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NBA Draft 2015 Scouting Profile: Mario Hezonja

Barcelona's Mario Hezonja plays with brash confidence and comes into the NBA with a great shooting ability, length, and explosiveness, but plays lackluster defense and needs to improve his handles and decision-making.

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Mario Hezonja

NBA Position: SG/SF

General Information: 20 year old from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Currently playing with FC Barcelona II.

Measurables: 6'8", 200 lbs (Could not attend the NBA combine as he's still under contract to play with Barcelona. Measurements are not easily available aside from the basics)

2014-15 Season Statistics: 5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, .6 SPG, .1 BPG, 1.1 TOPG (15.3 minutes per contest, played in 58 contests and started in 14) - 45.8% FG, 76.7% FT, 38.4% 3P, 59.5% TSP - game log available here and here.

Summary: A fierce competitor complete with good shooting ability and excellent athleticism and size, Hezonja has the potential to be the class's premier swingman. He played on one of the top European teams in Barcelona, which limited his playing time but showcased his ability to perform against top level competition. Turnovers are a big issue for Hezonja, as is his decision making and lack of consistent defensive effort.

Offensive Breakdown: Hezonja plays at his own emotional rhythm—when he's locked in and feeling confident, his game elevates. He can make deep threes with the defense in his face, or outsprint everyone for a highlight dunk and look like a future star. He's got excellent quickness and athleticism, and has good size and length that will give him the versatility to play both wing positions.

His physical gifts alone make him an intriguing player, but he backs them up with a consistent jumpshot and range that passes the NBA three point line. 59.7% of his shots were from three, and he connected on 37.9% of them, and showed he's capable with his feet set and when he's moving. He isn't just a longball shooter—he's developed an ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket when defenders close out too quickly, and his explosiveness makes him a danger around the basket. He caught a good number of highlight ally-ops and is a great weapon in the open court.

This confidence is a double-edged weapon for Hezonja. He tries to take over games, both in shooting and attacking the basket. He takes contested shots rather than looking for teammates, attempts highlight passes rather than simple ones, and dribbles out the shot clock before giving up the ball or taking a forced jumper. He played for Barcelona, one of the better teams in Europe littered with veteran talent, but he too often tried to do too much with his offensive touches. Poor decision making is a common weaknesses for NBA draftees, but his 18.5% turnover rate is significantly higher than the other premier wings in the class (Winslow at 14.2%, Stanley Johnson at 14.7%). Defenders learned that he gets very sloppy when pressured, and while he can get to the basket with his good quickness and explosiveness, his weak handles give up the ball too often on the attack.

Defensive Breakdown: Defensively, Hezonja is a mixed bag; talent-wise he has the length, quickness and basic skills to be a decent rookie defender, but the question marks about his attitude and effort are biggest when it comes to his lack-luster intensity as a defender. You can see moments when he's locked in and disrupts opponents with his excellent size and mobility, but those moments aren't consistent. He'll need to add further muscle, as he's on the fringe edge of the ‘tweener' label, but it shouldn't be a long term problem.

Hezonja also didn't show much as a rebounder, with 1.9 a game (5 per 40 minutes) and a rebounding rate of 8.2% that is again trumped soundly by the classes other premier wings—Winslow finished at 12.5%, Johnson at 14.1%, Kelly Oubre at 13.2%, and even 6'5 D'Angelo Russell finished with a better mark at 9.8%. While Hezonja's size and athleticism will allow him to play both wing positions, he will need to bulk up and improve his effort on the glass if he's going to consistently play the three.

Intangibles: Hezonja has seen his minutes shrink since declaring for the draft, and there's no worry that he'd stay overseas next season. His commitment to the team keeps him in Europe until right before the draft, so he will not be able to work out or perhaps even meet with all the teams he'd want to, which is disappointing for a player who needs to convince teams that his confidence and swagger are a good thing, and not a chemistry issue waiting to happen.

While I used plenty of stats above to discuss Hezonja, it is again important to point out his inconsistent minutes over the past year. In 2012-13, he played an average of 21.6 minutes a contest, but that dropped to 9.7 minutes in 13-14 and 15.3 minutes this year. Hezonja has been on the NBA radar for a while, and it was clear this year he'd be entering the draft, so Barcelona didn't play him much; this would be a bad situation for any high-profile NBA prospect, especially for a guy like Hezonja whose play depends on his emotions. One of his most common critiques is his bad body language and lack of chemistry with his teammates, and while that's a concern going forward, he wasn't in a great situation over the past few years.

Sam Vecenie was on the most recent Sactown Royalty Show with Greg and had this perfect line about Hezonja—"He pretty much always thinks he's the best player on the floor, whether or not it's true. The best word I've heard about him is 'fiery', and depending on what you want to add to the Kings right now... it'd be interesting to see how that would go down. He's a guy who might be an All-Star, or he might be the Croatian JR Smith or Nick Young."

Fit with Sacramento: Hezonja, like Justise Winslow or Stanley Johnson, may not represent the Kings biggest positional needs but would offer the team an above-average shooter and a talented weapon who could thrive in a fast-paced offense. His ball-handling skills and poor decision making are redundant weaknesses given the current roster, but he could play alongside Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, and Rudy Gay without creating much redundancy. His inconsistent defensive effort is worrying, but this is again another team weakness that needs addressing on the whole—if the Kings select Hezonja, it should just become a larger point of emphasis.

In terms of team chemistry, it's impossible to predict how the team would handle Hezonja's "I'm the best player on the court" attitude. Predicting how skills will mesh is one thing, but predicting how player personalities will is folly. He and DeMarcus Cousins may find out their favorite dinosaurs are Velociraptors and become best friends, or they might clash repeatedly. It isn't unfair to predict that there would be some growing pains when it comes to offensive touches, but Hezonja wouldn't be as interesting a prospect if he came without his confident alpha-dog streak.

For those of you interested in game footage on Hezonja -

  • An early February game where he scored a season high 24 points, five rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes on 8-8 shooting from three.
  • A late December 2014 game in which he played 25 minutes and finished with eight points and four rebounds on 3-9 shooting, and had some terrible late game decisions (a long, forced three and a turnover in the final minute)

And as always, check out the DraftExpress breakdowns;