When the young star from Croatia named Mario Hezonja got picked 5th in the 2015 Draft by the Orlando Magic, expectations from fans were sky-high. And with sound reasoning. A super athletic 6'8" wing with a sweet shooting stroke seemed like the perfect player for the modern NBA, but things simply didn't pan out well. Now, Mario is one of the best players in Europe, not regretting his decision of going back even a little bit.
Reviving his career
Hezonja spent five seasons in the NBA, playing for the Magic, Knicks, and Blazers. Although Mario had some sparks and amazing highlights, overall, he never quite managed to find his place and role with any team. Averaging only 6.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, and 1.3apg in 18.4 minutes per game just wasn't enough to satisfy the hungry and ambitious Hezonja.
So after the bubble, Hezonja didn't sign with any NBA team, leaving the door open for a return to Europe. After proving he can still ball out with the greek side Panathinaikos, Hezonja signed for Unics Kazan, emerging as one of the biggest stars in the Euroleague.
Before Unics got suspended from the Euroleague due to the war circumstances, Mario posted some of the best individual numbers in the best league outside of the NBA. Also, in the VTB league, Hezonja managed to win the dunk contest and All-Star game MVP while finishing second in the three-point contest, proving he can do everything on the court.
Obviously, his play sparked rumors of a possible return to the NBA, now more mature at 27 years old, but Mario himself shut those down, even dissing the league.
"No. There was a lot I didn't like there. I am not going to return to the NBA. I didn't get the respect I deserved. Also, in my opinion, the NBA is more a show than the game itself."
Mario Hezonja, Tatar Inform
We sometimes hear international players that dominate overseas say that the style of the NBA simply doesn't suit them. It's no secret the NBA is a product that sells thanks to its flashiness and star power, more than real basketball. But that doesn't mean it's all about the show.
The NBA has found a good balance of combining basketball and the show aspect, attracting a lot of fans globally. But particular players that are all about basketball simply sometimes can't find themselves in that system, and that's alright.
It's a shame someone as talented as Hezonja won't ever make it in the NBA, but dominating in Europe might be the best way to go for him and his career.