Mario Hezonja could decide the Portland Trail Blazers fate next season

Portland Trail Blazers - Mario Hezonja (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers - Mario Hezonja (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

A seemingly small addition on a minimum contract, Mario Hezonja could still be the deciding factor for the Portland Trail Blazers in next year’s playoffs.

As the former No. 5 pick, the Croatian star Mario Hezonja has had high expectations placed on his shoulders his whole career. While he has failed to live up to them thus far, perhaps he can grow into his potential and play a big role for the Portland Trail Blazers next season.

Recently signing with the Blazers on a minimum deal with a player option attached, Hezonja presents himself as a low-risk, high-upside for a contending team with no money to blow on big name free agents. All things considered, picking up ‘Super Mario’ was a very smart gamble.

The current state of the league seems more balanced than ever with superstar duos sprouting up left and right. While Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be expected to carry the brunt of the offensive effort, Hezonja is Portland’s newest secret weapon stashed up their sleeve.

Mario has already proven to have highlight-reel talent. Who could forget that game-winning block on LeBron James? Or the dunk and Iverson-esque taunting on league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo?

While Hezonja has displayed the capability of making plays against the league’s top talent, he’s yet to prove he can do it consistently. This is precisely why a change of scenery makes him the perfect candidate to surprise people next season.

Portland is already renowned for its healthy locker room culture and player-driven environment. Every player that suits up for the Blazers has nothing but good things to say about head coach Terry Stotts, Lillard and co.

In comparison to the tragically poor player development departments in New York and Orlando, Portland seems like a god-send. For the first time in Hezonja’s career, he will have the tools necessary to become the best version of himself and reach his full potential.

And the Blazers will absolutely need him to. The only positive wing defender they have on the roster is Kent Bazemore. Standing 6-foot-5 tall and weighing in at 200 pounds, Bazemore can’t reasonably be expected to take on the NBA’s most dominant forwards like LeBron, Giannis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

With an extra three inches and 25 pounds on his frame, Hezonja matches up far better with the best of the best. Portland is almost certain to see at least two of the aforementioned players in the playoffs en route to a championship chase, and Hezonja must be prepared to assume the role of becoming Super


star’s Kryptonite.

He won’t have to do it all alone either. The newly signed Pau Gasol should serve as an excellent mentor for the young European wing. Hezonja’s shot and pick-and-roll game stand to improve immensely by working with the NBA champion and future Hall of Famer. These skills will be especially vital considering Mario can play a bit of point-forward, allowing the Blazers to sport a versatile lineup all around.

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If Hezonja shows promise in training camp, you can expect the Portland Trail Blazers to take it and run with it. While playing with a contender may not do his stat sheet any good, perhaps it will allow Mario to prove to the league that he’s ready for the limelight and can contribute to a winner.