HOUSTON – Who needs Kyrie Irving?
Mario Hezonja was joking when he called himself the replacement for the All-Star in free agency, but he was genuinely ecstatic about his first start at point guard, which resulted in a triple-double.
Of course, it also resulted in a blowout defeat: 120-96. But that’s par for the course for the Knicks (15-64), who are on the brink of securing the worst season in franchise history.
After his 16-point, 16-rebound, 11-assist performance, Hezonja made something akin to an award speech.
“Thank you coach David Fizdale, thank you (assistant) coach (Keith) Smart. They were putting me in this position since the beginning of the season,” the Croat said. “You guys couldn’t see it because we have a lot of guys to develop and respect. But I’m so thankful to them for putting me in that spot. As I said this morning, when I was growing up, it wasn’t you’re only a center, you’re only a shooter, you’re only doing hooks and stuff like that. You’re a basketball player so I always developed like that, so it was always my natural position back home. So I’m thankful to them and thank you to Scott Skiles, my first coach in Orlando. He also put me at point guard my rookie year. So I’m really thankful.”
When asked if showing off his point guard skills would help his free agency value in July, Hezonja cracked, “I guess, so they don’t have to get a point guard, right? Kyrie, right? Yeah, that’s me now.”
Hezonja is a 6-foot-8 power forward under normal circumstances, but was thrust into the lead guard Friday because all the others were injured. On the surface, it seemed absurd. But apparently Hezonja played the position growing up and sometimes as a rookie with the Orlando Magic. He didn’t like the suggestion from a reporter that it’s not his natural position.
“How do you know?” Hezonja said. “Do you watch basketball?”
Confidence is Hezonja’s calling card. But even with the triple-double on his record, Fizdale wouldn’t commit to playing Hezonja at point guard in the remaining three games of the season. Frank Ntilikina is out for the season, but Dennis Smith Jr. and Emmanuel Mudiay are expected to return from their ailments.