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2015 NBA Draft Prospect Week: (Super) Mario Hezonja

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Mario Hezonja, a super talented Croatian playing in the Spanish ACB league, has both the talent and the ability to fill a glaring need on the Sixers. We take a look at the wing prospect in this edition previewing the 2015 NBA Draft.

Lluis Gene

A popular theme, both when referring to players the Sixers have drafted during Sam Hinkie's reign and also in the players we have thus far profiled for the 2015 draft, has been "man, can't we get just one guy who can shoot the ball?"

The Sixers have talked about shooting being one of those things that you can teach in a gym, and thus far it seems to be a secondary concern when they go about selecting their draft prospects (or acquiring them in trades, a la Tony Wroten) that they're looking to mold into basketball players down the line.

That's not to say that they don't value shooting.  With the offensive system that they employ, having guys who can actually make the shots that they prefer is clearly something they'll look to add (and develop) down the line.  As Sixers management progresses towards trying to find complementary pieces to whatever building blocks end up emerging from this talent acquisition phase, the ability to hit from the perimeter is likely to be one of the qualities that will be in high demand.

However, there are times when upside and the ability to hit from the perimeter aren't at odds.  Prospects who can not only shoot with accuracy now, but who also have the size, athleticism, skill, and mentality to be a dynamic and versatile player.

One such prospect is Croatian guard Mario Hezonja.

(Note: Hezonja will be on the Croatian team with Dario Saric at the FIBA world cup later this month).

Playing his first full season at the top level of the ACB, Hezonja, while limited to only 12.2 minutes per game, showcased many of the skills that make him so tantalizing as a prospect.  Standing 6'8", with a frame that looks like it could fill out down the line, to go with an incredible first step and leaping ability, Hezonja has a great physical profile for an NBA wing prospect.

As previously mentioned, he can also shoot it from the perimeter.  While not the quickest release in the world, it's  smooth (actually smooth, not Kevin Martin goes-in-smooth), repeatable, and with a high release point.  He was virtually automatic with his feet set last season, something that the Sixers desperately need when paired next to Michael Carter-Williams.

He's not quite as automatic off the dribble, which is one area that I'd love to see improvement in, since he's such a tough guard when coming off of picks due to his athleticism and ability to get to the rim, adding another dimension that defenders have to worry about would only make him tougher to guard.  He shows some potential shooting off the dribble, as his form, footwork, and balance aren't what I would classify as anything resembling broken, but clearly needs more repetition.  Also, his shot selection plays a role in his inconsistency in this regard, as he frequently forces up tough, contested shots.

Potential Future Sixers

Hezonja is far more than just a set shooter, though.  He has a very, very good first step, and is able to blow by his initial defender with seemingly little effort.  While his change of pace moves aren't all that developed, likely at least partially because he has such an advantage with his first step, he does have strong, capable handles with either hand, and shows an ability to change direction relatively easily.  He could stand to add a little bit of strength, as, despite his incredible leaping ability and solid touch he sometimes struggles finishing around the hoop through contact, but he just turned 19 years old, and looks to have a frame that he can add more weight to.

He even shows some pretty good potential as a defender, with good length, lateral mobility, and a willingness to commit himself on the defensive end in man-man situations.  His technique -- and decision making -- break down at times on this end, but there are clearly tools to work with.  He does struggle quite a bit with focus when he's off the ball, though, as he's easily screened and loses position as he's ball watching, and gets himself out of position gambling for steals frequently.  Again, there are tools to work with, but he has some habits to overcome on this side of the court.

It's those bad habits, in all phases of the game, that put into question how good he will ultimately be.  His questionable shot selection has already been mentioned, and that alone limits his effectiveness on that end of the court, as right now his talent level far exceeds his impact.  He can at times over-dribble on the perimeter, and he settles for contested pull-up jump shots at a rate that would probably drive statistically minded Sam Hinkie borderline insane.  He shows some real skill as a passer, and with his ball handling and first step, he will have plenty of opportunity to create for his teammates, but he goes through bouts of tunnel vision.  His focus on the defensive end comes and goes, and his body language is something that has been oft-mentioned as a negative in his favor.

The concerns with Hezonja are almost all decision making and approached based, as he has the physical profile and talent to be a very good player in the NBA and the talent to fill exactly the kind of need the Sixers have.  Which is why Hezonja spending another year in the incredibly competitive ACB is a good thing for decision makers.  The ACB is considered by most to be the best league in Europe, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that it's the best basketball outside of the NBA.  How well Hezonja, who will still just be 19 years old for much of the season, is able to adapt to the level of competition -- and, perhaps more importantly, his own teammates -- could go a long way to quelling many of the concerns previously mentioned.