2015 NBA Draft Profile: Mario Hezonja


Image from – http://www.somosbasket.com/2015/01/18/noticias/mario-hezonja-quiere-liderar-al-barca-antes-de-llegar-la-nba/

With the 2015 NBA Draft quickly approaching, it’s time to start looking at prospects for the Utah Jazz. Today we are going to dive into Mario Hezonja from Croatia. We will look at his background, stats, strengths, weaknesses, fit with the Utah Jazz and player comparisons.


Mario Hezonja is the “unknown” prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft, similar to how Dante Exum was last year. Mario Hezonja was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia. There is not much to be found about Hezonja’s upbringing on the internet.

At the age of 13, Hezonja began playing basketball with KK Dubrovnik, which is a professional basketball team in Croatia. In fact, this is the same team that Ante Tomic began with. In 2010, he played with another team in Croatioa, KK Zagreb. After his two-year stint with KK Zagreb, Mario got his big break. In 2012-2013, Hezonja played for the FC Barcelona B Team. This is essentially a farm team for FC Barcelona, which is widely regarded as the best team in Europe. He played 34 games with the B Team, starting in 21 of them. In 21.6 minutes of play, Hezonja averaged 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 steals and shot 40.8-percent from the field.

FC Barcelona liked what they saw enough to call him up to their main team the very next year. Mario has played his last two years with FC Barcelona. Playing for Barcelona is an important aspect of the attractiveness in Hezonja as a prospect for the Utah Jazz. The reason for this is that Ante Tomic and Tibor Pleiss, two prospects that the Jazz own the rights to, also play for FC Barcelona. We have heard Dennis Lindsey mention multiple times that the team stays well-informed on Tomic and Pleiss. This means the Jazz have seen Mario Hezonja play multiple times.

Mario is projected to be off the board by the time that the Jazz are on the clock. However, Hezonja will not be able to come over to do any pre-draft workouts due to his commitments with FC Barcelona and the playoffs. Once teams get all the prospects in to work them out, they may begin to slide prospects above Mario on their boards. If one of the top 10 prospects is to fall to the Jazz or to a point that they could trade up to get him, it would be Mario Hezonja.

Stats and Measurables

Mario currently is only playing 15.5 minutes per game. The fact that Mario is only 10th in minutes played for Barcelona is one of scouts’ biggest concerns. He seems to be one of the best players on the team when he plays, yet the coaches do not play him frequently. So, because of this, it is better to look at his per 40 minutes stats.

Mario plays somewhat of a super-sub role for the team. The 15.7 points per 40 minutes is decent considering seven players on the team have taken more shots than Mario. What really is impressive is Hezonja’s shooting. When you look at his shot frequency you see that 59.2-percent of his FGA are three-pointers. To take that many of your shots from three while hitting at a 38.4-percent clip is fantastic. Mario actually had almost the exact same shooting season as Wes Matthews did in the NBA this year.

Two other things stand out as impressive when you look at the Croatian’s stats. First is his rebounding. Hezonja is a fantastic rebounder for a wing. Typically you do not see these rebounding numbers from a great shooter, so this is splendid. The next positive to note on his stats is the steals per 40 minutes. 1.6 steals per 40 minutes is not monumental, but it is very good for a player that is primarily a three-point shooter. This is another indicator, along with the rebounds, that point towards Mario becoming a great three-and-D player.

The biggest concerns in Mario’s stats are his turnovers, blocks and free throw attempts. The FC Barcelona sub turns the ball over more than you would like. You could argue that this is partially due to the scheme he plays in, but regardless he needs to cut his turnovers down. Mario has an extremely low block rate. This is not a surprise from someone who is primarily a shooter, but this does show that Mario has not figured out how to use his athleticism to get some blocks. The biggest concern of them all is the rate at which he goes to the free throw line. When you look at his free throw rate of 11.2-percent, Mario is far below the NBA league average of 20.5-percent.  For someone as athletic and smart as Hezonja, he should be able to get to the free throw line more often.


Hezonja’s biggest strengths are his NBA body, scoring and athleticism. Mario stands at six-foot-eight and weighs 200 lbs. These numbers are fairly similar to Jazz-man Rodney Hood‘s measurements. With a six-foot-ten wingspan though, Mario is longer than Rodney. Those are fantastic numbers for an NBA wing. He has the body to step in and play right away.

We covered his shooting in the stats section, but Mario has the ability to become one of the best shooters in this draft. He is such a great shooter that he has been dubbed the “Croatian Klay Thompson” by many media outlets. Blessed with incredible athleticism, Hezonja uses his leaping ability to get his shot off above any defender. His shot is actually reminiscent to that of Rodney Hood. Both players release the shot with extended arms at the apex of their jump, making their shot nearly impossible to block.

Shooting the three isn’t the only way Hezonja can score. He has a great mid-range game and is a wonderful finisher at the rim due to his athleticism. Mario scores from almost anywhere on the floor thanks to decent handles. When you watch FC Barcelona, that athleticism instantly stands out. He is quick and explosive. You will see some dunks in the highlight video at the end that make your jaw drop. Hezonja can also out-run his opponents with ease to go coast to coast.

