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NBA History: Dante Exum, and how do star point guards get their start?

The point guard position in the NBA is filled with stars. If the Jazz want Dante Exum to be one, how will he get there?

Mike Stobe

The Utah Jazz were overjoyed when Dante Exum fell to them at #5 during the 2014 NBA Draft. By many full-time NBA Draft analysts he is projected to be one of the few players in this class with star potential. That's not just me saying that, but people like Chad Ford and other people who have watched hours and hours more of basketball than I have. I like to think Dante Exum could be a star. The Utah Jazz are currently bereft of one. And the pathway to stardom for a Top 5 lottery pick seems to be pretty well laid out:

  • Get drafted high
  • Get drafted by a team that has immediate space for you (little competition at your primary position)
  • Play a lot of risk free minutes
  • Play your game
  • Accumulate stats
  • Get invited to All-Star Weekend and participate in the Rookie / Soph Rising Stars game
  • Perform well there under bright lights
  • Continue building up your national fan base (including being on ESPN, TNT)
  • Make some national ads
  • Be featured by the NBA in their ads
  • Continue playing your game
  • Hopefully win Rookie of the Year

From the ROY award you get more recognition from the fans, and more respect from the refs. That makes it easier to excel on the court. Of course, you have to keep working on your game, playing your game, and playing well. But if you meet most of those bullet-ed conditions you are well on your way to being a star. There are a lot of star point guards who have done just that in recent years. Michael Carter-Williams, Damian Lillard, John Wall, Stephen Curry, and Kyrie Irving are recent examples of people who have crossed off a lot of the above things from their rookie season lists.

Not every star point guard has the same path to the NBA. And not all star point guards have the same path to stardom. But it's hard to argue against the general principal of "get drafted to a team that can and will play you a lot of minutes, play your game, and be visible."

The other aspect of stardom, the one that we assume now, is that if you are a star you deserve to be one based upon on court production. This is why, for all the love we have for them, we cannot call Derrick Favors or Gordon Hayward stars right now. As the Uncharted series of video games / user controlled movies tells us, "...greatness from small beginnings." So let's look at ALL the players 6'6 and under who had rookies seasons between 1999 and today, and managed to average 4.5 apg. It's a 26 player list in full, and only one non-point guard, Dwyane Wade, made it.

We don't need him in this experiment, so we can remove him and be left with a 25 point guard list. And what a list it is:

Rookie Point Guard Tm Season GS G S% MPG
1 Damian Lillard POR 2012 2013 82 82 100.0% 38.6
2 John Wall WAS 2010 2011 64 69 92.8% 37.8
3 Tyreke Evans SAC 2009 2010 72 72 100.0% 37.2
4 Derrick Rose CHI 2008 2009 80 81 98.8% 37.0
5 Stephen Curry GSW 2009 2010 77 80 96.3% 36.2
6 Steve Francis HOU 1999 2000 77 77 100.0% 36.1
7 Chris Paul NOH 2005 2006 78 78 100.0% 36.0
8 Kirk Hinrich CHI 2003 2004 66 76 86.8% 35.6
9 Michael Carter-Williams PHI 2013 2013 70 70 100.0% 34.5
10 Ricky Rubio MIN 2011 2012 31 41 75.6% 34.2
11 Brandon Jennings MIL 2009 2010 82 82 100.0% 32.6
12 Russell Westbrook OKC 2008 2009 65 82 79.3% 32.5
13 Trey Burke UTA 2013 2014 68 70 97.1% 32.3
14 Mario Chalmers MIA 2008 2009 82 82 100.0% 32.0
15 Kyrie Irving CLE 2011 2012 51 51 100.0% 30.5
16 Jamaal Tinsley IND 2001 2002 78 80 97.5% 30.5
17 Raymond Felton CHA 2005 2006 54 80 67.5% 30.1
18 Darren Collison NOH 2009 2010 37 76 48.7% 27.8
19 T.J. Ford MIL 2003 2004 55 55 100.0% 26.8
20 Chris Duhon CHI 2004 2005 73 82 89.0% 26.5
21 Ramon Sessions MIL 2007 2008 7 17 41.2% 26.5
22 Jay Williams CHI 2002 2003 54 75 72.0% 26.1
23 Andre Miller CLE 1999 2000 36 82 43.9% 25.5
24 Anthony Carter MIA 1999 2000 30 79 38.0% 23.5
25 Jose Calderon TOR 2005 2006 11 64 17.2% 23.2
Average 59.2 71.3 83.0% 31.6

Yeah. Some of these guys were in great situations. I don't think Dante, on a team with both Trey Burke and Alec Burks, is. In fact, only one of these guys went to a team where another dude, better than him at PG, was already starting -- and that is Darren Collison. You could argue that another was Jose Calderon, but I don't know if T.J. Ford is considered a star or not. Beyond those two, everyone else went to a team that was smart enough to a) play them big minutes, and b) not eff it up by playing them few minutes or starting them at SG or some other humbling maneuver that seems to backfire every single time.

The average for these 25 players is 31.6 mpg as a rookie. Obviously that's skewed a bit, thanks Lillard.

I don't think it will be easy to get Dante on the floor that much. I don't want him to be below average though, but it's obvious that he shouldn't be starting. (Unless he's a lot better right now than I think he is.) The Standard Deviation for this group's MPG is +/- 4.7 MPG. So that's a real range of 26.8 MPG to 36.3 MPG. I think this is a reasonable range to make sure that your player is on the right track, and provided he is healthy, getting enough minutes and getting on Sports Center enough.

If you eyeball it, the range I would really want him to be in is between 28.0 mpg (Collison) and 32.5 mpg (Trey Burke / Russell Westbrook ). I think if he gets on the floor around the upper level of that range then we'll all be very happy.

"But minutes =/= development!"
"But minutes don't make bad players into stars!"

Yeah, I know. There's a whole podcast you can listen to almost every morning if you want to be 'educated' down that path. Players themselves say that getting on the floor is what helps your games the most. And this isn't about purely being better. This is about being a star. And as we've seen, as a point guard being a star is about getting a lot of minutes on bad teams early in your career, and getting your numbers.

Dante isn't going to be a star playing 20 MPG watching John Lucas III get the ball in his hands.

And the Jazz won't get their star if they stifle Dante Exum. Make the 25 win season and four years of Tyrone Corbin worth it -- play Dante sufficient minutes to help his development and assist in his rise to stardom. It will be worth it. Some people think individual awards don't matter. They do in the NBA, because if you win them the refs look the other way on iffy plays, and the league goes out of their way to help you and make your life easier / more comfortable.

It's a league of name and face recognition. If we have a very bright star, the NBA can't pretend we don't exist. And the first real step to getting that star is to play him. For me, I would be happy if he averages 31ish MPG in his rookie year. Trey Burke averaged 32.3 MPG last season. But he didn't have any competition for playing time. Dante, unfortunately, went to a team where that will be his first real challenge to stardom.