Face Off: Dante Exum vs. Marcus Smart
This edition of Face Off probably hits a little closer to home for the Orlando Magic. Had Marcus Smart declared for the 2013 draft, there’s a very good possibility he would have been selected 2nd by Orlando. It’s not every day a team gets a second chance to nab their guy, but with International Man of Mystery, Dante Exum, throwing his name in the hat, things get a bit more complicated. With an aging Jameer Nelson hitting the free agent market next summer, the Magic are looking for a backcourt mate for Victor Oladipo. With Joel Embiid’s foot injury, there’s even room for one to slide into the top three. Exum and Smart top the list of point guard prospects in the 2014 draft, and I break down both players who are hoping to be the first point called to the podium on June 26th.
Size and Measurements
Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and others have ushered in the era of the big point guard. In a time where a having a player over 6’3’’ run your offense, these two players certainly fit the bill.
The Australian teenager, Dante Exum, came into Chicago and confirmed his size, which makes him such an intriguing point guard prospect. At 6‘4.5’’ barefoot, he then measured an even 6’6’’ in shoes, and his 6‘9.5’’ wingspan helped him achieve an 8’7’’ standing reach, which is only a half an inch shorter than center prospect, Patric Young.
Marcus Smart is no small fry in his own right. At 6‘3.25’’ in shoes, and a rock solid 227 lbs, he has a frame that is not only ready to take the bumps and bruises of NBA play, but dish some out as well. His 6‘9.25’’ wingspan is just barely shorter than Exum’s, but his height and broader shoulders give him a much lower 8’3’’ standing reach.
There’s no real lack of size involved with either prospect, but Exum is elite for his position. There are few 6’6’’ starting point guards in the league, and with Oladipo being a bit of a short two guard, pairing a giant point in the same backcourt would make a lot of sense.
Edge - Exum
Speed and lateral quickness, make a big difference when looking at point guard prospects. Year in and year out, the quicker guards seem to have more success in the NBA, and both Exum and Smart lean on the fast side. Although built very differently, both players tested very well from an athletic standpoint.
Dante Exum measured a solid, but not eye popping, 31.5’’ standing vertical leap, and a max vert of 34.5’’, but where he confirmed his athletic ability is in the speed and agility drills.
Exum’s 3.19 second 3/4 sprint was tied for 6th in the entire combine, and only .09 seconds off leader K.J. McDaniels. His impressive 10.75 second agility drill was ranked 2nd out of those who participated in Chicago, only trailing athletic freak, Zach LaVine.
Smart is clearly built much differenly, but he actually tested better in the vertical leap numbers by propelling his 227 lb frame 33’’ in the air on his standing vertical test, and a very solid 36’’ during his max vertical test.
The former OSU floor leader also tested well in speed and agility, but just a shade behind Exum in both drills. Smart ran his 3/4 sprint in 3.26 seconds, and he joined Exum and eight other players with a sub 11 second agility drill (10.82). Smart’s strength also deserves a mention. Although the NBA has been unnecessarily covert with the bench press results this season, Smart was rumored to have repped 185 lbs nineteen times, confirming his top notch positional strength.
Both players really tested well as far as point guards are concerned, but I feel Exum’s elite speed and direction changing ability will serve him well in the NBA. Both players are middle of the pack leapers, and Smart has tremendous strength, but in my opinion speed ratings hold a lot more weight when talking about point guards, and that is why I give the slight edge to Exum.
Edge - Exum
As the leader of an NBA team, any point guard prospect has to be proficient on offense, in not only setting up his teammates, but preferably in the scoring column as well. Both players have the quickness and athletic ability to score, but aren’t exactly the best marksmen. Also a common trait, each player is a shade combo guard, as they both can play off the ball, and would be effective playing stints at shooting guard. Smart hung 39 points on a good Memphis team, and in the FIBA U 19 Championship, Exum torched Spain for 33, so each player has big game ability, to go with their above average skills setting up teammates.
Dante Exum - FIBA U19 stats - 9 gp 27.1 mpg 18.2 ppg 3.8 apg 44.6% FG 33% 3PT 60.9% FT
Australian high school basketball is not exactly the easiest level of play to compare to NCAA division one basketball in America, but Dante Exum’s performance in the U19 Championships in 2013 give us not only production numbers against higher competition, but direct competition against a number of players in the 2014 draft, including Smart.