Having been in the professional farm systems since the age of 13, Hezonja knows the game of basketball. He has an extremely high basketball IQ and can make the right play. Because of these factors, Mario will be able to come in immediately to an NBA team and contribute. Hezonja fits the NBA’s game well and should thrive in the right system.

You can find DraftExpress’ breakdown of Hezonja’s strengths in this YouTube video here.


Heonzja’s game itself has no glaring weaknesses. All of Mario Hezonja’s weaknesses are mental issues. Teammates have mentioned that he can be hard on them when they do not perform like they are supposed to. In the past, Mario has moped when he isn’t getting consistent playing time. This seems to have improved some this year as there have been fewer murmurs from the team about him.

Mario can also be selfish at times and not make the right basketball play. There are moments where he tried to play hero ball instead of passing to the open player. This is one of the reasons his turnovers were so high. He would often force shots instead of making the correct play. The maddening part about this is that he flashes basketball brilliance at times, but in others is a ball hog and manages the clock poorly.

While Hezonja has a decent hande, he tends to go right too much. He needs to work on his left hand. As DraftExpress notes, he is not comfortable changing speeds while handling yet. This will be something Mario will have to work on in the NBA, especially if a team plans to play him at the shooting guard position.  We mentioned earlier that Hezonja does not get to the free throw line enough for a wing. DraftExpress noted that he had the worst adjusted free throw rate among their top 100 prospects. That has to change. Hezonja has the athletic skills to get to the line, he just chooses not to.

The last issue with Mario Hezonja is his effort on defense. He is a great defender, when he tries. Many times throughout his career he seemed to let his minutes dictate his effort on defense. Ideally you would like a prospect to try even harder when they are getting fewer minutes, but that was not the case with Mario. He will need a coach that can inspire him to give it his all.

Hezonja is also someone who GMs and scouts wish they could see more of. Because Mario played few minutes with FC Barcelona, a GM will have to gamble by telling the team owners they are taking a prospect that is somewhat unknown with a top pick.

You can find DraftExpress’ breakdown of Hezonja’s weaknesses in this YouTube video here.

Fit With The Utah Jazz

Mario Hezonja’s skill set fits wonderfully with what the Jazz need. They need someone who can shoot the ball, provide solid minutes on defense and score effectively off the bench. The Jazz are actually one of the organizations in which Hezonja would be lucky to land. Quin Snyder is a fantastic coach that is known for motivating his players. Throughout the year we could see that the players wanted to give Quin their all. Snyder convinced Trey Burke to accept a role off the bench, which could have gone terribly wrong. A coach like Snyder is exactly what Hezonja needs to get him straight.

The Utah Jazz’ biggest need is simply talent. Based off talent alone, Hezonja should be a top-three pick.  However, we do not live in a vacuum. These character concerns are real and so is the fact that teams wish they could have seen more. Hezonja should be off the board by the time the Jazz pick. It is very likely that teams could begin to pass as they fall in love with other prospects in the draft.  It’s very unlikely Mario is on the board at 12, however it is very possible that Mario is on the board in the 7-9 range where the Utah Jazz could trade up to get him.

Player Comparison

Player comparisons should always be taken with a grain of salt. No two players are exactly alike. The “Croatian Klay Thompson” actually does not play similar to Klay. Shooting-wise he is very similar to Wes Matthews, as mentioned above. He is nowhere near the defender that Matthews is though. Athletically, he is similar to a Rudy Gay, but he has a different body and their games are very different.

The best player comparison is probably Peja Stojakovic.  However, for the sake of using a current NBA player we are going with Joe Johnson. This comparison is drawn in that both players can score from anywhere on the floor. Johnson is a career 37.1-percent shooter from three, which is spot on with Nylon Calculus’ projection of Hezonja’s three-point shooting. Johnson is also a player that has struggled to get to the line consistently, averaging about three free throws a game. Both players use athleticism to attack their defenders and get open shots. Similar to Johnson, Hezonja is likely to be inconsistent on defense. He will be great when he puts his mind to it, but he will struggle when he doesn’t care. Both players are good rebounding wings that can handle and dish.

As mentioned above, player comparisons are not perfect. The difference in Joe Johnson and Hezonja is about 40 lbs. Johnson has made a living posting up smaller players. It’s unlikely Mario ever is as good as Johnson in that aspect of the game.  While both players can pass, its unlikely that Hezonja ever averages 4.1 assist like Johnson. Mario is more athletic and should be able to learn to get to the line better than Johnson. The comparison is not spot on, but it’s the best one we have been able to come up with.

Bottom Line

Mario Hezonja will be a fun prospect to watch as the draft rolls around. Hezonja is very much a high risk, high reward prospect. Dennis Lindsey recently said on 1280 The Zone that sometimes the best thing to do is take a gamble. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla dropped a phenomenal line on Hezonja’s talent

"“He’s the only guy in this draft that someday could potentially win either the dunk contest or the three-point contest — or both — because he’s a phenomenal athlete.”"

Hezonja may be a gamble, but it could be one that the Jazz are willing to make. Most of his weaknesses are ones that are improving or may be improved, making him a safe gamble.

Here are some highlights for you to enjoy. As you watch note two things; the high release point on his shot and those sick dunks!

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