Mario Hezonja has been playing professional basketball since he was 17-years old when he was signed a three-year contract with Spanish juggernaut FC Barcelona in 2012. Although he found himself playing very limited minutes until this season, “Super Mario” as he’s known abroad, has steadily improved to the point where he found himself as a regular contributor in Barcelona’s rotation. On the season, he finished with averages of 7.7 points, 2 rebounds and an assist in just 16.5 minutes per game on one of the Euroleague’s top clubs, including a playoff run in which the Greek Olympiacos eliminated them in the quarterfinals.
Hezonja, who turned 20 earlier this year, has been considered a top overseas prospect in the past year and saw his draft stock rapidly rise in correlation with his team role in Barcelona. When he declared for the 2015 NBA Draft in April, many experts had him pegged as a sure-fire lottery pick, with most having him hovering around the 8-10 range. As GMs, coaches, the media and the American public got to know the Croatian wing more and more, his draft stock showed no signs of slowing down. On draft night, the Orlando Magic selected Mario with the No. 5 pick, with other well-known American talents like Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay and Stanley Johnson still on the board.
The biggest takeaway from Super Mario, who is represented by powerful agent Arn Tellem, was his trademark cocky persona. He’s known for his attempts to “run over” the opposing players on the court and his non-stop trash talking. Various accounts from his friends and family mention that he’s a complete “basket-holic” who grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant and avoids clubbing or other social events. Though he hasn’t yet had a taste of a regular season game, Hezonja’s attitude has already won over plenty of fans, but has also rubbed some the wrong way.
Graphic via nba
On the court the Croatian Mamba, as they are calling him, oozes elite level athleticism, even by NBA standards. Combine that with his solid -8, frame for a swingman and you have a fine structure for a youngster coming into the association. Hezonja is a solid spot-up shooter that comes into the league with unlimited NBA range already. From glimpses of his international play, his offensive repertoire keeps on improving as he’s now added a pull-up jumper. However, where he excels most is utilizing his athleticism and strong body to viciously attack the rim, and he never passes up an opportunity to throw down a wicked windmill or double clutch slam. Hezonja is a student of the game and it shows in his basketball IQ which off the charts. He’s shown his savvy, as well as his underrated passing ability, in using his court vision to dish to open teammates on the fly. Finally, with his confident demeanor comes a clutch performer, proven in his first Summer League game when he hit the game winning 3-pointer as time expired.
Like his fiery attitude, with Hezonja you have to take the good with the bad, as his shot selection and decision-making could use work at times. He prefers to look for his own shot rather than find and dish to the open man. It will be an adjustment for him learning how to adapt to playing with the increased talent level the NBA offers, as he’s going to be asked to play a complementary role with Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Elfrid Payton running the show. This may help to ease to transition to the NBA, as he’s prone to turnovers, cold streaks and temper issues, all of which are not ideal for a player who may be given the keys to a franchise one day.
All in all, Mario Hezonja possesses an enormous amount of potential as he embodies a prototypical NBA wing. His explosive athleticism is top-notch and is accompanied by very solid fundamentals and a natural shooting stroke. When focused, his defensive abilities are through the roof, though remaining focused has been an issue for him in the past. He has no shortage of the widely admired “killer instinct” and the Magic have to be happy to add him to their core of young players. They just need to channel his intense focus in the right way, as he was even benched at the end of last season for causing problems in the locker room. Hezonja has often been compared to high-flying Rudy Gay, albeit with a much higher ceiling.
Graphic via celticslife