How good is Mario Hezonja?

"Mario Hezonja" by Castroquini2011 - Flickr: 2012 2013 - Mario Hezonja. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
"Mario Hezonja" by Castroquini2011 - Flickr: 2012 2013 - Mario Hezonja. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - /

Jay Bilas recently released his top 40 prospects entering the 2015 NBA draft and he had some interesting comments on potential Piston Mario Hezonja:

"Upside: Athletic, competitive and a very good perimeter shooter with a beautiful shooting stroke. At his best in catch-and-shoot situations, sets his feet quickly, but can also make shots on the move. Matches the physical profile for an NBA small forward. Good in transition, very good finisher around and above the rim. Fran Fraschilla has said he could compete favorably in the dunk contest and the 3-point contest. Athletic and competitive enough to be a very good defender in the NBA.Downside: Not sure there is a downside to Hezonja. The question is only how good, because he will not fail in the NBA."

It’s the ‘downside’ analyses that really stood out to me. Hezonja, who has been frequently mentioned in mock drafts to the Pistons this offseason, has been questioned as a prospect–not because of anything he’s put on tape– but because of what’s not known about him: character, NBA-readiness (reduced role on one of the best teams in Europe).

Hezonja has been deemed by some as “The European Kobe Bryant,” yet he averages fewer than eight points a game at around 15 minutes per. (This is, because team’s overseas don’t want to waste minutes on players who will be leaving). Teams in the NBA also didn’t get an up-close look at Hezonja like they did with fellow European big man Kristaps Porzingis, who worked out in Las Vegas last Friday, because Hezonja still has a commitment to his team, FC Barcelona.

Executives in the NBA have to rely on the tape from his games (where he played little) and from what their scouts have told them–though some teams like the Pistons have really done their homework– Stan Van Gundy made the trip overseas himself to see Hezonja.

Regardless of what isn’t known about Hezonja, there are teams that absolutely love him.

One scout told Chad Ford in April:

"“I really love him,” one NBA scout told ESPN. “I love [Justise] Winslow, too, but I really think if this kid was in college we’d all be going crazy for him. He’s tough, he’s athletic, he shoots the s— out of it. And the kid just knows how to play. He’s going to be really, really good in the NBA. He’s the first wing on my board.”"

And later in May:

"“He’s crazy,” one GM said. “But I think it’s a good crazy. The type of crazy confidence that elite players need. If he can keep that competitiveness under control and be patient, he’s got a good shot to be one of the two or three best players in this draft in five years. He has that ‘it’ factor that several guys ahead of him don’t.”"

Key word here is “If”, which is a very big word when paired with “He’s crazy” and “keep that competitiveness under control” and finally, “be patient”.

I love Hezonja on tape and particularly his ferociousness. I actually have been following him for two drafts now (he decided not to throw in his name in 2014). Had you asked me who I wanted most to be a Piston at that time, I would’ve have easily said Hezonja. But now– should someone like Justise Winslow be on the board too– I can’t say that I’d take Hezonja.

Hezonja’s attitude could really go either way. Whether it’s making a flashy behind the back pass to a guard instead of passing to his wide-open center down low (which almost causes a fight, because the center is fed up with Hezonja) or his borderline disrespect for everyone he plays against, it’s just too hard to get a feel for Hezonja without a team getting to speak with him in person.

That said, he’s an incredible talent who has a superstar skill set.

If the Pistons decided to draft him at No. 8, who could really argue given his upside? Sure Stanley, Johnson is more of a safe pick, but do you really go with the guy who could be Ron Artest when there’s maybe the next Kobe Bryant sitting on the board too?

Even if both Hezonja and Winslow are on the board you still have to ask yourself whether or not you want to let someone with Bryant’s ceiling slip past you.

At the same time, Kobe Bryant didn’t enter the league as the five-time NBA champion he is today. That took supreme work ethic and a desire to be the best. I won’t ever say someone has THAT type of work ethic until I’ve seen it myself. It might be more fair to say is that Hezonja has Bryant’s cockiness. Hezonja’s shooting stroke and size are also better than Bryant when he first entered the league.

I have Hezonja in the fifth tier on my big board. I’ve said in the past that I’d take Johnson over Hezonja, but I’ve changed my tone between those two prospects.

Should Hezonja and Winslow be on the board when the Pistons select (which isn’t likely), Detroit really can’t go wrong. It’s more likely that they will take whichever player falls to them and hope for the best, assuming either do indeed fall to them.

If neither do, they’ll still have good options to choose from.