With the 2015 NBA Draft just a few weeks away, BallinEurope’s Sam Chadwick is breaking down the Europeans in contention to hear their names called on 25 June. First up it’s Mario Hezonja of Croatia and FC Barcelona.
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Date of birth: 25/Feb/1995
Current club: FC Barcelona
Super Mario can flat out score, don’t let his 7.7ppg Euroleague average fool you, he can shoot, get to the rim, hit FTs, throw down impressive ally-oop lobs, the whole lot. His 22 points vs recent Euroleague Champs Real Madrid on 8/14 FGs (3/5 3pt, 5/9 2pt) with just 2 FT attempts is a good example against a great team who just held Vassilis Spanoulis to 3 points in the Euroleague championship game. Season averages in EL of 57% 2pt, 38% 3pt and 75%FT shows solid evidence of a much improved shooting form considering the last time I saw him in person at the NIJT in London 2013 he went 1/9 from 3 across games, and at the U18 Hospitalet qualifier he was 4/30 on three point attempts.
Potential, offensively, defensively, his entire game oozes potential, you can see from the above that his scoring is already solid. Add to that the ability to draw fouls and finish inside, plus his passing ability and his offence is a strong starting block but add in his defensive potential and the sky is the limit. When he is focused and when his offensive cylinders are working it makes his defence 100% better, he puts in more effort and can hound ball handlers & his length and athleticism allow his to play the passing lanes resulting in break away dunks with his ability to run the floor, unfortunately he doesn’t always play with that effort (more on that later).
Attitude his been a long and well documented problem for Mario, at the NIJT in London he would voice his opinions with team mates and his body language occasionally screamed with disappointment, whether it was team mates missing open shots, missing passes, or missing defensive assignments (things that he himself was also guilty of doing). It was again an issue playing for Barcelona’s second team in LEB Oro and has been an issue many scouts have noticed. We can only hope that playing in the NBA with what should be the best players in the world will result in less of his out-bursts.
Defence, as opposed to defensive potential which has been covered above, is also an issue. At the moment Mario only seems to play defence as and when he feels like it, showcasing solid defensive ability but it is no where near consistent enough, at the moment his defence is fuelled by good offence so when he isn’t having a great game offensively his defence drops. In reality it should be the other way round, as a coach I teach that good defence leads to good offence, forcing steals, getting into those passing lanes leading to easy buckets get the offensive game flowing however Mario seems to have it the wrong way round. If he can use his defence to his full ability even when he is struggling offensively it will help him get back in the grove and could result in his game being more complete.
Most mock drafts have Mario going to the Denver Nuggets at number 7 (NBADraft.Net, DraftExpress & Sam Vecenic at CBSSports), while Zach Harper (CBSSports) has him at number 9 to Sacramento & the lowest is number 10 to the Miami Heat (all slots pending the lottery).
The Nuggets could do with all the talent they could get and are effectively going through a re-build after a disappointing season however using such a high pick in a strong draft on a Euro prospect who is likely to stay in Europe may be seen by Management as a wasted pick.
Miami at 10 however could allow him to develop in Europe for a few years while they still have a strong core with Wade, Bosh & Deng.
If Denver’s management are happy to wait a year or more for him to continue his development in Europe, then grab him and pair him with another solid Euro in Jusuf Nurkic in the near future. Be wary however that the roster is already pretty full at SG with other young players such as Gary Harris & Will Barton, while at SF they have experienced forwards Danilo Gallinari & Wilson Chandler.
Miami on the other hand may be happy for him to develop in Europe as their squad still has playoff potential even without a rookie in this years draft (Wade, Deng, Bosh, Whiteside), that way he can come over in a year or two once Wade is a little closer to retirement. The Heat’s SG depth chart currently consists of Wade, Zoran Dragic and Tyler Johnson a list that Hezonja could easily slip into either behind Wade or in front of in a few years time.
No matter who picks up Mario they will be getting one of the best prospects ever to come out of Croatia behind Dario Saric.