Mario Hezonja Scouting Report

Mario Hezonja

6’8” 200

NBA Position: Wing

Strengths:

  • Prototype Size and Frame for an NBA Wing (Length Unknown)
  • Explosive Athlete and Jumper: Above the Rim Finisher
  • Speed Running the Floor
  • Quick, High Release as a Shooter: Can Get His Shot Off in Small Windows and Over Closeouts on Kick-Outs
  • Deep Range on Shot
  • Ability to Shoot Quickly Off the Catch and Off the Dribble on Step-Backs, Especially to His Left
  • Ability to Set Feet/Balance and Shoot Quickly Off Screens
  • Shows Upside as a Slasher Cutting to the Hoop for Finishes
  • Has Enough Off the Bounce to Convert Straight Line Drives Attacking Closeouts with a Quick First Step
  • Can Operate Out of Pick and Roll, Especially as a Pull-Up Three Point Shooter when the Big Drops Back
  • Very Capable Passer, Including Out of Pick and Roll, Can Read Defenses
  • Lateral Agility Defensively: Capable of Walling Off Dribble Penetration
  • Athleticism and Length to Help and Recover on Closeouts
  • Frame to Absorb Contact and Navigate Screens
  • Not Lockdown Potential but Physical Tools to be a Plus Defender
  • Plays Passing Lanes Well with Length and Can Convert on Steals in Transition
  • Confidence: Not Tentative, Should Help Transition to the League

Hezonja has elite size at 6’8” for an NBA wing with a NBA ready frame to defend most lighter NBA wings, and while his wingspan information is unavailable, on tape he looks to have long enough arms to frustrate passing lanes defensively. Hezonja is not just the stereotypical European shooter, as he possesses elite athleticism for the position. Hezonja is an explosive athlete and quick jumper, rendering him an above the rim finisher in both the half court and in transition, where in the latter he is especially deadly when factoring in his speed running the floor. There were reports following the NBA dunk contest that Hezonja performed every dunk Zach LaVine did in practice, which showcases the type of top shelf athleticism Hezonja possesses.

Outside of NBA size and athleticism, Hezonja’s most translatable NBA skill is his jump shot. Simply put, Hezonja will be able to get his shot off in the NBA and has legitimate three-point range. He has a high, lightning quick release that enables him to get his shot off in small windows and over closeouts. Hezonja is a devastating catch and shoot player because of this combination, but he’s also capable of shooting off the dribble, especially with his patented step-back shot to his left. Hezonja can also gather himself and shoot quickly coming off screens, which bodes well for his ability to operate in NBA floppy actions.

While Hezonja does not possess elite handles or ball skills at this juncture, he has enough off the dribble to attack closeouts with a quick first step and finish at the rim. He’s shown comfortability in pick and roll, especially as a pull-up shooter from three when the big man guarding the screener drops back, as some conservative NBA defenses will. He’s also shown a proclivity for identifying holes in the defense off-ball offensively, and because of his athleticism can slash to the basket and finish lobs, boding well for his future as a cutter/slasher. As a passer, Hezonja has demonstrated the capability to read defenses and making the requisite pass to cutters or shooters in pick and roll when he is willing.

Defensively, Hezonja has all the physical tools to be a plus defender, most likely guarding the “1-2” variety. While perhaps not possessing lock-down defensive potential, he has the lateral quicks, size, length and explosiveness to wall off dribble penetration as an on-ball defender, and the frame to absorb the contact bigger wings running into him going near full speed without getting knocked back (albeit this will take time to perfect). As a help defender, he has the speed and length to help on dig downs and recover out to contest shots on the perimeter, as well as the frame to absorb contact navigating screens off-ball chasing wings. Also, Hezonja has the length and athleticism to not only create turnovers playing passing lanes but has the ability to convert turnovers in transition to easy baskets. Lastly, Hezonja projects as at worst an average rebounder physically with his athleticism and ability to high point rebounds, if he is willing to mix it up inside.

From an intangibles standpoint, much has been made about Hezonja’s confidence and perhaps arrogant attitude. As I don’t have any inside information in this regard outside of hearsay, it’s difficult to assess this aspect of his game. What is somewhat known is Barcelona has a hierarchial system in terms of veteran playing time that Hezonja allegedly doesn’t willingly subscribe too, and he has an attitude on the court that sometimes leads to forcing the issue. I actually think his confidence will help him acclimate to the NBA quickly, as he wont be tentative to embrace a different situation and lifestyle. The latter can hopefully be addressed in the proper coaching environment.

Weaknesses:

  • Secondary Ball-Handler Upside with Average Ball Skills
  • Handle/Wiggle Off the Dribble Creating Shots
  • Motor: Not a Star Caliber Player Who Does the Little Things to Win
  • Shot Selection and Turnover Proneness Either Creating His Own Shot or Passing
  • Defensive Consistency, Understanding of Defensive Help Concepts
  • Coachability/Willingness to fit in a Team Construct

My biggest issue with Hezonja on tape is his lack of ball skills and handle creating shots. He just does not flash a lot of wiggle with the ball and can’t use his dribble to create space outside of his dribble pull-up game. He does not project as a player you can run an offense through or throw the ball to in effort to create a basket. Essentially, he projects at best as a secondary ball-handler that must be paired with a more ball dominant offensive force, especially one who can dribble penetrate and create looks for Hezonja on the perimeter. Right now, he has enough to be a catch and shoot force, but outside of attacking closeouts with an explosive first step, isn’t more than a three-dribble, straight line drive guy on offense.

