Dante Exum is draft combine's biggest mystery

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Dante Exum is draft combine's biggest mystery

CHICAGO -- Dante Exum walked to his assigned table at the NBA draft combine Thursday and was immediately swamped by reporters.

There is plenty of mystery surrounding the 18-year-old from Australia and those in attendance were eager to learn more about the prospect.

Exum did not play college ball like the majority of his peers. He has also spent the past three months in seclusion, working out with personal trainers in Los Angeles.

Yet, the 6-foot-6 point guard is still projected by numerous mocks to go as high as the fourth pick in the NBA draft and no lower than seventh.

“They all have an idea of what I am about, but the college players they have seen play 40-game seasons and they haven’t seen me play a lot,” Exum said. “When they try to look at tape, they can’t see a lot of tape of me.”

In Exum’s opinion, even the game footage that does exist of him is no longer an accurate depiction of his game.

“My game has changed a whole lot from those clips,” Exum said. “I am a take-it-to-the-rim type of player and I beat my man off the dribble and try to draw help to find other players.

“I guess that is what puts me in a good position to be a point guard. Also, I can be that vocal leader. I have that voice that can be used to say what needs to be done on the court in that moment.”

While Exum’s size (6-6, 188) makes it enticing to play him as a shooting guard, he was emphatic about where he views his best chance to succeed in the NBA.

“I see myself as a point guard. I have always played the point guard position and I am comfortable at that position,” he said. “That is what I am entering myself into the draft as and that is what I want to play.”

Exum is talked about as lottery pick mainly because of his showing during last summer’s FIBA U-19 World Championships. He averaged 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Exum’s scoring spiked in the last nine games of the tournament as he averaged 25.5 points.

That performance boosted the Melbourne native’s draft stock, so he decided to forego collegiate hoops and focus on turning pro.

Upon arriving in Chicago on Wednesday, Exum met with the Sixers, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons.

While the process is new to the young PG, he saw a familiar face in head coach Brett Brown when he sat down with the Sixers.

“I have had a good relationship with him,” Exum said of Brown, who coached his father Cecil in the Australian National Basketball League. “He brought me into my first Australian national team camp a couple years ago and it was good to catch up with him and see where we have gone in these years.”

The Sixers have their own 6-foot-6 point guard who also happens to be the newly-minted Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams. Exum explained that the two could co-exist if the cards fell that way.

“Most teams that are looking at me are trying to look at a two point guard setup,” Exum said. “The way that system works is where you can get it to either point guard and they can kind of run the show.”

The Sixers experimented with that scenario at times last season when playing Carter-Williams and the 6-foot-6 Tony Wroten together.

The comparisons of Exum to Carter-Williams because of body size are understandable. However, unlike MCW, Exum is said to have an incredibly quick first step, a characteristic he thinks will help him make the adjustment at the next level.

“My game defensively is pretty good. I have great foot speed and that is definitely something we have been working on the last two months,” Exum said. “I want to be a point guard, so I am going into a league where there are a lot of fast point guards. Working on my foot speed is something I am going to have to keep working on but also my strength. We have been in the weight room working on getting a strong core base so that I am doing the hitting and not getting hit.”

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”