Mario Hezonja key to Orlando Magic’s Future Prospects

Jan 14, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Mario Hezonja (8) works out prior to their game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Mario Hezonja (8) works out prior to their game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

The continued development, or lack thereof, of Mario Hezonja is the determining factor on how long the Orlando Magic rebuild will take.

The Orlando Magic have been showing progress since they changed their lineup and went to a smaller lineup. Their offensive efficiency has improved and the team’s record seems to be taking a turn for the better.

But things are not perfect. The Magic still sometimes struggle to score in the half court. The team needs to develop or find a go-to scorer.

They hoped by now to have one on their roster. They had three straight years with top-five picks.

Originally Mario Hezonja was drafted for that very purpose.

The scouting report on Hezonja coming into the 2015 NBA Draft (from pegged him as an aggressive scorer with elite athleticism and questionable shot selection.  At the time, he was the final piece to the Magic’s young nucleus.

Two years later, he still has not gotten off the bench. His minutes were inconsistent throughout his second year as he struggled to find his rhythm. But his inconsistent play this season is not so surprising because play correlates to minutes. and minutes correlate to play.

Hezonja has not had the time to get comfortable and find a rhythm.

As the season winds to its final quarter and the Magic find themselves playing less meaningful games, the team needs to find out exactly what Hezonja can do. The Magic need to learn if Hezonja can do what he was drafted to do.

At the very least, the Magic need to learn exactly what Hezonja can provide and what role he plays in the franchise’s future.

Hezonja has been back in the rotation full-time for 13 games, including two starts. He is averaging 6.6 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from the floor and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Since the All-Star Break, Hezonja is averaging 19.5 minutes per game, scoring 6.6 points per game and shooting 41.5 percent from the floor and 29.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Hezonja has shown encouraging signs — especially some positive growth on defense — but he remains a mystery of what he can become.

Even with more consistent minutes off of the bench now, Hezonja is still not realizing his full potential. He is being pigeon-holed into a role that does not seem to fit him.

He runs to the corner and waits for someone to kick it out for the three. Hezonja is a passive player, used to spread the floor rather than attack. That is a far cry from an aggressive scorer.

And he is not very effective in this. According to’s player tracking statistics, Hezonja is making just 34.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities. He makes only 30.9 percent of his spot-up opportunities, scoring 0.81 points per possession.

Hezonja has hardly shined in other areas too.

As the pick and roll ball handler, Hezonja scores just 0.63 points per possession, making 31.8 percent of his shots. This is a limited sample of just 0.7 possessions per game as the pick and roll ball handler.

Hezonja has a 20.3 percent usage rate. He is not afraid to let it fly when he gets the opportunity. He just has not been efficient with the opportunities he gets.

It is hard to see exactly what Hezonja is efficient at. It is a testament to his mental makeup he keeps working, trying to fit in. But fitting in is not supposed to be his game.

He wants to do well so bad that when he does not, it affects him too much. The frustration is written all over his face. And he cannot hide it.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. So the organization will probably hold true to their “win-now” approach.  But as soon as they are eliminated they need to start looking toward the future.

Looking toward the future means they need to make a concerted effort to try to restore Hezonja’s confidence, increasing his usage and exploring different areas of his game. At a certain point, Hezonja should be less a spot-up shooter and more an aggressive playmaker.

He still has the skill-set and talent that could take the team to another level.

The Magic, at some point, will have to let him play more with the core rotation players rather than with the reserves. They will have to run plays designed to get him shots and allow him to make decisions on the ball.

It may seem a bit much to have to cater to a professional athlete, but the Magic are in no position to miss on another lottery pick. Orlando is not a popular free-agent destination now, so they should do everything they can in regards to player development.

Next: Elfrid Payton fits Orlando Magic's offense perfectly

The Magic invested a lottery pick in Mario Hezonja, and the time is coming to explore that investment and see if it can pay off. Or to see what role Hezonja can fill for the team moving forward, even if it is just a reserve one.