Mario Hezonja – The unknown Croatian

Mario Hezonja is unknown by many NBA fans, but plenty of people will know about him once the draft gets closer. (Photo credit to
Mario Hezonja is unknown by many NBA fans, but plenty of people will know about him once the draft gets closer. (Photo credit to

Mario Hezonja is a 20-year old Croatian basketball player.

He plays for Club Barcelona in the league ACB in Spain.

A lot of people don’t know about him, yet, but he will be a hot name the closer the draft nears.

Here are some things I found out about him.

It’s impossible to figure out how foreign players will translate to the NBA game. Basketball is completely different in Europe, and it usually takes foreign-born players a few years to figure it out.

Hezonja is an athletic 6-foot-8 small forward for Barcelona. I’m not going to talk about his stats because they are very mediocre, even borderline boring, and not impressive.

I watched several different highlight tapes of his today, and I noticed he is very athletic. There were a lot of plays where he is catching alley-oops and slamming it down with authority, or shooting step-back three-pointers.

Watching some of those highlights, he immediately reminded me of Spanish national team player and former NBA-er Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez was one of the most athletic players to come to America from Europe, and a good three-point shooter.

The main video I watched was from DraftExpress. DraftExpress’ video breakdown of him highlighted several strengths of his: physical tools, shooting ability, slashing potential and defensive upside.

Now, I’ve heard “shooting ability” about every European player since they started coming over to The States to play. The three-point line in the NBA is completely different from Euro-ball. I’ll hold out on that “strength” until he proves it.

I mentioned earlier that he is 6-foot-8, but he is only 200 pounds. In the highlight video, DraftExpress notes that he is explosive and can fill the lane quickly because of his speed. In reality, though, all wing players, and even some bigs, are able to do that.

His explosiveness is nice, but it’s nothing to get too excited about. In my opinion, it looked fairly average compared to what a person would see in the NBA.

I like his size, but he will need to put on more weight. He looks pretty thick, but it could be dough instead of muscle.

He has a pretty quick release and good elevation on his jumper. He doesn’t have a lot of extra or wasted movement. He can catch and fire with relative ease. I would like to see him do it against NBA length, though. It seems like the players running at him are small. I like that he has shown ability to hit shots off screens. That seems to be a lost art in today’s NBA. Of course, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick are specialists at it, and maybe Hezonja could become one.

On the pick-and-roll, I noticed that he loved to shoot step-back three-pointers. I think he will learn very quickly that he’ll have to become a great shooter to be able to do that consistently in the NBA. Very few players in the league are able to do that. NBA teams are also better at defending pick-and-rolls.

His slashing ability was probably the worse thing of the entire highlight package, but I see how good he could become at it in the future. He looks very slow off the dribble. He isn’t quick enough to beat the majority of wing defenders off the dribble, and he might never be quick enough. He could turn into a great slasher, coming off screens and attacking once he has a head of steam.

The biggest issue I have is with his “defensive upside.” DraftExpress said, “His offense fuels his defense, just needs to bring it more consistently,” “has tools to be a two-way player when locked in,” and “shows a willingness to pressure the ball when he’s in a groove offensively.” That’s a big RED FLAG. Scouts look for players who always play defense no matter what is going on at the offensive end. The biggest question will be “What will he look like on defense when he isn’t doing well offensively?”

While it may have sounded like I was really down on him, I see some upside. He is only 20.

His work ethic will decide how good he becomes. DraftExpress has him slated at No. 7 in its mock draft. I would say that’s too high on a player that isn’t very well-known. Dante Exum was taken with the No. 4 pick last year, and all scouts and general managers got to see was one game, on YouTube.

I think he could become the next [Rudy] Fernandez, although I believe Fernandez had a better motor than Hezonja. It will take him a few seasons to adjust, but I believe he could turn into a solid role player.

I do not believe he will be a star by any means, though.


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