Next to Dario Saric, the team of KK Zagreb features some other highly talented players in their however small rotation. Let’s check who were the prospects that shined around the Croatian sensation for this year’s Nike International Junior Tournament winners.
Mario Hezonja was one of the sensations at the Qualification event in Rome and was considered as well one of the best prospects of the recent Jordan Brand Classic International Game in Charlotte. The 1m98 tall forward showed in Barcelona why this is the case and certain observers see even more potential in him than in Dario Saric. This comes probably from his excellent athletic abilities and the fact that he only turned 16 a few weeks ago. Hezonja even improved his stats compared to the event in Rome and averaged 21.0ppg (63.1% 2FGs – 34.5% 3FGs), 7.8rpg, 3.0spg and only 1.5topg in the 36 minutes on average that he was on the court.
Hezonja is a player that can create for himself in an impressive way. Great speed, excellent leaping abilities for a European player and a good three point shot make him a player where you could not say that he was two years younger than the competition. Mainly used as a shooter from the wing, Hezonja has a very fluid shot with a quick release when he has his feet set. He does not jump very high to take the shot when he is open and he converts his attempts at high percentages in these catch-and-shoot situations. When taking the jump shot out of the move or after a dribble, he has a lot more elevation but also less balance and is therefore not as effective when being set. This is a part of his game where Hezonja has still a progress margin as he has the good first step to create the necessary space for himself and to take the shot. He is often so fast in these movements that he does not go up straight and shots out of balance. But as said, having turned 16 a few weeks ago lets him the necessary time to adjust this.
The Croatian forward is excellent in the open court. He has a natural feel for attacking the basket in the fast break and is not afraid to dunk on people. Hezonja had several spectacular plays and when you want to point out one in particular, it was the break where he passed ball around his waist and back to score with the foul. When he puts the ball on the floor to attack the basket in the set play situations, Hezonja can go the whole way and he is not put in trouble by a physical defense. He guards his balance attacking the rim and can finish without problems against taller players. His ballhandling looks excellent for a wing of his size which is underlined as well by his limited number of turnovers in Barcelona. If Hezonja can stabilize his jump after the dribbling, he is for sure a highly interesting prospect to follow in the next years because he has already physical abilities that are necessary to play on the highest professional level.
Next to Hezonja, another player that had an excellent tournament in Barcelona was the guard Dominik Mavra. After being only a smaller factor in terms of scoring for the Croatian U16 team last summer, Mavra blossomed this season by playing for the 2nd league team of KK Moslavina where he is a regular top scorer on the Senior level. This experience helped him certainly to impress during the NIJT in Barcelona where he was 2nd best of his team KK Zagreb in terms of Ranking points with 27.8 per game. Mavra played a kind of combo-guard with KK Zagreb but it was hard to really give positions to the Croatian players as often Saric took over the whole control of the game.
First of all, Mavra is a scorer in the back court. He can create his own shot and is doing this especially well in the mid-range area. From this distance, he can either score with the floater or with the normal pull-up jump shot. Mavra can put the ball on the floor with either hand when he attacks and reads the defensive gaps very well in order to come closer to the basket. His shot is really quick and he can score in series which makes him very dangerous. As he is very aggressive attacking the basket, he draws a lot of fouls and he is an excellent (80%+) free-throw shooter. Next to be able to create his own shot, Mavra is doing a good job in catch-and-shoot situations. He fires immediately and this with a great and quick release.
Additionally, Mavra is an excellent rebounder for a player of his size. Being listed at 1m95, he averaged 7.5 rebounds per game in Barcelona. This was major improvement compared to the tournament in Rome, but Mavra improved nearly all his stats in a dramatic way compared with the Qualification event. Despite having excellent percentages and also averaging 3.3 assists per game, we had the impression that the Croatian guard struggled a bit in his decision making when he was running the point. He forced some decisions and took some out of balance shots in the Final during the moments where Dario Saric was on the bench because of a little cut.
The third player that I want to mention in the Dario Saric supporting cast is the inside guy Filip Knezevic. The 2m03 tall power forward is an extremely energetic offensive rebounder and therefore an important factor in the KK Zagreb team play. He does not go for any spectacular stuff but is hustling and battling for every ball. On the offensive end, he does only score on dishes from his team mates or after an offensive rebound. During the days in Barcelona, Knezevic averaged 4.0 offensive boards per game compared to only 1.8 rebounds on the defensive end. He is certainly not a super-star prospect but the kind of player that you need to have in your team to make the offense working.