Mario Hezonja: The Real Deal?


There is a potential superstar in this year’s draft, and his name is Mario Hezonja.

The Charlotte Hornets will have the ninth selection in the 2015 NBA draft, and some prognosticators have the Hornets taking European swing man Mario Hezonja with that pick. In a column dissecting the options at power forward, one of our readers suggested that Hezonja should be the one on the court at tip-off.

So if Charlotte fans are that interested in Hezonja, it is time to break down his game and see if he would be a good fit for this team. Hezonja is a 6’8″, 200lb forward currently playing for FC Barcelona of the Spanish ACB league.

That league is considered to be the best European basketball league, and Barcelona is one of the best teams. This year, Barcelona finished 43-16 and the team features plenty of former NBA players. Bostjan Nachbar, Maciej Lampe, and Juan Carlos Navarro have all played in the United States.

So against the best competition outside the NBA, Hezonja has held his own. In 31 games this past year, he shot 39.2% from behind the three point line, and 46.7% overall. His per-36 minutes numbers would be right around 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists.

Despite the plea from our reader for him to start at power forward, Hezonja is primarily a back-court player. For a shooting guard or small forward, he has excellent size. He is also an explosive athlete capable of finishing above the rim:

"He’s also an effortless athlete who runs the floor exceptionally well, has nice quickness, and can finish plays above the rim, ranking among the most impressive physical specimens we’ve seen among European prospects in recent memory."

A great athlete who can also knock down threes? Sounds pretty good, but of course there is more:

"A capable ball handler, Hezonja also flashes the ability to create his own shot, notably as the ball handler in the pick and roll. His ability to explode past the defense with his strong first step off the dribble make him a threat to get to the rim, and he has a bit of shake to his floor game as well, showing the ability to use step backs to create space for his jump shots. Making 42% of his pull-up jump shots and finishing at a 62% clip around the rim, Hezonja’s scored efficiently in a variety of ways this season."

More from Swarm and Sting

Is this guy really being projected to go late in the lottery? That sounds like a complete player, and one that the Charlotte Hornets would welcome with open arms. And, according to an article from David Aldridge, he has the confidence and attitude to succeed the alpha-male society of the NBA:

"“He’s got a little swagger to him,” a Southeast Division executive said. “…I think those Euro kids have to have some of that coming over here. He’s awfully gifted. He can guard okay, and he’s a capable shooter and a good passer. He checks off a lot of boxes that you’re looking for in a wing. He allows how he’s playing on the offensive end to determine how much effort he’s going to give you defensively. But he’s big. Agile for his size. He has a little nastiness to him that will serve him well if he decides to compete at the defensive end.”"

Now, before you order your Hornets’ Hezonja jersey, there are some downsides to his game. DraftExpress talks about his poor decisions on the floor:

"He can take and make difficult, contested shots with deep range, and throws some highlight reel passes, but doesn’t always pick and choose his spots as well as one might hope or seem quick to recognize openings for others. He can be turnover prone when he puts the ball on the floor as his handle is a bit rigid, and often tries to get creative instead of drawing contact and forcing whistles when he ventures inside as his extremely low 1.6 free throw attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted average reflects."

Still, decision making is something you expect to improve as a player gets older and sees more playing time. Hezonja just turned 20 in February, and plays only 15 minutes per game in Spain. With consistent minutes, it is conceivable that he learns the game and starts making better in-game decisions.

As for how his game would fit the Hornets, that is easy. A confident outside shooter and great athlete is exactly what this team needs on the wing. Given his inconsistent defense, pairing him with Michael-Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing would compliment both players.

Add a stretch four like Noah Vonleh to the mix, and suddenly there could be some space for Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson inside. Kidd-Gilchrist could take the toughest defensive assignment, allowing Hezonja to spend more energy on the offensive end.

It definitely could work, and the most impressive thing would be ceiling for a guy like Hezonja. He has superstar potential. This is a guy, who might not make it in the NBA, but whom could also end up on an All-NBA team before his career is done.

The more I read and the more I see from Hezonja, the more I am rooting for him to fall to the Hornets. This is an exciting player. Hopefully he starts his career in Charlotte.

Next: Who Should Start At Power Forward?