Mario Hezonja, Small Forward/Power Forward
Contract Status: 3 years/ $16 million
2016-17 stats: 65 games, 4.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 35.5% FG, 29.9% 3PT, 80.0% FT
PER 36 stats: 65 games, 11.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 35.5% FG, 29.9% 3PT, 80.0% FT
Mario Hezonja’s last season with the Orlando Magic was a rough one. Going into his second year in the NBA Hezonja had to prove himself all over again to a new coaching staff. Hezonja is still learning how to play basketball in the NBA rather than European leagues where he has spent the majority of his career. During his rookie season, Hezonja didn’t get much opportunity to develop. Former Magic Coach Scott Skiles was reliant on his veterans to push the team forward which left Mario with a short leash. With Frank Vogel taking over as Head Coach Hezonja would surely get more time on the court. Vogel has a record of developing young players and getting the best out of them, right? Not so fast. The Orlando Magic made 2016-2017 a playoff or bust season. Frank Vogel was not afforded the opportunity to develop his young players but instead was tasked with making the playoffs in his first year. That mandate pushed patience with Mario’s development to end of the line.
Hezonja’s numbers took a dip from his rookie season. The most shocking drop in production came from Hezonja’s 3 point shooting. During his rookie year, Mario averaged 34.9% from deep, this past season that number went down to 29.9%. The Orlando Magic drafted Mario Hezonja with the hopes he would bring offensive fire power. At 6’8″ Hezonja can shoot over many shooting guards and has a great shooting stroke to knock down open triples. Last season that didn’t happen often. This summer Hezonja has been working on his shooting and stayed stateside rather than returning to Croatia like he had last summer. With the Orlando Magic adding more depth at the wing positions Hezonja will need to continue improving in order to receive playing time. Right now, Hezonja is a dark horse.
Strengths of Mario Hezonja
Strengths for Mario Hezonja are tough to find with his limited playing time.When he was draft Hezonja was viewed as an athletic knockdown shooter. When he has everything working Mario is still that player. When in transition he does a good job of attacking the rim and not fading to the perimeter. Hezonja is not afraid to take the ball up strong in the paint. Finishing is another subject.
Because of his size, Mario can play positions 2-4. He has even spent some time as the primary ball handler during garbage time. His size also helps him to shoot over the top of Shooting guards. When Mario has his confidence and some consistent time on the court his shooting is deadly. We have not seen Mario get consistent minutes so that sniper mentality has not fully manifested. The Magic have to let him loose this season.
Weaknesses of Mario Hezonja
Mario’s greatest weakness is his defensive focus. Mario has the tools to be a lockdown defender. His length and athleticism give him an advantage against most shooting guards in the league. However, Mario tends to lose sight of his assignments while watching the ball on defense. There have been instances where Mario showed he can play great defense and be pesky on the perimeter. He has to have that focus consistently.
Because of his lack of focus on defense Hezonja looses time on the court. The time lost because of mental mistakes has a domino effect on Mario’s game. Once he get’s pulled for a defensive error he think’s about that error more and loses some confidence. Then he focuses too much on the last mistake and tightens up. Both of Hezonja’s coaches had little patience for his mistakes and pulled him rather quickly. Skiles just loved to rely on veterans and starters while Vogel had a Playoff mandate. When Hezonja gets some solid game minutes he will flourish.
Expectations for Mario Hezonja
Next season is a prove it year for Mario Hezonja. The Orlando Magic brought in a ton of depth at the wing positions. Mario will have to earn playing time like never before. Competition with Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons and Arron Afflalo makes Hezonja a stalking horse. He should be the best shooter in this group and Orlando severely needs help in that area. Aside from his shooting potential Hezonja has no obvious traits that place him ahead of the other wings. It is going to be a tough road for Mario to crack the regular rotation. If Frank Vogel deploys some creative lineups where Hezonja could be the primary ball handler in a big lineup or Power Forward in a small lineup those will be Mario’s best chance of getting on the court.
Projected 2017-18 position: Reserve Small forward/ Small Ball Power Forward