3. Signs Of Defensive Improvement
It’s unlikely that Mario Hezonja will develop into an All-Defense level player at any point in his NBA career. He has the physical tools to become a quality defender, however, as well as the recent signs of improvement that suggest he’s closing in on that possibility.
Hezonja is still a subpar defender, but in 2017-18, he flashed clear signs of improvement that likely intrigued David Fizdale and the New York Knicks.
2017-18 was the first time in Hezonja’s three-year NBA career that he produced a positive Defensive Box Plus-Minus. He also set career-best marks in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and Defensive Win Shares, and held opponents to 35.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
By comparison: Hezonja allowed opponents to shoot 43.7 percent from distance in 2016-17—a startling difference of 8.0 percent.
There’s a clear possibility that Hezonja’s defense in 2017-18 won’t last, as he was playing for a great defensive coach in Frank Vogel. He was also surrounded by indifferent defenders, however, and should be uplifted by the quality of his teammates in New York.
Standing at 6’8″ with a plus wingspan and more than adequate athleticism, there would be no excuse for Hezonja playing anything less than average defense by the end of 2018-19.