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Deeper Dive: What NBA Executives Love About Mario Hezonja

by Photo of Tommy Dee

In one of the deeper front end drafts in recent memory, scouts are raving about Hezonja’s unique combination of skills.

Deeper Dive: What NBA Executives Love About Mario Hezonja

As someone who has studied NBA drafts for as far back as 1985, the top 10 of this 2015 draft class is as talented as any that I can recall. There have been incredible classes -1984, 1996 and 2003 come to mind in terms of star power - but when you line up all the prospects it's amazing just how talented, well-rounded, and NBA ready some of these prospects are. We've talked about the bigs, and some of the point guards, now it's time to look at other positions and without question one prospect who seems to have an elite combination of NBA-ready skill is FC Barcelona's 6'8 forward Mario Hezonja.

It's no secret that Hezonja has been on NBA scouts and executives' collective radars for years and the most recent hype has been building heavily recently (Bleacher Report, Wasserman 2/9/2015). He's been long groomed for the NBA, and has been an international, "on the verge" superstar since he was 14. His combination of size, athleticism and scoring remind me of a more athletic Klay Thompson and before you go crazy about Klay's jumper or any other aspect of his game, watch this kid. In addition, he's more than capable of spreading the floor, playing in transition and above the rim, and can also serve as a slashing wing in more traditional, non-spread offenses.    

"He's a super athlete with very good positional size," one Western Conference NBA executive, who requested anonymity, told CHARGED.fm. "He's shown he can handle the ball and shoot from distance with a very unique combination of size, skill and athleticism."

Mario Hezonja's Offense in Half Court (through 13 Euroleague games)

Despite not being the largest sample size, this graphic tells me so much about what Hezonja can do offensively. He's clearly not just a "stand around the perimeter" guy who waits to feed off pick-and-roll. Not only can he trigger action off a ball screen, he's equally adept at coming off screens (14.5% of total attempts) and he can cut to the rack when necessary as well. This balance is reason number one why he's getting so attention at this point in the pre draft process.  Bottom line is that he becomes a lower risk selection because of his versatility. He can be just as much of a perfect fit to the Sacramento Kings at 6 as a spread wing who can play the SG/SF positions and feed off transition as much as he can fit Stan Van Gundy's combo spread/post heavy offensive scheme in Detroit with the Pistons (Grubel, Hoopshabit, 5/31/76).   

"Having a player of his size with that kind of shooting touch off of catch-and-shoot opportunities has proven to be a plus in the league today. Just ask the Atlanta Hawks,who have had great success in drawing up plays for Kyle Korver, a shooter with great size and limitless range just like Hezonja. If the Pistons were to have a weapon like Korver, it would do so much for their offense in terms of spacing and opportunities for other players."

With the Pistons expected to keep Reggie Jackson from leaving via free agency, you'd think that they'd look to add a perimeter guard/wing with Hezonja's talent considering how they shot the three ball last year. If you're a believer in the "new school" 3-point heavy philosophy then you almost certainly have Hezonja going no higher than to the Pistons at 8 in your mock drafts. The Pistons hosted them up a plenty in 2014-15 taking 2043 (11th in the NBA) making 703 (9th in the NBA), but they only converted 34% as a team only good enough for 17th in the NBA per Basketball-Reference.com.  

I frankly don't love the Kyle Korver comparison, but Grubel's point is certainly well-taken. Hezonja isn't Korver in terms of being an immediate elite-level marksman, but Korver isn't nearly the athlete Hezonja is. I'm more comfortable with Thompson with a pinch of Wilson Chandler size-wise. Chandler at 19 was stronger in the legs, but he was a gifted athlete at 6'8 and Hezonja has similar physical attributes. I think Knicks fans may choose to see some Danilo Gallinari, which may be fair, but Hezonja is a more gifted athlete and a better fundamentally-sound shooter, particularly from behind the arc.  If I'm the Pistons, drafting a player who can play so well off the catch is something that would really incentivize Jackson to remain in the motor city, which has to be priority number one for Detroit.

That is, of course, he falls to #8 overall.                

Reggie Jackson passing on the kick out

Hezonja making off the kick out

There are two question marks for me as it relates to Hezonja, which is what makes him such a polarizing prospect. One is on the court and one is off of it. First, can he play the stretch 4? Can he be a guy who can make threes stretching bigs away from the basket, while defending them on the other end. That would allow him to line up at 3 positions offensively, which is extremely rare. From what I've seen in studying him, I think the answer is yes making him that much more appealing and potentially making him a top 5 talent. Moreover, I believe he can defend point guards in pick-and-roll if he landed on a team that's switch heavy meaning that defensively he can defend four positions. Think about that, a prospect who can play three positions offensively while defending four. I don't believe he'll remind you of Tony Allen from the get go, but there's the strength, athleticism and lateral ability to be a plus defender, which leads me to wonder about the second question mark: overconfidence/attitude (Wasserman).

"While Hezonja's offensive game has started picking up, his defensive tools have shined as well. The fundamentals tend to flicker, but he's shown the ability to guard multiple positions, cover plenty of ground and make the special play. For what it's worth, he's apparently bought into himself as an NBA star in the making. "If I was in college I'd probably be the No. 1 pick. I had an offer from Kentucky," Hezonja told Basketball Insiders' David Pick."

That confidence is a great thing, so long as it can be harnessed and rolled into a team concept. What is undeniable is Hezonja's rare combination of skills and NBA executives agree. Truth be told I think he's the fastest, high riser in this draft. He's a top 5 talent who may go as early as Orlando at 5 and maybe even to the New York Knicks at 4 and I again, I don't think there's any chance he gets past the Pistons at 8.. As we get closer to the draft, it will be interesting to see and hear the growing buzz surrounding Hezonja as well as where he lands on June 25th.

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