(Photo via CSNPhilly.com)
We take a look at our final international prospect for the 2015 NBA Draft and it’s fiery Croatian shooting sensation Mario Hezonja.
2015 NBA Draft Evaluation:
Mario Hezonja (20 years and 3 months old, Guard/Forward, FC Barcelona of the ACB and Euroleague via Dubrovnik, Croatia)
Video Highlights (courtesy ACB YouTube Channel):
Great size for either the small forward or shooting guard position at 6’8 and 215 lbs. Has a good frame and strength to hold his own against the bigger, stronger small forwards in the league such as a Harrison Barnes or Carmelo Anthony but might not be quick, especially laterally, to guard the 2-guards in the league.
Phenomenal leaper and great body control. Shows great explosion when attacking the basket which will lead to quite a few spectacular highlight reel dunks on lobs and uncontested paths at the rim. Does not have great straight line speed or burst from a stand still so beating players off the dribble without a screen or down the floor on a fast break will be a challenge at the NBA level. Hezonja’s keen ability to contort his body while in the air and get good balance is most evident on his jump shot when on the move and catching lobs for dunks.
Playmaking ability (creating shot for self and others):
Limited. Hezonja is about average to below average in every playmaking area. He has decent handles, below average first step, questionable court vision and average isolation moves. As far as creating for himself, he has a decent step back and can hit outside shots off the dribble. He will have trouble separating himself from his defender without a screen at the NBA level so he won’t be able to make many plays by penetrating the interior part of the defense and finishing at the rim for himself or finding shooters or cutters. Last season for Barcelona Hezonja averaged just 2.7 assists on a per 36 minute basis and a 1.02 assists to turnover ratio in 64 games. Because Hezonja is a great shooter he will need to defended in the perimeter and therefore, create space for others, but won’t be able to create many opportunities with the ball in his hands, at least not at this point in his development.
Below average. Hezonja looks for his shot first and misses many opportunities within a game to hit teammates for better shots. Much of Hezonja low assists numbers is that he does not penetrate defenses off the dribble much in order to create space for teammates and when he does he is very aggressive at getting his own shot at the rim instead of looking for teammates. This is an area that should improve in time as Hezonja shows the ability to pass just needs better recognition of when and what type of pass to complete based on proper reading of the defense.
Outside shooting ability:
Side his bread is buttered. Hezonja projects to be a deadly outside shooter in the NBA with his set of physical tools, confidence and outside shooting touch. Hezonja has great form and both a high and quick release. Can hit set shots, on the move, coming off screens and can do a little off the dribble where he utilizes a nice step back shot. At 6’8 and 215 pounds, combined with his high release, he’ll have no problem getting his shot off it the NBA. In his short internationally career Hezonja has shown great range even beyond the NBA 3-point line. Shot 38.8 percent from 3 and a surprisingly low 72.2 percent from the free throw line last season for Barcelona, but you can attribute that to limited playing time (15.1 mpg). The mechanics of his shot and the look of the ball out of his hands is unquestionably good; therefore, his shooting percentages are not a cause for concern. It is mainly his outside shooting touch that makes Hezonja a highly touted prospect in a league where shooters are always sought and come at a premium.
How he will score in the NBA:
3 and D guy, as in a 3 pointer or Dunk. Can play and contribute offensively from day one. Hezonja will be able to fill in immediately as a floor spacer, camping outside for the 3 point shot where the defense will have to defend his shot and range. He will get a good share of his points playing without the ball, running through screens and nailing catch and shoot shots, similar to JJ Redick with the Clippers. When Hezonja isnt nailing a set shot 3 or a jumper off a screen he’ll be throwing it down right at the rim, except it will have to be a clear lane to the basket such as on a break or catching a lob as a cutter off the ball. Don’t expect for Hezonja to get many plays at the basket off isolation plays as he’ll have trouble beating his man off the dribble. Also, doesn’t have much of a mid range game or repertoire around the basket outside of a dunk. Has decent touch around the basket but usually looks to throw it down. Has shown a right handed floater at times but its not pretty. Uses his right hand predominately and when attempting to use his left it’s both ugly and usually unsuccessful.
Questionable. Good size and decent athlete to be a good defender in the NBA but you can say that about a lot of prospects. Laterall quickness is not great in relation to other NBA guards and small forwards. At this point it seems the main defensive deficiency in Hezonja is his inconsistency with focus and effort. As a team defender he is below average, missing too many assignments too often and showing minimal effort on close outs. Potential to be disruptive on the defensive end with his quick hands and when motivated shows great energy. Averaged 1.60 steals per 36 minutes last season for Barcelona. A good comparison in terms of size, lateral quickness and peskiness (again, when motivated) on the defensive end is Sasha Vujacic.
Basketball IQ and intangibles:
Basketball IQ is in question based on what he has shown on reads on both the offense and especially the defensive end. Its been reported that Hezonja has a strong work ethic and love for the game. A trait Hezonja possess that can be viewed as both good or bad is his incredibly high level of confidence and displays of cockiness on the floor.
“Respect? No, I never had respect to anybody on a basketball court….Whether it’s a veteran or a young player standing in front of me I always have the same goal. I want to run over everybody.” Hezonja told media outlet Sportske Novosti in 2014.
Hezonja’s exuberance on the court might rub the opposition the wrong way, especially from veterans who might see his act as disrespectful; however, Hezonja seems to have the personality that can take and might even enjoy the abuse and rough play that will likely be forthcoming.
Projected draft position:
Projected position in the NBA:
Small forward and shooting guard.
Comparable NBA player:
A mixture of a more athletic Danilo Gallinari and JJ Redick. There have been some comparisons to Klay Thompson which is a good comparison offensively but not defensively, their demeanor and especially not bounce which Hezonja laps Thompson in that regard.