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Charlotte Hornets NBA Draft Preview: Mario Hezonja

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Hezonja could be the wing player the Hornets are looking for, but there's a strong chance he will be off the board before they can draft him.

(Photo by Regina Hoffmann/EB via Getty Images)
(Photo by Regina Hoffmann/EB via Getty Images)
Regina Hoffmann/EB via Getty Images

Writing about Mario Hezonja is difficult. On paper, he represents everything the Charlotte Hornets need from a wing scorer -- a player who spaces the floor, is athletic, attacks the rim aggressively, and moves well without the ball. Hezonja is all of these things, which makes it all the more upsetting knowing that he probably won't be on the board when it's the Hornets' turn to pick.

Hezonja, 20, is considered by many to be the top European prospect in the draft, and is also one of the best wings. Regarded as a top 10 prospect for much of the past year, his stock has risen since he officially declared for the draft, and there's a chance he could go in the top five if a team is really high on him. If he falls to the Hornets, he would likely be the best player available and fill a need.

Introduction

Hezonja was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a coastal city located at the southern tip of the country along the Adriatic Sea. He began playing professionally at the age of 13 for the Croatian club Zagreb. In 2012, he signed a three-year deal with ACB Barcelona. In his first season, Hezonja was loaned to Barcelona's B team playing in the second division. At the end of the season, he was nominated for the FIBA Young Europe Player of the Year award, which he lost to Jonas Valanciunas. Each season, he would increase his role with the club, going from bench player to key role player. In 2014, he won the Spanish league with Barcelona.

At the national level, he has had success at the U-16 and U-17 level, winning FIBA European gold with the U-16s in 2011 and bronze with the U-17s in 2012. Most recently, he was a part of the Croatian national team that played in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Measurements and Statistics

Height: 6'8

Weight: 200lbs

League GP MPG PPG FG% 3P% eFG%
Spanish ACB 33 14.4 4.4 45.2 37.7 57.0
Euroleague 22 16.5 7.7 46.2 38.2 57.0


Strengths

Hezonja is a tremendous athlete, and he takes full advantage of it, moving well up and down the floor. Standing 6'8, he has great size for the shooting guard position. His athleticism gives him an advantage both with the ball and without it.

His greatest offensive strength is his jump shot, which he can connect on as a catch-and-shoot player, off screens, and off the dribble thanks to a fluid shooting form and high release. For those out there who love to nitpick a player's shooting form, Hezonja's appears as if it will translate easily to the NBA. He is also good at attacking the basket and finishing above the rim.

While he is already a good jump shooter, it's his ability to score effectively in other ways that has scouts so intrigued. According to Draft Express, Hezonja shot 42 percent on pull-up jump shots, and 62 percent at the rim. If his offensive skills translate to the NBA, Hezonja could become a dynamic scorer.

Weaknesses

If there is one thing holding him back, it's consistency. Per Draft Express, he scored in double figures 11 times this season, but didn't register a single point in 10. While he has at times displayed strong defensive ability, it hasn't come enough to call him a good defensive player.

Much of his inconsistency on offense has come from poor decision making. Known as a highly confident player, Hezonja has a tendency to take ill-advised, low-percentage shots. This appeared to have frustrated the Barcelona coaching staff, and Hezonja would find himself quickly subbed out if he was having a poor game. Ultimately, it seems his inconsistent play is what kept him predominately as a role player rather than a starter.

However, it must be stated that Hezonja is just 20 years old, and despite how long he has been playing professionally, his game still needs refinement. While his confidence may detract a bit when it comes to shot selection and overall decision making, that confidence could become a net positive if he is able to realize his potential.

Fit with Hornets

As already stated, Hezonja would fit well with the Hornets. He isn't a high usage player, and was very effective for Barcelona playing in limited minutes. His ability as a 3-point shooter and his overall offense game would fill the Hornets need for a true wing scorer.

The only issue would be just how quickly he could adapt to the league and contribute. The Hornets have all intention of making the playoffs next season, and while Hezonja would fill a vital need and would be one of the best players available when taken, it's highly unlikely he would be ready to contribute on a team looking to make the playoffs. Still, that in no way should deter to the Hornets from taking him if he is available, because if all goes well, Hezonja could develop into a very good player.

Where do the Mocks have him going?

Draft Express: 7th
CBS Sports: 7th
NBA Draft.net: 7th
The Lottery Mafia: 7th
ESPN's Chad Ford: 8th

Aside from Chad Ford who just has to be different, the consensus has Hezonja going 7th to the Denver Nuggets. Now look, it makes sense for Denver to take him -- they need help everywhere and Hezonja would arguably be the best player available at that point. On the other hand, this consensus seems based on assumption. The Orlando Magic could be another team in the mix, as the pairing of Victor Oladipo and Hezonja could be intriguing (Chris Barnewall, what say you about this?)
(Ed note: There are rumors Hezonja might stay in Europe for awhile after being drafted, and Fran Vasquez has made me terrified of players that do this. However, that rumor seems to come with every European prospect these days so it's hard to put weight on that-Chris)

No matter what Chris has to say, Hezonja is an exciting prospect because his strengths translate to the NBA game. He will likely need some time to polish his game, but if he were available when it's the Hornets' turn to pick, they should take him.