The Orlando Magic had high hopes for the second year of their fifth overall selection. Mario Hezonja failed to meet any of them as his NBA skill left him.
Draft position is just a number. Where a player is drafted begins not to matter after some time. It is like college grades after you get your first job. They do not matter in the long run, they just get you that first chance. At a certain point, work product matters more.
Draft position is not just a number. It sets expectations for a player’s contributions. It is an asset that has immense value until it is used, then it becomes like a car driving off the dealership lot. It loses value quickly.
And when that number is fairly high, there is a fair bit of expectation. That is a massive asset to use. the kind of pick that should help turn a franchise around.
Mario Hezonja faced all these pressures. As the fifth overall pick in a decent draft, the Orlando Magic were hoping he would be able to contribute fairly quickly as he continued to improve. With the team eyeing the Playoffs, they hoped they would be able to get some quality minutes from the second year player.
Hezonja showed plenty of flashes of his brilliance his rookie year. He had that irrational confidence that made him an Internet darling before the Draft and could hit shots. His passing ability was better than advertised and he had a lot of good court sense.
About the only thing that seemed lacking with him was defensive understanding. And under demanding coach Scott Skiles, that made it hard for him to gain trust.
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Frank Vogel is another demanding defensive-minded coach, albeit one who brings his young players along a bit more gently. Hezonja was going to get his opportunity to continue growing and play meaningful minutes.
Throughout the 2017 season, though, Hezonja failed to live up to even the smallest expectations. His shot disappeared, and he quickly got the hook from the rotation.
His defense was improved but mostly toward the end of the season. It was hard for the Magic to throw Hezonja out there other than that flimsy “he was the fifth overall pick” excuse.
It is not the time to give up on Hezonja by any means, but this second season for the young Croatian forward was certainly a disappointment. He failed to stay on the floor and be a contributor for a team that desperately needed him to give them even just a little bit.
By the end, the Magic were experimenting with Hezonja’s position. They played him at power forward to give him a speed advantage on the perimeter and hide some of his defensive deficiencies. It seems like the only way the team could get him on the floor as he was one of the few players the Magic absolutely had to play down the stretch.
It is far from time to give up on Hezonja. But this was not an encouraging season and he faces a big offseason to prove he belongs in the league.