#21 – Terrance Ferguson – Oklahoma City Thunder

Even in spite of everything this time, Mario Hezonja continues to be a troublesome NBA prospect to nail down.

In between flashes of immense athleticism and a multi-positional expertise, there have been weeks and weeks that Hezonja, 22, spent glued to the Orlando Magic bench. Often uncooked and inconsistent, regular enjoying time had been troublesome for Hezonja to lock down over the early levels of his profession, sometimes surpassed by veterans with longer leashes and profession resumes. This up-and-down partnership would ultimately result in Orlando declining Hezonja’s possibility for a fourth-year on the finish of October, a transfer that may make him an unrestricted free agent within the summertime.

But since that decision — and in due to one of many NBA’s most unlucky record of accidents — the Magic have come to depend on the Croatian playmaker fairly a bit not too long ago. Over the final 19 video games, Hezonja has averaged 11.2 factors and three.9 rebounds (even becoming a member of the beginning lineup in 9 of those video games). As he now creeps towards a career-high in minutes per recreation, Hezonja has chalked up the new-found success to staying in rhythm.

“It’s all about the rhythm, I’ve been working — actual work, after practice, before practice, all the extra steps to maintain the rhythm,” Hezonja advised Basketball Insiders. “Even though practice is different than actual games, the minutes and being on the court helps with the rhythm and everything else comes naturally to me.”

Before he was completely inserted into the Magic rotation in early December, there have been 11 situations by which Hezonja performed lower than 10 minutes in a contest and he racked up seven DNPs alongside the best way. Unsurprisingly, Hezonja isn’t all that eager about padding his statistics or working towards career-highs — no, what he needs is to assist the Magic flip their sinking season round.

“I shoot to make. I’m not into percentages, I’m not paying attention to that,” Hezonja mentioned. “I just want to make every shot that I take — that’s what I’m working toward because I just want to win games.”

Of course, Orlando started the 12 months as an sudden darkish horse and soared out to an Eight-Four file, a perch that neared the highest of the Eastern Conference. Then the laundry record of accidents got here arduous and quick. First, it was Jonathan Isaac, then Terrence Ross. Starters Aaron Gordon (9) and Evan Fournier (eight) have each missed a piece of video games, whereas heart Nikola Vucevic has been sidelined since Christmas.

These accidents have decimated the Magic, who now sit within the convention’s basement-dwelling 15th place at 14-33. Acting as considered one of Orlando’s brightest developments this season, fortunately, Hezonja has definitely regarded the half over his run of prolonged minutes. Naturally, Hezonja says that the correlation between his elevated function and subsequent statistical output just isn’t a coincidence.

“The minutes are big. If I had them before, maybe these [numbers] would’ve come before, but now it’s all coming together,” Hezonja mentioned. “I’m telling you, it’s all about rhythm, so all the things comes after that.

“Injuries suck — they’ve pushed us a little bit behind, but I don’t think that’s the reason why I’m playing.”

As a highly-touted European prospect, the expectations for the 6-foot-Eight Croatian — who was picked at No. 5 total in 2015, forward of gamers like Myles Turner and Devin Booker — have all the time loomed massive. But whereas he bounced out and in of the rotation for 2 completely different head coaches, many started to marvel if the proficient Hezonja would ever take the subsequent step. With the minutes in tremendous provide as of late, nevertheless, Hezonja has performed his most constant stretch of basketball since he arrived within the NBA.

Fans and entrance workplaces alike are obsessive about discovering ready-made prospects within the draft, so when a participant like Hezonja didn’t instantly take the league by storm, the destructive chatter inevitably started. But aggressive as they arrive, the 22-year-old was in a position to reply the decision when head coach Frank Vogel wanted any person to step up because the variety of accidents and losses grew by the sport,

All of a sudden, Orlando could come to remorse declining that staff possibility.

“Every year, I’ve improved — mostly in the off-season. During the season, you will learn from other guys who learned from opponents and what they do,” Hezonja advised Basketball Insiders. “You discuss to folks and all the things that you just do over time is so useful.

“You win, you improve. You lose, you improve — it’s unbelievable. It’s how the NBA works and it’s amazing, I’ve definitely gotten better every year.”

Not solely has Hezonja discovered his area of interest as a proficient scorer, however he’s even performed it throughout 4 completely different positions in his younger profession as effectively. Beyond his assumed appearances at taking pictures guard and small ahead, Hezonja as soon as flirted with the concept of level guard throughout his rookie 12 months below former head coach Scott Skiles. Under Vogel, Hezonja has gone the opposite path to energy ahead, the place he often punishes slower defenders in his ever-confident trend.

Since Dec. 13, Hezonja has crossed the double-digit threshold in 12 of his final 19 video games, topping out with a perspective-altering 28 factors on Eight-for-12 from three-point vary towards the Detroit Pistons. No matter the place he performs or who guards him, Hezonja has rapidly turn out to be a useful member of Orlando’s rotation. When requested about his positional flexibility, Hezonja once more targeted again to the staff.

“Yes, I’m expecting to play center next year,” Hezonja advised Basketball Insiders jokingly. “It’s about how I can help the team from other spots, especially with the injuries and now that we don’t have enough guys, I’m covering basically three positions. It’s definitely helpful for my individual game, but it’s helped the team too.”

Nevertheless, these whispers haven’t completely subsided.

Hezonja, together with Fournier and Payton, might be moved earlier than the Feb. Eight deadline, in line with Marc Stein of the New York Times. While the declined fourth-year possibility may go away the door open for an agreeable return to Orlando, rival executives count on Jeff Weltman — Orlando’s staff president — to “aggressively hunt” for a Hezonja deal within the coming weeks. Amidst the endless commerce rumors and his soon-to-be first-ever journey to free company, it might be comprehensible if Hezonja was a little bit distracted nowadays.

But even with an undecided future, Hezonja isn’t anxious about new contracts or alternatives, not even the rumors themselves. Hezonja has been down this street earlier than — he cropped up in commerce rumors final season too — so he is aware of that this received’t probably be the final time both. Undeterred by all of the noise, Hezonja is lastly breaking out and producing a few of his most interesting moments on an NBA court docket but — and he’s able to carry on rising as effectively.

“Rumors, they always show up late, but it’s all from before because we changed a lot of people, we changed the front office, so everything pops out — everybody talks about different stuff,” Hezonja advised Basketball Insiders. “I wasn’t paying consideration in any respect to it — I imply, I’m not on Twitter, I barely use Instagram, so I’m not swiping, I’m not a typical athlete these days.

“I’m really focused on basketball, that’s why I’m here in America, so I really don’t care about anything else.”

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