After being selected with the fifth overall pick of the NBA Draft, Mario Hezonja was brought along slowly during his rookie season. But now that he has some seasoning in the NBA, can he become a premier player for the Magic?
When a player in taken in the top five of the NBA Draft, there will be big expectations for them. NBA organizations must hit on high draft picks and have confidence in the prospects that they choose.
Especially if they are international players.
Most international prospects are unknown to a majority of casual NBA fans and can cost GM's their jobs if they do not pan out, and/or are taken in favor of American college stars. The level of competition overseas is different than college basketball in America is, as American CBB is a better preparation for the physicality and speed of the game that will be seen in the NBA. Theses differences cause most international prospects to be brought along more slowly in the NBA and their impact isn't expected to be felt for a season or two.
But for the 2015 NBA Draft's fifth overall pick, his second season could be his coming out party.
Mario Hezonja flashed brilliance at times during his rookie year, where he only averaged 17.9 minutes per game. But Hezonja struggled at times, also.
Given the depth of the Orlando roster, Hezonja will likely come off the bench again. But it is reasonable to expect him to be a great scoring punch for the Magic's second unit this season.
Hezonja's Fit with the Second Unit
The Orlando rotation is one of the more interesting rotations in the entire NBA, due to similarities in the talent level of their players. Their rotation will, more than likely, depend on how the players fit together, and Hezonja's fit with the projected second unit is very good.
Let's say that the Orlando second unit will consist of DJ Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Hezonja, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic. The only capable 3-point shooter of that group, other than Hezonja, is Meeks and he is a spot-up guy.
That leaves Hezonja as the guy off the bench who can create his own shot. His ability to do that is still raw, but this could be the year to take a step in that area. Hezonja has shown the ability to drive to the rim and finish with some serious authority. If Hezonja can consistently get to the rim, he will be a dangerous player whether he throws it down or draws a foul, especially if he continues to shot at 91% from the charity stripe, like he did last season.
Yes, Hezonja did shoot only 35% from 3-point land last season, but I don't think anyone doubts his ability to shoot 40% or higher from that range in the very near future. His shooting stroke is as pure and pretty as it gets, and could help him become the lethal scorer that the team envisioned when they took him fifth overall.
And the pieces that surround him on the bench could allow his offensive talent to stand out.
A Future All-Star?
Now let's look past next season. What about his long-term potential?
Hezonja has the ceiling to reach an All-Star Game or two in his career. I am not saying that Mario Hezonja is the next Kevin Durant, I am not saying that at all. But his talent level and fit with Orlando's young core could allow him to earn an All-Star bid at some point.
What is the number one ability that gets players into the All-Star Game?
And Hezonja has amazing offensive potential. As a 6-8 wing, he has elite level size for his position and can use that to physically abuse any wing who tries to stop him from getting to the basket. Couple that possibility with the fact that he plays the game in a very smooth manner and has a pretty shooting stroke.
The youngsters of the Orlando core consists of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier. The only other perimeter shooter is Fournier and those two could form a lethal wing scoring punch one day. With Payton and Gordon being elite defenders, the Hezonja/Fournier combo could really stand out offensively. They can both really shoot it and Fournier's passing ability really compliments the developing inside game of Hezonja.
It is reasonable to expect Hezonja to average 10-13 points per game off the Orlando bench this season as the lead offensive option on the perimeter for that unit. But do not be surprised at all if Hezonja averages 17-20 points per game in a season or two and earns himself an All-Star bid.
After all, he was a top-5 pick for a reason.