Holding the fifth pick in Thursday night's NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic were in the perfect spot to make a splash. As the pick drew closer, tension began to build: would the team get Kristaps Porzingis, the stretch four from Latvia, or would they have to settle for one of the wings available? Could they shock everyone and take point guard Emmaunel Mudiay?
With the team finally on the clock, rumors began flying that the team would select Mario Hezonja, the talented, sharpshooting wing from FC Barcelona. A live feed in the Magic's "war room" showed general manager Rob Hennigan and co. sharing a round of high fives as though things played out just like they wanted them to.
Sure enough, the pick was Hezonja. Hennigan, with coach Scott Skiles following closely, spoke with the media, saying they were thrilled to get the Croatian national. They later added that he was their guy the entire time and they were thrilled when the draft worked out, more or less, how they expected it to with the first four selections.
The 20-year-old Hezonja has been playing basketball overseas since the tender age of 11, including the last three years with Spanish league powerhouse FC Barcelona. While his minutes fluctuated, mainly due to his young age, the always-confident Hezonja did not fail to impress when he was on the floor. While his averages of 5.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game across 63 games last season may not impress NBA fans--some of that can be traced to his fluctuating minutes--Hezonja was able to put up big scoring nights, while shooting at an extremely efficient rate.
While some may view it as a concern that Hezonja's minutes fluctuated as much as they did, Hennigan did not, taking a positive view on it. "His minutes really fluctuated to the extreme ends of the spectrum at times, and I think it was a credit to Mario to stay ready whenever his number was called or whenever he was given minutes, so we viewed that as a positive," said Hennigan.
As is the case with many international players, questions arise as to whether or not they will be coming over the for the season following their selection. With Hezonja, the questions were answered quickly and in short fashion, with Hennigan saying there was a "tremendous" chance he'd play for the team next season. Hezonja, calling in from Barcelona, said he would be with his club for "a few more days" before flying to Orlando so the team could formally introduce him.
With Barcelona's season having just ended, the chances Hezonja plays the entirety of the upcoming Orlando Pro Summer League are slim-to-none. Hennigan alluded to the fact that the team wanted to give their new prized possession some time off, saying he "might play in one or two games" during the week. If Hezonja does indeed suit up for the team, he'll be playing with the likes of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Devyn Marble and second-round selection Tyler Harvey.
It will undoubtedly take a little bit of time for Hezonja to adjust to the NBA's style of play, but with the right work, could turn into a phenomenal player. He has room to continue to grow on both ends, and when all is said and done, could be one of the better players taken in this years draft.
Needless to say, in the end, Hezonja ended up the perfect guy for the Magic, and they didn't waste any time snatching him up.