One of the first things that jumps out when you watch Exum’s game footage is that he’s incredibly smooth and has an effortless quality about him when playing basketball. He’s not a high level shooter, but his shot selection is very solid, and he rarely forces the issue when his jumper isn’t falling. Dante also showcased great ability in transition, not only using his speed to break free and get buckets for himself, but also a good feel for hitting his teammates. Carrying the offensive load requires him to score, and although his 3.8 assist per game mark doesn’t jump off the page, as a young player he certainly has room to grow in that area.
Dante was relied on heavily in Australia’s run in the U19’s and for the most part, rose to the occasion. Although he hasn’t consistently seen the same level of competition as Smart, it can be pointed out that he has always shown up and played very well in international competition, not only in the U19 Championships, but in the Hoop Summit as well.
The young Aussie, who’s father played at North Carolina, did struggle head to head against the United States, tallying only 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 0 assists in an absolute blowout, but Australia’s roster was vastly overmatched against the Gold Medal winning American Squad. In that same matchup Smart scored 11, dished 4 assists, and grabbed one rebound in 17 minutes. Just a 61% free throw shooter, he also must continue to work on his game at the charity stripe. Dante also only sported a 1.61 assist to turnover ratio which also plays into the notion that he might be more of a combo than a pure point. Either way, at 18 he has a great foundation, and has for the most part, has impressed and risen to the challenge when the competition was turned up a notch. There is some risk involved because there’s far less intel on Exum, but he has loads of potential and the size and athletic ability to translate a lot of his skills to the NBA.
Marcus Smart 13-14 NCAA stats - 33 gp - 18 ppg 42% FG 30% 3PT 73% FT 4.8 apg
Marcus Smart shocked a lot of people in the basketball world by bypassing a top 5 draft choice to come back to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year. His second collegiate season was a bit of mixed bag, as he did improve shooting percentages and lowered his turnover rate, but the Cowboys had a disappointing season, and Smart raised character questions that would have been unheard of a year prior. He also played in the same U19 Championship Exum did, and although he played a lesser role for a stacked team, he did have the superior game in the head to head matchup, and boasted a higher true shooting percentage (573% to 550%.)
Marcus Smart FIBA U19 stats - 9 gp 15.6 mpg 9.6 ppg 50% FG 28.6% 3PT 64% 2.2 apg
From an offensive standpoint, Smart is a dynamic player who excels with the ball in his hand. Going for over 30 points twice this season, he’s shown not only big game ability, but he’s pretty consistent as he only failed to top 10 points twice. Marcus’ physicality and attitude serve him well, as he does a great job at not only getting to the rim, but finishing. His 64.9 field goal percentage at the rim is a very good clip for a point. Smart attempted over 10 free throws eleven times, good for 33% of his entire games this season, and after 465 attempts over two seasons he hit 75% of his freebees.
Smart is also a very good transition player, where he first started to display is underrated athleticism. While Exum is a smooth player, who runs like a gazelle, Smart is explosive on the break who changes direction powerfully, and on a dime. Marcus’ 1.8 assist to turnover ratio isn’t eye popping, but it’s an element of his game he improved during his sophomore season, and for a player who can be wild at times, it’s a nice sign.
A truly remarkable stat that Marcus boasts is his 22 put back attempts as a guard, which lead Oklahoma State. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder, who will be a tad less effective against the trees in the NBA, but it’s a bonus when looking at his offensive package.
Smart is not without his flaws, though. Often a player who tried to do too much at the NCAA level, he could fall in love with his sub par jumper. After the injury to Michael Cobbins, Marcus’ shooting numbers plummeted as he desperately tried to will his team to victory. Although a good free throw shooter, Marcus really needs more reps on his jump shot, and it’s safe to say his NBA 3 point range is sub par, at best. He’s not necessarily a bad shooter, but his shot selection is going to need an overhaul for the NBA. Still, Marcus Smart was a player who averaged 18 points per game in an extremely deep conference, possesses a very unique and powerful offensive skill set and despite some turmoil, and injuries to his team, sported many huge games and lead his to back to the NCAA tournament against all odds.
Although Exum may be the better pure scorer, I feel Smart’s superior ability to run and set up an offense, paired with his absolutely NBA translatable ability to get to the rim and become a high percentage finisher and high volume free throw shooter give him the slight edge.
