SALT LAKE CITY — Except the part where nobody knows much about him, and the part where he can’t shoot outside, and the part where he’s been playing in the penal colonies, the Jazz picked up the next Kobe Bryant in Thursday’s NBA draft.
It’s true both Dante Exum and Bryant were teenagers when they were drafted, which made them too old for trick-or-treat but too young for fame. But it worked out for Bryant.
It would have been nice if Exum could score outside, too, since Bryant can. But you can’t have everything, unless you’re picking No. 1, like Cleveland. Exum made only 27 percent of his 3-point shots in two years of officially recorded basketball.
Still, the Jazz lucked out. When Joel Embiid got drafted third by Philadelphia — higher than many expected, due to a fractured foot — and Orlando went with the hyper-athletic Aaron Gordon, it left the Jazz open to take Kobe 2.0.
So the franchise that welcomes the world nearly went to the ends of it to find their 2014 pick. If the Jazz have their way, he’ll be the biggest hit from Australia since Hugh Jackman. One NBA general manager compared him to Bryant.
Heaven knows the Jazz have earned that chance. Bryant has been beating them up for years.
Realistically, the Jazz didn’t have a tough choice when it came to the No. 5 pick. Gordon was gone, Julius Randle generated foot concerns of his own. That left the Jazz to choose between stretch-4 possibility Noah Vonleh, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (who can’t shoot), Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas (who can shoot) and Exum.
They chose the man from Down Under.
Just be sure not to call him “Crocodile D.”
“Don’t call me that,” he said to the cameras, shaking his head. “You can make up a new name.”
You can maybe make up a new position, too. At 6-foot-6, he defies a single position. Perimeter shooting aside, his ball-control, passing and size make him a rarity. The Jazz went years lacking pure athleticism. That’s not the case anymore. With Alec Burks, Jeremy Evans and Exum, the Jazz are making strides.
At the same time, there are some things to work out. The team already has a talented, competitive point guard in Trey Burke and an emerging two-guard in Burks, so Exum will play both spots. Playing simultaneously with Burke will happen at times.
Though he expressed enthusiasm on Thursday for playing in Salt Lake (“I’m just excited to get to Utah; I hear it’s a beautiful place”) that wasn’t the signal he sent earlier. He didn’t work out for the Jazz — though he did interview in Chicago and was scouted elsewhere — saying the team already had a point guard.
By Thursday he apparently had changed his mind.
“I’m here to win,” he said.
Frankly, the Jazz liked Vonleh and likely would have taken him, had Exum and Gordon been gone. But the Australian player slipped slightly and the Jazz didn’t have to deliberate.
Exum isn’t a guaranteed deal. He didn’t get the nickname “International Man of Mystery” for nothing. But the Jazz never worried about borders. They took Andrei Kirilenko in 1999 and employed Mehmet Okur (Turkey), Kyrylo Fesenko (Ukraine), Enes Kanter (Turkey), Francisco Elson (Netherlands), Gordan Giricek (Croatia) and others, to varying degrees of success.
But none was called another Kobe.
“I honestly don’t think I resemble anyone,” Exum said. “I’m very unique.”
It’s true. He’s unique in talent, but also unique in the opposition he’s faced. The Under-19 Australian National Team is an iffy credential. Yet some believe he is the quickest player in the draft.
“We feel very fortunate to get a young talent — I’ll stress young — but a young talent like that,” said general manager Dennis Lindsey.
Having him available was a gift the Jazz didn’t expect until hints started arriving late in the day. So they avoided drafting by position or location. They drafted by what they saw. A few looks — close up and long distance — were enough to call it good and celebrate by putting another shrimp on the barbie.
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