Even the most loving and longstanding relationship can get a little stale after awhile. Mario Hezonja, Orlando's super-swaggery and ultra-talented rookie, can help.
Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Even the strongest relationships are in constant danger of fizzling. The love remains, but the fire, once roaring, is now the lazy, sodium orange of a struck match. Every so often, we have to feed the fire—not too much, lest we smother it, but enough to build it back up again. Do something new, something unexpected, something that reminds your partner of the passion you once shared. Go to Paris, cook dinner, give a massage, whatever. You have to try something.
Even the things we love can be tiresome after a while. That's just the way of life. Our relationship with sports can often follow this same path. After a while, a dunk is a dunk is a dunk. A pick-and-roll is just another stupid pick-and-roll, even if Chris Paul is orchestrating it.
We need a spark, something that reminds us why we love this sport. A mix of novelty and sizzle, of confidence and potential. We need Mario Fucking Hezonja.
The Croatian rookie is not a breath of fresh air—that's entirely too mild and pleasant of a metaphor. He is something nastier, something wilder and more enticing. He's a pair of fuzzy pink handcuffs, a blindfold, and a selection of scented oils. You might say this is overly erotic. I would direct you to Hezonja's extremely sexual bounce-pass alley-oop. He's the spice we need to reinvigorate our relationship with basketball.
The Orlando Magic need Hezonja as much as—OK, probably more than—we do. Every team needs that one player who operates outside of its normal confines. They keep defenses guessing, zigging when everyone thinks they should zag, pulling up when they should drive, hurling no-look passes that surprises even their teammates.
Hezonja has this sort of fluid, fresh game—exceptional athleticism that leads to riveting dunks; a quick, smooth stroke that allows him to get his shot off in any situation; janky dribble moves to throw off his man—and the brash confidence needed to harness it. By now, you've undoubtedly heard of his various cocky exploits. He dapped up the opposing coach after nailing a backbreaking three right in front of him; when asked about whether he was interested in watching Lionel Messi, he said Messi can come watch him. If those aren't enough to send a tingle down to your nether regions, especially with a NBA that's increasingly brand-sensitive and polished, then you are beyond help.
In Hezonja, we see a bit of Manu Ginobili, a player so unfazed by fear that you wonder if he even knows the meaning of the word. For years, Ginobili has existed just beyond Gregg Popovich's otherwise rigid San Antonio Spurs system. At times, it has driven Pop insane. It has also been an invaluable part of the Spurs' five championships.
The key for these players, and the most important factor in Hezonja's development, is knowing when to improvise and when to follow the rules. Ginobili has perfected this balancing act: he'll still make mistakes, but as Pop himself has often said, the good far outweighs the bad. J.R. Smith, not so much.
Hezonja will need to find this balance quickly if he's going to get time under world-historic hard-ass Scott Skiles, a coach who favors rigidity and to-the-letter execution. He'll also need to prove a commitment to Skiles's aggressive, tantric defense, because if you don't defend under Skiles, you won't see the floor. This has always been the question for Hezonja: He has the athleticism and the physical measurements to be a great defender, but does he care enough about the less glamorous side of the ball?
He should be given ample opportunity to prove himself, and not just because he was the fourth pick in the draft. Hezonja also provides something few other players on the Magic do: shooting. Elfrid Payton, though undeniably fun, has trouble hitting free throws, much less three pointers. Victor Oladipo has improved, but he's still much more Dwyane Wade than Ray Allen. C.J. Watson should help, as should Channing Frye if he can rediscover his rhythm following a disastrous first season in Orlando. Hezonja shot 38 percent from deep last year, and there's no reason to think he'll regress in the NBA.
There's no other player on the Magic's roster that carries Hezonja's physical advantages, basketball skills and rock-hard self-belief. Nobody can do what he can do. It's just a matter of whether he'll be able to do all of those things while playing for Skiles.
For the past two seasons, we've waited for the Magic's core to become something more than a wealth of young talent, and each season we've been disappointed. This year is a different story. This year, the Magic are unpredictable in a way that's both alarming and alluring. They have the rookie that will spice up their offense and liven up their fans. They have Mario Hezonja, and there is no safe word.