a cup of coffee with the Denver Nuggets, and then played professionally in Australia. Which is to say he comes from good genes and at least will have a father who can advise him some about the NBA and in general, what it takes to be a professional basketball player.

The 2005 CBA added the 19 year old age limitation but I thought, given Exum’s background that the model might be the most effective to evaluate his potential. So I went back and looked at the players who were good enough to go directly from high school to the pro’s and become a lottery pick. What sort of NBA career did they have, I divided them into "Total Bust" , "Marginal" "Good not Great" and "Boom":

1975 Darryl Dawkins(PF) – Pick 5 – Philadelphia 76ers

Old "Chocolate Thunder" who actually played high school basketball is the reason the NBA developed breakaway rims, that said his career was clearly "Good not Great" 7 good seasons in Philly followed by a couple productive years for the Nets before he became a chronic injury risk.

1995 Kevin Garnett(PF) – Pick 5 – Minnesota Timberwolves

Too easy to call a great player and future first Ballot Hall of Famer: "Boom"

1996 Kobe Bryant(SG) – Pick 13 - LA Lakers

I hate him but must be considered a "Boom"

1997 Tracy McGrady(SG) – Pick 9 – Toronto Raptors

Poor Toronto They invested all that development time in him , the Magic got the benefit then dumped him on Houston (not that we got much in return) but clearly "Good not Great"

1999 Jonathan Bender(PF/C) – Pick 5 – Toronto Raptors

The 7 footer was instantly dealt to the Indiana Pacers where he sat on the bench for seven seasons and started a whopping 27 games over an eight year total career "Bust"

2000 Darius Miles(SF) – Pick 3 – LA Clippers

Miles lasted 8 NBA Seasons but didn’t score in double figures until his 5th season when he was traded to the Portland Jailblazers , he was a pretty good defensive guy but really this is a "Marginal"

2001 Kwame Brown(C) – Pick 1 – Washington Wizards

Michael Jordon will have two things next to his lifelong resume , Greatest NBA player of All-Time and the GM who was crazy enough to draft Kwame Brown. Colossal "Bust"

2001 Tyson Chandler(C) – Pick 2 – LA Clippers

Instantly Traded to the Bulls for Elton Brand Tyson has been a defensive stalwart in the league. You could make a strong argument for calling him great, but I’ll be conservative and say "Good Not Great"

2001 Eddie Curry(C) – Pick 4 – Chicago Bulls

After a rough first season was an effective offensive center, until health problems derailed his career in New York. Again, I’m being conservative so I’m going to call him "Marginal"

2001 DeSagana Diop(C) – Pick 8 – Cleveland Cavaliers

Yeck, amazingly still in the league, but has never averaged more than 4 points a game in any season. He’s clearly in the "BUST" category.

2002 Amare Stoudamire(PF/C) – Pick 9 – Phoenix Suns

Has been plagued by injuries lately but 6 time NBA All-Star and One time NBA All-First team, I have to say "Boom" at least for Phoenix though they shafted the Knicks

2003 LeBron James(SF) – Pick 1 – Cleveland Cavaliers

"Boom" , nothing more need be said.

2004 Dwight Howard(C) – Pick 1 – Orlando Magic

I hate you Dwight, but your clearly in the "Boom" territory.

2004 Shaun Livingston(PG) – Pick 4 – Los Angeles Clippers

Gilbert Arenas hates you and your clearly in the "Bust" Territory

2004 Robert "Not Stromile" Swift(C/PF) – Pick 12 – Seattle Supersonics

Didn’t cause Seattle to move but he’s a total "bust"

2004 Sebastian Telfair(PG) – Pick 13 – Portland Trail Blazers

Stupid Documentary , worse pick especially considering fellow high school Al Jefferson went 2 picks later clearly rides the short Bus to "BUST"

2005 Martell Webster(SG) – Pick 6 – Portland Trail Blazers

Martell clearly is not a starter, but has made some off the bench contributions I’ve been conservative on most of these and just generally going to call him "Marginal"

2005 Andrew Bynum(C) – Pick 10 – LA Lakers

Did help LA win some titles and was on the best young emerging big men till he decided he didn’t like the game anymore , he’s a free agent but I think I have to go "Good not Great" based on his work in total.

What’s the final tally:






6 (33%)

3 (17.6%)

4 (22%)

5 (28%)

Taken 1st Overall(3)

1 – Old Kwame



2 (LeBron and he whom I hate)

Taken 2-9 (11)





Taken 10-14(4)





Big Men(11)










Point Guard(2)





Quick Note: I realize "Boom" and "Bust" are loaded terms, they very heavily depending on how you mean them, that said if it helps call them Categories 1-4 above.

What I take from this on Exum and young draftee’s in general:

1. I’d have to say the high schooler’s had a higher success rate than draftable players in general at each of these respective slots. Basically in order to overcome not getting the refinement of a college game you have to have outsized athletic potential in order to be drafted highly. The outsized athletic potential probably leads to a heightened success rate.

2. Big Men still rule, the quest for the dominant big men led to a fair amount of hits and many misses.

3. The first year numbers were DREADFUL. Really really bad no way around that , in fact worse than most rookies. A few exceptions on the list but really only LeBron, Howard, Garnett, and Stoudamire had even anything close to respectable first years. The rest couldn’t get on the court consistently and nearly all were well below double digits. Even then for all four they produced numbers, well like a rookie, and significantly below their career averages on some terrible efficiency. The Good but Not Great crew showed major improvement over the course of their careers, Marginals and busts did not.

4. Wings , Webster and Darius Miles, failed primarily due to their inability to develop an outside shooting touch, that happens with a lot of players but that really is the fulcrum point on the wing.

5. The history of Point Guards is small but pretty bad. Telfair and Livingston were horrid. Though I think both failed more for maturity reasons than direct basketball skills. If you take Exum for athletic talent you should recall that running the point requires an outsized basketball IQ. If you draft Exum you should be prepared to play him at shooting guard if need be. That doesn’t mean he can’t develop as a point guard, but you have to be convinced that if he doesn’t work at the point he has enough athletic talent that if he develops a shooting touch he’ll be your two guard.

CONCLUSION: If Hennigan having watched Exum up close (and hopefully in a workout) decides his athletic talent is too much to pass on, he should absolutely be the pick if Wiggins, Embiid, and Parker are gone. If he wants him as Orlando's point guard of the future, he needs to realize that will take significant time to develop, he should also try to communicate as much to the fans. Exum playing point is, in all probability, going to look TERRIBLE his first season, It should not be a one and done experiment so long as he continues to show progress. He needs to realize that this could take multiple seasons to work. He also needs to realize that if it doesn't he has to be willing to say good bye to either Victor or Dante, if Exum's physical skill set is sufficient to merit the pick, it should be sufficient to conclude that he's a better two guard prospect if he fails at the point than Oladipo.

This FanPost was made by a member of the Orlando Pinstriped Post community, and is to be treated as the opinions and views of its author, not that of the blogger or blog community as a whole.

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