Mario Hezonja is Worth the Risk and the Orlando Magic Should Go All-In on Him This Season
The Orlando Magic roster is nearly complete for the 2017-18 season. It appears Mario Hezonja will have at least one more chance to make an impact with the team.
Just over two years ago, Mario Hezonja was a top selection for the Orlando Magic in the 2015 NBA Draft. He has yet to find a role on the team. And now it seems as if he has lost any footing on remaining with the team after this season. The last two summers, Mario played for the Croatian National Team. This summer is dedicated towards improving his game and preparing for the upcoming season — in Orlando.
Mario Henzonja has not been given his lion’s share of playing time with the Orlando Magic. He actually hasn’t even received a fraction of a lion’s share. His league experience is tainted by coaching changes with a new philosophy on a yearly basis. At some point, the Orlando Magic have to address the elephant in the room and figure out what to do with Mario Hezonja.
Being a number five pick means he should have had a chance to display his game without the mistake makers leash. Mario Hezonja has been on that leash since he entered the league. Former Magic player, J.J. Redick, once found himself on the same leash over 10 years ago.
The story behind J.J.
Redick came into the league described as one of the best shooters in college basketball. He was a four year college player at Duke and his first two seasons in the NBA became a nightmare for him. During those years, Redick never averaged more than 14 minutes per game. His highest averages were his rookie season that saw him at 6 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist per game. He shot the ball at a 41 percent rate while going 39 percent from deep. A stacked Magic roster on the wing, resulted in Redick averaging 38 games played per year. The Magic employed a lineup of Keyon Dooling, Keith Bogans, Maurice Evans, and Trevor Ariza during those years which negated the need for a defense inept shooter. J.J. Redick found himself struggling with the adjustments of the NBA and his offense began to suffer as a result.
It wasn’t until his third — almost fourth — year in the league with the Magic, that Redick began to emerge as a solid option as a shooter. Redick worked hard on his defensive effort the first three years to earn an increase of playing time and 11 years later he is regarded as a quality shooting guard. He signed a one year $23 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this summer. His hard work paid off and it looks as if Mario Hezonja could follow a similar path.
Mario Hezonja early NBA years
Mario Hezonja, like Redick, was one of the best projected long range shooters in their respective draft classes. They both were labeled as defensive liabilities but had potential to improve if effort was applied. Mario has fairly lived up to those projections. During his two seasons with Orlando, he has averaged 5.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. His shooting averages near 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from long-range for his career.
Like Redick, Mario struggled mightily in his second season. In particular, his shooting dipped down to a career low. His shot release is great, his mid-range game needs a bit of work. Mario’s handles are not as impressive but they are improving. His free-throw shooting is near the top of the league. He failed to impress the coaching staff defensively and never could find a rhythm offensively when given playing time and that’s the issue. Mario made claims that was his biggest issue thus far in his career. He spent time at three different positions last season but never enough time at any one in particular. But Mario is determined to improve from last year’s sub par results.
The Roster Situation for Mario Hezonja
Hezonja finds himself in a similar situation to Redick. The team is once again, loaded with talented players ahead of him on the depth chart. Recent acquisitions this off-season have pushed Mario even further down the totem pole as it seems. The Magic recently signed wing player Jonathon Simmons and drafted wings Wesley Iwundu and Jonathan Issac, to improve the quality of play on the perimeter. Those additions likely signal that the Magic have given up on Hezonja and will cut ties with him at some point during the season via trade or by allowing him to leave in free agency at season’s end. If so, that could be a mistake for them.
What options do they have with Mario Hezonja
If Orlando truly wants to see who Mario will develop into as a Magic player, they have two options — start him or make him a key reserve with a minimum of 25 minutes per game. Anything short of that and Mario will not give the team a full sample size to critique his play and team fit.
Reasons to start Mario include his size, athleticism, and shot making ability. At 6’8, Mario lined up at power forward last season in spurts and actually played — well. He was able to draw out bigger defenders to give the team room to operate in the half court setting. In transition, he was another weapon to get out and run — a philosophy coach Vogel has stressed as a team priority. Mario’s ability to score has yet to be put on full display but during small doses, he has shown his ability to knock down shots at a rapid rate. He has even developed a knack for trying to post up smaller players. As a starter, Mario should be able to play without the worry of making mistakes and going to the bench. Consistency with his shot and shot selection in general are areas he has dedicated to improving this summer.
If Orlando wants to stick to last years starting lineup, having Hezonja available to come in as a big wing could pay off. The team has moved into a big, long, athletic type of team and Mario fits the criteria. Placing him alongside fellow players Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Isaac, Bismack Biyombo, Jonathan Simmons, Khem Birch, and Wesley Iwundu offer some of the longest units the team can offer. Mario’s offense factors well as a scorer in those rotations of players. The Magic want length and athleticism as an identity and Mario possesses both qualities.
As a key reserve, Hezonja could be the jolt of offensive production that sparks a solid second unit. The team will needs life after the starting unit. They have addressed a few issues that should pay dividends immediately but if Mario could become a second version of J.J. Redick off the bench then why would they not at least attempt to give it a shot? During the 2008-09 season, Redick became a deep threat that helped the Magic earn their second NBA Finals appearance in team history.
History Repeats Itself
At best, Mario Hezonja will follow in the footsteps of J.J. Redick in regards to his third year breakdown and success. At this point, it’s almost safe to rule out Mario becoming a NBA star but he should be able to carve out a role as a solid contributor. During Redick’s third season, he helped the Orlando Magic develop into one of the best inside-out offensive teams in the NBA. The Orlando Magic surrounded Dwight Howard with sharpshooters and were able to exploit mismatches all over the floor. The Magic set team records that year for most three-pointers attempted and made in a season largely due to the ability of Redick to knock down open shots. This Orlando team will not set any three-point records but the ability to create mismatches is present if the team can use their personnel properly.
Mario is capable of being a high percentage from deep when given the opportunity. His 33 percent mark last season was just below the league average of 35 percent. If afforded the opportunity he should become an above-average shooter from deep. Mario needs to focus his attention to team defense and proper help rotations. If he can, he should become a viable option regardless of the teams summer additions.
If put in the right surroundings, Mario could excel next season.