Guess who’s back? No, it’s not the Real Slim Shady. It’s the Orlando Magic and they will be a relevant NBA team again next season. By relevant I mean a team that has a legitimate chance at the playoffs, but more importantly, relevant in the basketball world as a team on the rise. It all depends on one thing however: this year’s NBA draft.
The most anticipated draft lottery since 2003 took place last week as all of the league’s worst teams came together to see where the ping-pong balls would land. The Orlando Magic, coming off a 23-59 season, had two picks in the lottery. They owned the New York Knicks’ pick which was traded to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade, then subsequently traded to Orlando in the massive Dwight Howard trade, and they also owned their own pick. The Magic had the third highest probability of winning the lottery with a 15.6% chance. Magic fans were excited at the possibility to land two top ten, draft picks in the loaded 2014 draft. But of course things didn’t fall the way they’d hoped. Instead the Magic ended up with the number 4 pick and the number 12 pick.
It’s believed that there are only three elite players in this years draft, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embid. I’m here to tell you that there are in fact four. Dante Exum is going to be an elite player in the NBA. For those who didn’t see him during this year’s March Madness, that’s because Exum wasn’t in this year’s March Madness. He was in Australia, playing for the Australian Institute of Sport International. (I still don’t know why the NCAA didn’t select them for the tournament by the way.)
Exum is a 6’6″ point guard with a 6’9″ wingspan. The last big point guard that was taken in the draft, Michael Carter-Williams, just won Rookie of the Year. Being a 6’6″ point gives a player many advantages. The first is that he can finish around and over the trees in the middle; something that average and smaller guards struggle with when they first enter the NBA. Second, he’s a capable low post scorer. He automatically makes match-up problems and that makes him a nightmare for guards not accustomed to playing low post defense. Not only will he be able to score out of the post, but he’ll also be able to use his vision to distribute to teammates. Lastly, his size makes him an above average rebounder for his position. He’ll be able to use his length and athleticism to jump over smaller opponents to grab boards.
Today’s point guards are asked to do a lot more than in previous generations. Point guards like Russell Westbrook not only set up their teammates, but they also score at will. Exum is a product of this new generation of guards. He can carry an offense by himself if need be. At the FIBA U19 World’s, Exum averaged almost 25 points and 5 assists per game. He attacked the rim with aggression and showed off his basketball IQ in pick and roll situations.
Exum also has the ability to be a tremendous defender. His length can cause opposing point guards fits, and he’s extremely quick laterally. Since he’s a bigger guard, Exum also has the ability to mark multiple positions, which is a valuable asset to any team.
Believe it or not, Jameer Nelson isn’t going to be the Magic’s point guard forever. His time has come and gone and it’s the Magic’s turn to move on. Victor Oladipo was named to the “NBA All Rookie First Team” last week, but his best moments were when he played off the ball. Oladipo did average four assists per game, but also averaged three turnovers; not the ideal stat line for an NBA point guard. Oladipo is excellent on defense, taking the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player most nights. Pairing Oladipo with Exum in the backcourt gives the Magic coaching staff a lot of options defensively. Two young, up and coming guards in the backcourt is exactly what the Magic need in order to make that step back into playoff contention.
The pick and roll is one of the simplest plays in basketball. When executed properly, it’s a thing of beauty. On the other hand when ran poorly, it looks terrible. Players like John Stockton and Steve Nash rode the pick and roll all the way to the Hall of Fame and MVP awards. Tony Parker has used the pick and roll to win three championships and his Spurs are likely on their way to the Finals yet again. Exum is an excellent pick and roll player as he’s able to read the defense brilliantly. Nikola Vucevic averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Magic last year, but more importantly showed off his ability to be versatile. Vucevic rolls to the basket hard and teams started taking that away from him throughout the year. He expanded his game and is now able to hit the occasional 12 to 15-foot mid range jump shot. With Exum on the team the Magic will be able to use the pick and roll more, providing more opportunities for Vucevic to score.
The pick and roll also opens up opportunities for cutters on the weak side and shooters in the corners. Arron Afflalo was the Magic’s go to scoring option last year and he will benefit from a player like Exum running the offense. Afflalo averaged 18 points per game shooting almost forty percent from behind the arc last season and with Exum he will be open to even more looks than in previous years.
A lineup featuring Exum, Oladipo, Afflalo, and Vucevic would be extremely dangerous on both ends of the floor. Dante Exum is the perfect fit for the Orlando Magic. A 6’6″ point guard who facilitates the offense and can score in bunches is exactly what the great current point guards do. His defensive potential mixed with athleticism is a lethal combination, especially alongside Oladipo in the backcourt. A team can only be taken as far as it’s led. It starts with the captain of your ship and Dante Exum is a pretty damn good captain, mate.