November 3, 2017, 5:37 pm
With trade rumors surrounding Mario Hezonja and with his future up in the air after the Magic reportedly did not pick up his fourth year option, what better time to talk about Super Mario and his status in the NBA world?
Magic fans were ecstatic after Hezonja hit a game winning shot in his first Summer League action but this might have been the best highlight of his career so far.
“Respect? No, I never had respect to anybody on a basketball court” – Mario Hezonja
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Hezonja began playing with the senior team of KK Dubrovnik when he was 11 years old in Zagreb, Croatia. After him transferring to KK Zagreb and earning the MVP trophy at the 2011 U-16 European Championship, where Croatia won the gold medal, he raised some eyebrows in basketball circles. Making the big jump he moved to Spain for the 2012-13 season, signing with powerhouse FC Barcelona where he briefly played with the second team, LEB-Gold. He was considered one of the best young players in Europe throughout his teens and he spent the last three years playing in Spain’s elite ACB League before making the jump to the NBA.
Coming into the 2015 NBA Draft the scouting report on Hezonja pegged him as an aggressive scorer with elite athleticism and questionable shot selection and attitude. At the time, he was considered to be the final piece to a young Magic squad that lacked outside shooting. Some scouts bought the hype and claimed Hezonja was a future All-Star, while others saw him as the next J.R. Smith.
The story of an offensive game that hasn’t panned out yet
What impressed the Magic and many other teams the most was his 6’8” frame as he has ideal size for the wing position and high level athleticism, even by NBA standards. It’s no wonder that Hezonja has avoided major injuries so far since he has a solid structure, adding more muscle to his frame over the last couple seasons while training with top level coaches all over the country. Surprisingly, he has struggled with his shot although it’s a quick, mechanically sound and smooth stroke that allows him to get his shot off in any situation. Hezonja has failed miserably to shoot over 35% from the three-point range in his first couple seasons with the Magic and actually regressed from year one to year two even after playing 65 games. It’s really surprising how many of his wide open shots are way off.
He also lacks a solid mid-range game, which is actually the area where he struggles the most. His poor field goal percentages and lack of made threes have made him unbearable to fantasy owners. Unfortunately, regardless of a shot that just is not falling he doesn’t seem to understand how to take advantage of his physical skills and develop other parts of his game. He hasn’t really been a student of the game and after three years in the league he is still considered immature.
A classic example of him not playing to his strengths is the fact that even though he is an exceptional free throw shooter he fails to get to the line consistently.
Super Mario combines good size with solid body control, athleticism and leaping abilities, showing a quick first step and explosiveness but he has developed some really bad habits throughout his career. He usually jumps too early on his drives, resulting in charges or failing to get to the line, and these are the little things that drive coaches crazy as he should be able to absorb contact more effectively.
The numbers can always be deceptive but in Hezonja’s case they reveal the hard truth. Last year he made just 32.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities and only 30.5 percent of his spot-up opportunities while scoring 0.9 points per possession.
Even more baffling is the fact that he was a much better three-point shooter on the road (35.5 percent) than at home (23.6 percent) and he’s also been more accurate from the three-point line in losses (33.3 percent) than in wins (18.5 percent).
He has a 17.6 percent career usage rate and has always had the green light to let it fly when he gets the opportunity. Problem is, he just has not been an efficient scorer.
Frank Vogel experimented with him playing the power forward position since, as the shot chart above shows, he has only been efficient converting when close to the rim – but this didn’t last long. He often got switched on PnR action and ended up on the wrong side. Vogel saw his size and athleticism and wanted to force him into a “he can play every position” mold but he clearly is not that guy. Hezonja is pretty obviously a SG/SF tweener and not a SF/PF tweener.
What makes things even worse is the fact that Hezonja is often a reluctant passer and not a good ball handler. On top of that, he also has the tendency to force shots instead of kicking it out to an open teammate.
Take a look at this play where he opts for an off balance shot instead of dumping a pass off to Biyombo, who has the clear advantage on a mismatch after switching onto smaller Briante Weber.
Additionally, he fails to protect the ball and he will opt for the flashy dish instead of making the simple play or he will stop the action and call an isolation set instead of continuing the play. The results are devastating and he hurts his team as he has the tendency to commit silly turnovers.
Once he arrived to Orlando, Hezonja was asked if he went to go see soccer legend Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona while there. He responded: “Let Messi come to see me.” That quote pretty much sums him up.
The defensive expectations were never high
Moving on to the other side of the floor where Hezonja has never been held accountable for his defense, and contrary to the majority of European players, he lacks the basic basketball principles and fundamentals. Oftentimes he gets lost in rotations and fails to navigate his way through screens, exposing his lack of concentration that opponents will exploit. There are plenty of ways to defend PnR action, from hedging to switching, and here’s a clip of Hezonja failing miserably to do any of those (Vucevic’s D is also atrocious on this play).
During his rookie season Scott Skiles, a no-nonsense coach who was hired by the Magic to make the team tougher and better defensively, refused to cut any slack for Hezonja because of his youth and lack of NBA experience. The veteran coach was never hesitant to yank him after committing a bad switch or after he’d lose his guy on the defensive end. He got a clean slate with Frank Vogel, who has never questioned Hezonja’s work ethic, but the mental lapses are still apparent in his game and he hasn’t moved the needle in order to be considered anything more than a mediocre defender. The thing is, many times he tries too hard, committing unnecessary fouls and bailing out opponents from tough situations.
And some Jerry West wisdom
One of my all time favorite quotes comes from Jerry West who has bluntly admitted that “There are no basketball experts. There are people who have a better educated guess.”
The red flags were there since the beginning but at the same time it’s hard to blame Hezonja, as the Magic have been bad even though they didn’t lack the talent on the development side of things. Orlando has started strong this season while the emergence of Jonathon Simmons and the selection of Jonathan Issac in the draft means that there are no more minutes left for Hezonja in Disneyland. Either he needs a change in environment that will revitalize his career or he is simply not as good as we thought he was.
June 3, 2020, 4:39 pmDerrick RosePG, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.
Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.
Source: James Edwards III
June 3, 2020, 11:41 amZion WilliamsonPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.
This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 11:36 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.
This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 12:28 pmStephen CurryPG, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald