Raise your hand if you've seen Dante Exum play a basketball game before. Not a YouTube highlight video, but a full basketball game.
I forgot this is the internet. I'm just going to assume most of you don't have your hands up, and of those of you who do, half of you are lying, and one of you is Derek.
Bottom line, there's only a select few here, and frankly, elsewhere, who have actually watched Exum play more than one game (the Nike Hoop Summit was on ESPN last year). Despite this, his stock has remained virtually unchanged all season on most draft boards of repute, and anecdotally, among most people I've talked to of substantially less repute.
Don't think I'm not including myself in this either. I love Dante Exum. I've seen him play one full basketball game (the aforementioned Nike Summit) and I fell in love then. Since then, the only thing I've seen him do is take a couple jump shots and dribble around some folding chairs to show scouts how he'd fare against James Harden's defense.
Still, I love the guy. I've convinced myself that Exum can totally play SG in a backcourt with our newly crowned Rookie of the Year, , that will give opposing offenses fits. He'll develop into a great shooter, undoubtedly, under the tutelage of Brett Brown because of Brown's familiarity with the family from his Australian background. He's got sky-high upside without the glaring red-flags of some of the other top guys! Maybe I should move him to #2 on my board?
Why do we do this, though? We crave information like we crave free Big Macs. I'm a sponge for draft-related content. (1,500 words and an 18-minute scouting video on Spencer Dinwiddie? Count me in.) Judging by the comment activity around here, so are you. Why are we so high on somebody we've seen so little of and why aren't we far more wary of what we haven't seen yet?
If you had asked us in September, we wouldn't have a lot of the same complaints about the top talent we do now. We wouldn't be terrified of Joel Embiid's back or Jabari Parker's...whatever it is that he calls defense. We are now.
Previously on the Draft
Back in my FanPost days, I wrote a post about how I felt some of the criticisms of the top college prospects were overblown and that the narrative that was forming around them was unfair because it was based on unreasonable expectations. (That's the long story short version, anyway.) Exum, on the other hand, hasn't had to go through the hot take narrative meat grinder, mostly because most people wouldn't know if he was standing right in front of them. Does Dante Exum have a "killer instinct?" Who knows?
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Narrative declarations about 19-year olds and their killer instincts are often hyperbolic and misguided. It is still something to consider. A season's worth of evidence isn't something to be dismissed, just as it's not something to be magnified.
When I say all this, I'm referring solely to fans, not to NBA front offices. The argument of "we don't know what we're getting" is not an argument that holds water when it comes to drafting Exum. You can bet that if he doesn't already, Sam Hinkie would know what he's getting by the time he comes up on the clock on Draft night. Exum's played in plenty of games, and he's done so against high level competition in the Nike Summit, as well as the 2012 U-17 World Championships and the 2013 U-19 World Championships. This isn't some mythical prospect who nobody's seen play basketball before but has "all the tools." The film on Exum is out there. For fans, however, it just doesn't have the visibility of the Big 12 game of the week on ESPN or a big Final Four game on national television.
In a draft of maximum coverage, Exum's stock remaining the one constant has been a fascinating subplot, and it's one of my favorite things to watch during the buildup to the draft (because good god, there's still a month and a half left, this is basically hell on earth). I liken it to a Presidential primary election, where everybody gets their turn to be the new hot candidate, then he gets picked apart and goes right back to square one. Exum has done neither yet. He hasn't gotten the top pick buzz, nor has he gotten the massive question mark buzz.
I don't have the answer to what Dante Exum is or isn't, and that's what makes him such a tantalizing prospect. We romanticize the idea of upside and potential, and the potential of somebody we haven't seen much of is greater than anything. We'd rather have the mystery prize behind door #3 even though we've already seen what's behind all the other doors.
Exum is the biggest mystery for Sixers fans this draft season, and come lottery night, our greatest mystery might become our best possible reality.