Edge - Smart
From a defensive standpoint, both players are high level ball thieves with immense untapped potential when trying to predict their defensive ability in future years. Their physical attributes will allow them to handle the bigger points in the league, and Exum’s size and Smart’s strength will likely give the smaller points of the league fits.
During Dante Exum’s run in the U19 Championships, he tallied an impressive 1.667 steals per game, including a 4 steal game against Spain. He’s an attentive on ball defender, and isn’t a gambler in the passing lanes. The effort appears to be there as well. The desire to want to play defense is just as important as the tools to be effective, and Exum’s attentiveness appears to bleed over to the defensive side of the ball.
Although Dante will greatly benefit from an NBA weight room, his 8’7’’ standing reach and 6‘9.5’’ wingspan are measurements that lead me to believe when his strength catches up, that he’ll be a capable NBA defender. A strange stat is that despite his great standing reach, he blocked just one shot in the FIBA championships. Blocking shots isn’t a make all break all stat for an NBA point guard, but it is strange he blocked so few despite being such a big prospect for his size.
Dante still has a great deal of potential on the defense end. He has played solid team defense and made a lot of smart plays in international competition, and with the benefit of some more muscle, he should be a good NBA defender.
Smart was easily one of the best defensive guards in college basketball, and thrived on being a pest on defense. His 2.8 steals per game lead the Big 12, and ranked 3rd in the country. He also tallied a remarkable seven games with 5 or more steals. Marcus also racked up 2.4 per game in the U19 championships, and adjusted to the 27.1 mpg Exum played, it would have been 4.24 per game. The OSU product is also a good weak side shot blocker, and is known to fly down the court for the transition shot block.
Although Smart is a stat stuffer in every way, a lot of his impact doesn’t show up in the numbers columns. He’s a known flopper, physical, and just one of those players that thrives trying to shut his opponent down. His defensive style is very reminiscent of a young Metta World Peace, although the two play different positions. At only twenty years old, Smart’s desire to play defense is a trait any pro coach will fall in love with.
Smart is a tad foul prone, at times, and his intense nature can play into that weakness. He fouled out twice, and his 2.9 fouls per game is a high number for a point guard. Still, his potential is very high on defense and he looks to be a player that will make an impact right away. With maturity and continued growth, I think Marcus Smart does indeed have All-Defensive team type potential.
Edge - Smart
Intangibles\Clutch Play Making
If there’s any position where clutch play making and intangible basketball skills are important, it’s at the point guard spot. As a team’s primary ball handler, setting up the right offensive set, coming up with a crisp pass, or breaking down the defense off the drive at the end of a game are heavily relied on as a part of a team’s overall success.
Exum possesses a great natural flow for the game, including the pick and roll, and his high level ball handling often proves to be that extra quality that allows him to come up with a big play. Considering he’s virtually always upped his play against higher level opponents, is also a good sign as playing big in big games is something crucial for overall success in basketball.
Smart is one of those guys who lives and breathes to win. He’s often lead his team to victory by picking up big play after big play in the closing minutes. Sometimes, on will alone. His craftiness and not being afraid to use tactics like flopping, often give his team the edge and more often frustrate his opponents.
Edge - Smart
With this edition of Face Off, Dante Exum jumped out to the early lead with his exceptional positional size, and top end speed winning both the measurements and athleticism categories; however, much like his style of basketball, Marcus Smart came back and took the offensive ability, defensive ability and intangibles categories to secure the win.
This year’s International Man of Mystery, Dante Exum, is a great prospect. His fluid floor game, great size, and elite quickness warrant consideration in the top five, and now with Embiid’s ailing foot, the top three. There is some risk involved, as Australian high school basketball, and international tournaments are the majority of his experience. That being said, at a shade under 19 years old, and from a basketball lineage, he looks to be a player who can play minutes out of the gate, and possibly develop into an All-Star level player.
Marcus Smart is a stat stuffer, with a burning desire to win basketball games. His physical nature, and ability to get to the rim and finish will translate to the NBA. Smart is an underrated athlete, who often falls in love with a sub par jump shot, but in an NBA system where he won’t have to do as much, he could really improve his shooting percentages on shot selection alone. On the defensive end, he’s as good of a point guard prospect as I’ve seen in a few years. His ability to want to defend and triple double style game lead be to believe he’s a high floor player, with All-Defensive potential, and for the right organization he could be an elite team leader as he ages and matures.