Before I start, allow me to state this.
There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There never was another Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird. Every individual player is different. Some players get close to resembling their heroes. Some, don’t make it into the NBA.
Let’s start with size. Exum is listed at 6’6″, 200lbs., with a 6’9.5″ wingspan. While the details of Kobe Bryant’s wingspan aren’t easily found, believe me I’m still looking, he doesn’t have the wingspan of Kevin Durant or Tracy McGrady. It’s fair to assume that his wingspan is between 6’8″ – 6’10”. They are similar in size by age.
Athletically, Kobe Bryant was on a different level out of high school. The following year, he won the dunk contest. While he’s not known as one of the best dunkers of all time, the body control, quickness, and vertical ability were all there. Dante Exum, at age 18, shows similar quickness and body control, and it shows with his NBA floor skills as a point guard and shooting guard.
Skill-wise, Kobe Bryant was on a different level as well. As he entered the Summer Pro League, defenders could not contain that level of aggression and skill level. Time after time, he attacked the basket, drawing And-1’s, and kept getting into the paint. Time after time, he kept getting fouled, because defenders couldn’t stick to him. That was just a sign of things to come.
Dante Exum has a different mentality when it comes to his skill level. He does a better job protecting the basketball, creating plays for teammates both in the paint and kicking out to three-point shooters. Sometimes, he’ll utilize pivot work that is reminiscent of Mr. Bryant himself. Sometimes, he’ll drive baseline for a tw0-hand dunk, which catches fans by surprise. They expected a layup, not a two-hand flush in traffic. Exum has a few isolation moves of his own, using a quick first-step, a crossover, jab-steps, and pivot work to create space. It makes for a great foundation of tools to be put together later in his career. Kobe had the isolation game early. Exum wants to beat you with five. In each case, they resemble high basketball IQ.
Kobe Bryant was all about making the right moves, playing chess instead of checkers. Almost every game winning shot he took had been practiced and calculated thousands of times, so he knew they would go in. Remember the lob dunk to Shaq against Portland in 2000? A left-to-right crossover put Pippen out of position. He drew a 2nd defender. Shaquille O’Neal was wide open for that lob. It was perfectly executed. Off the floor, Kobe Bryant hired Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s previous athletic trainer. While Kobe Bryant is currently healing, he still had one of the most productive and longest running careers to date, just like MJ himself.
People may dislike Dante Exum for hiring Kobe’s agent. What a copycat, right? But, who better to get access to one of the all-time greats than to hire someone he trusts? Right now, Dante Exum is working in the gym, getting stronger, improving his jumpshot, and rounding out his varied skills. This is no different from Kobe Bryant’s off-season regiment. The difference is, Exum isn’t tied down with NCAA basketball games, so he has a longer timetable to gain quickness, strength, and skill-set, and retain it. That is making the right move.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t really known to the public out of high school. He was known around Italian basketball and NBA circles. The city of Philadelphia knew about him, especially alongside Eddie Jones from Temple on playground courts. But, drafting guards out of high school was considered taboo, and Laker fans didn’t really know who they had on the team, until he showed it on the floor.
Fast forward to 2014. The internet age has made all sorts of information available. Still, those who are curious about Exum can’t find coverage of him dominating games. They see snippets of Exum against Team USA of yesteryear. They see snippets of a few international FIBA games. None of it seems as accessible to catching Syracuse vs. Duke on the weekends.
Both players were relative unknowns to typical NBA or NCAA fans at a young age. In the end, Kobe won five championships and more than fulfilled his Hall of Fame destiny. He’s not even done yet.
Dante Exum is just trying to carve his Hall of Fame destiny in a Laker uniform as well, just as Kobe Bryant before him.