Hezonja’s other seemingly chronic weakness is his motor does not run hot all the time. He’s not Justise Winslow in regards to making all the little plays that help teams win while simultaneously performing more star traits such as scoring. His overall energy level in relation to all non-finishing components of his game seems to stem from getting touches and shots. Again, this is an observation based on a limited sample, and was noted mostly as a comparative practice to the other elite wing in the draft, the aforementioned Winslow.

As far as what I assume to be correctable mistakes, Hezonja has poor shot selection at times, seemingly getting tunnel-vision and taking bad shots instead of making the simple play. The same goes for turnovers as a distributor in trying to make the highlight real pass instead of reading the defense. The combination of his talent level, attitude and shot selection bares an eerie resemblance to J.R. Smith. However, Hezonja seems to have a better feel for the game than Smith, and with proper coaching this drawback could also be mitigated and addressed early in his career before it potentially spirals out of control.

Defensively, Hezonja has similar effort and consistency issues as most 20 year-old prospects. He will need time to acclimate to/understand NBA help defenses, as he currently does not show good understanding of help defense in space in terms of helping and recovering or rotating.

In furtherance of the above shot-selection point and the confidence attribute of Hezonja’s game addressed in strengths, one way to view these qualities is negatively from a coachability and team construct standpoint. Will Hezonja have the mindset to operate in a team construct, both as a teammate with other players as a professional and with his coach? It’s impossible to say from online highlights or reading background information, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

System Fit

Offense: Uptempo System with Ball Dominant Guard/Wing

Hezonja can be a plug and play offensive contributor with his shooting prowess, but to best capture his peak value, he is best suited for an up-tempo transition system where he can use his athleticism and speed to finish before the defense sets. In transition he can also run to spots on the three-point arc and try to get shots off while the defense scrambles to match up. In the half court, Hezonja projects best as a secondary ball handler paired next to a ball dominant guard or wing who can create perimeter looks for him off dribble penetration. Hezonja can move off the ball and shoot off floppy actions as well, and in time could be utilized on secondary pick and rolls when the defense has already been moved, but if placed in a position where he is a primary ball-handler in pick and roll with heavy usage, he could struggle.

Defense: Conservative Scheme (At Least Initially), Eventually More Versatile Scheme Ability/Switching

As Hezonja learns NBA team defense he is best placed in conservative system where his help responsibilities are small. Thus, placing him in a system like Milwaukee’s which requires aggressive helping and awareness would be detrimental. Hezonja projects best in a system where he can stay closer to wing shooters or chase wings around the perimeter, emphasizing more player specific, on-ball defense. Eventually, Hezonja has the size and frame to play in modern NBA switching schemes, possessing the ideal measurables to do so.

Team Fit: Denver Nuggets (If they hire Mike D’Antoni)

It’s hard to create a better team fit for Hezonja than the Nuggets’ up-tempo system if D’Antoni is hired. Lawson is exactly the kind of guard Hezonja would thrive next to: a primary ball-handling dribble penetrator who can break down defenses and find Hezonja on the perimeter for shots. D’Antoni is also masterful at creating threes for shooters, and Hezonja would thrive in his system both in early offense/transition and in the half court, especially moving off the ball on the weak side. Wilson Chandler’s perimeter defense would also afford Hezonja the ability to check the opposing team’s inferior wing player to start as his defensive awareness goes. A Lawson/Hezonja/Chandler/Gallinari/Nurkic lineup would be absolutely lethal offensively spacing wise, with Faried off the bench as an energy guy. However, the Nuggets may blow everything up and trade Lawson and/or Faried, and hire another coach, uprooting this reasoning. Regardless, if D’Antoni is hired this is an optimal fit, especially with D’Antoni’s international pedigree aiding Hezonja’s transition.

Player Comparison: More Athletic, Higher Ball-Skill Upside, Slightly Inferior Shooting Klay Thompson

Hezonja’s high, quick release and three point range at his size is comparable to Thompson, although Hezonja is a far more athletic player and probably not quite the shooter (though he does have that Klay streak-shooter quality and hit 8 threes in a game this past year). Thompson had an assortment of defensive issues coming out of Washington State and still struggles with shot creation, drawing a further correlation here. Klay worked to improve the former, and is now dogged on-ball defender, especially on lead guards and smaller wings. Hezonja has the physical tools to be a Thompson-like defender. The question with him is mentality. A strong case can be made for a J.R. Smith comparison as well. Both are tremendous talents with shaky intangible red flags. From what I have seen Hezonja has a better feel for the game and court sense than Smith, rendering Thompson the superior comparison, though Hezonja has more ball-skill upside than Thompson.

Upside: All-Star

If Hezonja puts it together mentally, he is exactly the kind of wing player the modern NBA game craves: an athletic wing who can space the floor and defend well enough to be a two-way player with versatility. There aren’t a lot of players with his size and skill-set in the league, and the demand is incredibly high to the point you can’t really acquire them until their late 20’s. Every team needs shooting, and Hezonja is probably the best all-around shooter in the draft. He might not have been an all-star in the past due to shot-creation limitations, but in the modern game he’s an ideal second or third option (likely the latter) that wont fear the big-game shot-making spotlight. That renders him all-star worthy, especially with the dearth of two-way wings who can shoot. Winslow is a surer two-way prospect (with quietly a better handle), but Hezonja might have higher offensive upside. After the big three (Towns, Russell and Winslow), Hezonja is right with Cauley-Stein vying for number 4 on my board.

 

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