The international point guard of mystery is headed to Utah

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NEW YORK –  The first step of Dante Exum’s NBA career was taken when he was selected by the Utah Jazz with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  If you’re uncertain of Exum’s ability to play in the NBA, you might as well hop on board with quite a few other people who are unsure of how the skill set of the 18-year old point guard will transfer over from Australia to The Association.

Exum is a silky smooth 6’6” point guard with Youtube compilations that will make you drool. He can make quick sharp decisions off of the dribble. His first step is incredibly fast and he basically glides to the rim as if he were on skates. When Exum gets into the lane, he has the ability to finish thanks to his long frame.

The beauty of Exum’s game isn’t just his ability on the offensive end, it’s also in his defensive instincts and fundamentals. His 6’ 9.5” wingspan allows him to guard players on the wing who are much bigger and his absurdly good footwork allows him to stay in front of the guy with the ball.

I told you it was easy to fall in love with him, but the four teams in front of the Jazz clearly didn’t love him enough to take a chance on someone who has a giant unknown sticker with the Australian flag stamped on it. There are legitimate questions about the lack of talent he played against over in Australia and his inconsistent play in the U19 FIBA World Championships, which definitely played into the reason why he wasn’t higher up on team’s draft boards.

Exum worked out for only three teams during the scouting process, the Sixers, Bucks and Magic. Notice the team who selected him isn’t in that group, so why didn’t he work out for the Jazz?

“Looking at the Draft and where I was placed, me and my agent thought that I wouldn’t get down to 5,” Exum said after being selected by Utah. ”But anything happens in the Draft, and you see I’m lucky enough that Utah believed in me and pick me up at 5.”

The Jazz are just one year removed from selecting Trey Burke, a point guard, with the ninth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Burke had a decent rookie campaign (13 points per game and almost six assists), but he didn’t set the world on fire by any means, which is the theme of last year’s draft.

This won’t be the first time Exum has been placed on a team with other quality point guards.

“The Australian team, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, and I’m in that system, and those are both point guards. So you work around it,” he said.

Obviously the Australian team and an NBA franchise are extremely different, but the idea of a two point guard backcourt isn’t something that is some far-fetched idea. The role of the shooting guard is morphing. The two-guard is no longer just someone who needs to be able to put the ball in the basket; they have to be able to handle the ball. The key is being able to balance how much the two guys will handle the ball when they’re on the floor together, which is something Exum and Burke have already talked about.

“I already spoke to him, and he’s excited to have me, and I’m excited to be there,” Exum said. “I know we’re both going to give up something a little so everyone’s happy. “

The one thing the Jazz can’t do is put up another wasteland year offensively. Only the Bulls were worse than the Jazz in points per game last season, which is something that Exum believes could change under new head coach Quin Snyder.

“They got a new coach now, so I’m sure it’s going to be a different system. I like to play up and down and kind of find my guys in transition,” he said. “I think the coach being a point guard, he’s going to know how to utilize me and Trey.”

If Snyder doesn’t, it could be another long season for the Jazz.

Twitter: @Scottdargis

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.