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NBA draft Pistons prospect breakdown: Mario Hezonja

Could the fiery Croatian serve some excitement to Detroit?

Mario Hezonja is perhaps the most exciting prospect in this year's draft.  He's been labelled many things while playing for Barcelona, including arrogant and selfish, but others simply put that down to competitiveness and a will to succeed.  For context, it was clear early on this season that Hezonja was going to declare for the NBA Draft, which perhaps incentivized Barcelona to cut his minutes and develop other players who would be there next year.  Also, as Barcelona is perhaps one of the best non-NBA teams in the world, and trying to win silverware, there is little room to be patient with a 20-year-old firecracker.  Nevertheless, he has shown flashes of tantalizing potential which could see him picked as high as No. 5.

Physical Stats

Due to the international mystery surrounding Hezonja, plus the fact that he was busy competing for Barcelona at the time of the combine, there is literally nothing on the Internet about his physical parameters.  He stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 200 pounds according to Draft Express, and that's about it.  Still, going by what we know and what we've seen and heard recently, he appears to be very athletically gifted.  He projects as a swingman at the next level, someone who fits between shooting guard and small forward.  At shooting guard, he will have height mismatches against practically anyone who guards him, with enough athleticism to cause most small forwards problems.  Also, he can do ridiculous things like this, meaning he isn't a plodder by any means.

Style of Play

Offensive juggernaut would best describe his style of play at this point in time.  Athletically, he has all the tools to be a good defender, but he just doesn't seem to have the positional awareness to be a plus defender right away.  However, his offense masks his defensive deficiencies for the most part.  He can stay in front of his man pretty well in isolation settings, but appears befuddled at screens and positioning off the ball.

That being said, you're not drafting Hezonja to be a lockdown defender.  Of all the players in the draft, he's the guy most likely to average 25 points a game at some point in his career.  Due to his limited playing time in Barcelona, we have to be careful trying to project any meaningful contributions from him, as he only attempted 4.7 field goals per game in 15.4 minutes, scoring 5.8 points.  So, there is some degree of bust potential with him, as with any prospect, but this is heightened due to his limited sample size and international intrigue.

That's not to say he can't explode when he wants to.  He had a game in which he went 8-8 on three pointers, and in the first game of the Euroleague finals series, he went 5-6 on threes against Real Madrid, with his only miss being a desperation heave at the end of the game.  Overall, he shot a respectable 45.7% from the field in 2014-15, including 37.9% from deep.  This is elevated by the fact that he has a very good two-point percentage of 57.3%.  Unfortunately, Basketball Reference doesn't provide the breakdown of shots by distance for the Euroleague, so I'm unable to see if he converts a good percentage at the rim, but with his athleticism and high two-point percentage, you would imagine he is a decent finisher.

Mario only averaged a little over 15 minutes per game this season, so I'm going to look at his per 36 numbers to see if anything can be extrapolated from this limited raw data.  Unfortunately, he doesn't do a whole lot at this stage of his career besides score, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Per 36 he averages 13.6 points per game, but only 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists.  The rebounds are good, but the assist numbers are a bit low.  This could be because, as he was invariably part of the bench unit at Barcelona, he was likely the No. 1 option on offense.  Unfortunately, again, Basketball Reference lets us down, as they don't track advanced stats for Europe, so we can't see his usage rate or any other more advanced stats.


Drafting Mario at this stage is a move with sights set on his potential.  With his eye-catching performances in the Euroleague finals so far, his stock has been rising, so much so that many people expect him to be gone by No. 6, never mind being available at No. 8 for Detroit.  Still, the draft is a volatile beast, and other players are also making cases.  Looking at the teams just ahead of Detroit, Orlando appears locked into a future core with Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris on the wings, and Sacramento has a greater need at point guard, which is why they'll be praying Mudiay falls.  Denver is a threat to pinch Mario, though, as they seem to be entering tear-it-down mode.

For Detroit, Mario would likely play the small forward slot due to his size, and while he may struggle defensively against stronger players, he would provide an instant offensive improvement from the three spot.  As he'd also be playing with a dominant ball handler like Reggie Jackson or Brandon Jennings, there wouldn't be a need for him to do anything besides score, so there's potentially a good fit here if Mario makes it down to No. 8.

You can read more on Hezonja here via Rakesh.

What say you, DBB?