With the top three college prospects off the board – as well as some guy named Porzingis – the Orlando Magic took Croatian sharpshooter Mario Hezonja with the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday.
Never heard of him? Never seen him play?
Well, you will.
“Our European people were very high on him,” Magic senior vice president Pat Williams said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Our GM (Rob Hennigan) and personnel people made a number of trips to Europe, including one recently. I think they saw as much of the European players as they did the American guys. So it was (Kristaps) Porzingis and our guy, Mario. Those were the two (we were interested in), and wasn’t it interesting that they went back-to-back? The Knicks took their guy at 4, and we stayed in Europe and went right after it on 5 and got the guy that we liked. Our people were very high on him and really feel that he can be a quality player. It was quite interesting. I don’t remember two Europeans going that high in the top five. I’m not sure that’s ever happened.”
Hezonja, a 6-8 shooting guard and small forward, can both shoot from the perimeter and play above the rim. He’s not necessarily known for lockdown defense, but he’s a versatile scorer who the Magic hope can develop into an All-Star.
But what if Porzingis were still there at 5? Would Orlando have taken the 7-1 Latvian instead?
“Good question,” Williams said. “We liked him. We certainly knew him inside out as well. We would have been very tempted if this had been reversed. If the Knicks had taken our guy at 4, then yeah, we would have been looking at Porzingis. Everybody knew Porzingis. They know his strengths, they know his weaknesses. He’s a quality guy. Both of them are. And I think the Knicks did the right thing, even though the fans were not pleased. I’d have liked to poll the Knick fans last night and said, ‘All right, well who do you want?’”
As Tiki Barber pointed out, though, maybe Knicks fans don’t dislike Porzingis’ ability, but rather, his age. He’s 19. He also weighs just 210 pounds, which means it’s probably going to take three or four years for him to develop into a bona fide NBA player capable of contributing on a nightly basis.
That, however, is just the nature of today’s beast. Williams’ first draft was with the Chicago Bulls in 1970. That draft featured Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Calvin Murphy, Nate Archibald, Jim McMillan and Geoff Petrie, among others.
“All of them had played four years in college basketball,” Williams said. “All of them were 22 years old. Did we love that? You bet, you bet. However, over the years, players went to court saying we don’t have to be a four-year player. We can come out whenever we want – and the judges upheld that. And so that’s what we live with now. And so as you watched that draft unfold last night – through the lottery and beyond – they were all 19 years old. An ancient player would have been 20.”
Hezonja turned 20 in February.
“It’s just part of what we have to live with now,” Williams said. “So our coaches and their staffs are doing a lot of teaching, they’re doing a lot of educating, they’re doing a lot of life skills that we never worried about before. It’s just the nature of what pro basketball is. It’s not going to change. So last night really was a teenage draft if you’ve ever seen one.”