The NBA Summer League got a brutal introduction to Mario Hezonja yesterday, even though he had already made one huge game-ending play in his previous outing
Playing for the Orlando Magic’s blue team in the NBA Summer League, Croatian sensation Mario Hezonja hasn’t wasted time making an impression. We all knew about his confidence from his time at Barcelona. Despite his clear differences with coach Xavi Pascual, Hezonja carried incredible confidence with him on the floor as well as an occasional tendency to get into it with the refs. This is a player who knows his athletic ceiling is really high and wants to show anyone watching what he can do. If you doubt him, he wants to put you in your place. If you get in his way, well, he’s likely to do this…
Or from another angle…
And then when you think he might be slowing down he goes and does this…
All of this came just two days after he hit a game winning three in his first outing. The natural caveat of ‘It’s only the Summer league’ may apply but it’s not like we see players go all-in just a fortnight after their season ended in what is essentially a chance for scouts to look at players. This is filler basketball and Hezonja is treating it like it is all that matters. His shooting numbers also indicate that he is loving having the ball in his hands because he’s throwing up everything with some pretty ugly results. This will improve but it shows just how much he needs to get off his chest after a testy two years with Barcelona’s first team.
Hezonja is going to enter pre-season proper and the regular season with a head of steam, particularly if he suits up for Croatia at EuroBasket in September. With the Croats playing the first round in Zagreb, Hezonja will have a chance to show what he has got in front of a fairly raucous home support.
Heat isn’t the problem. Hezonja’s got it, he knows he can ball, he wants to take on the best, and he will not let early season errors (which are essentially a given) worry him. The concern is a classic one for all Euros in their first season in the NBA. Hezonja essentially had no off-season at all and won’t get one until next summer. That is a long grind and he will almost certainly show fatigue as March rolls around. It happened pretty much exactly like that with Jonas Valanciunas and countless Euros before him. This are young bodies still developing, the players want to play as much as they can but at some point the body says ‘nah-hah’ and the slump comes.
If and when that hits Hezonja, it’s going to take some smart work by the Magic to manage his minutes. Even with the walking disaster that is the race for the last few slots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, it’s going to take a lot of breaks for Orlando to not be a lottery team next year. Hezonja is going to want to play and he’s going to naturally see a coach sitting him for his own good in the same light as Xavi Pascual. That’s where the relationship needs to be honest and mature, two words which really don’t often belong on a sideline.
This is a human wrecking ball, a super prospect, but one that is still far more raw than most of us would like to admit. That’s fine, he’s also really young and has time. The important thing is to have him ready to unleash the beast for real come his second season.
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