Ex-Knicks exec calls ‘bulls–t’ on Mario Hezonja starting mystery

Mario Hezonja’s starting small forward stretch, which has reached nine games, has been what you’d least expect — all defense, no offense.

“Super Mario can pass, defend, rebound, too,’’ Hezonja cracked. “Super Mario’s not just, ‘Hey, damn he scored, he’s so good,’ or, ‘Oh he didn’t score, he’s so bad.’”

It’s been a slight mystery how Hezonja, averaging 5.3 points in the nine straight games as a starter, has kept his starting role. Does he have pictures?

Knicks coach David Fizdale, since last week, has raved about his length, spirited defense and veteran savvy at the 3.

Hezonja, thrilled to be starting, has embraced the notion he doesn’t have to be a scorer hunting for shots as his reputation suggests. He’s looking to set a good example for the NBA’s youngest team as a facilitator and defender.

Of course, he’d like to put the ball in the hoop, too. His shooting performance this season is a ghastly 37.8 percent — 25.7 from 3. In the nine-game stint, he has only made 17 of 52 shots.

“This is what I should be doing, but I need to score more,’’ the always garrulous Hezonja said. “I’m doing other things. I’m more focused on doing the right things and not being selfish out there. Playing the right basketball because we are the youngest team in the league and this matters.

“I don’t want young guys to look at me and I’m doing BS out there. Then what do you expect from them? What are they going to do? I’m definitely trying to play the right way.’’

Clarence Gaines Jr., former Knicks top adviser to team president Phil Jackson and now the team’s top Twitter instigator, is not buying this Hezonja all-defense gibberish from Fizdale.

In a tweet Thursday before the Celtics game, Gaines Jr., who had criticized Hezonja’s defense earlier in the season against Boston, wrote:

“…I’ll say this about Fizdale’s ‘I love the way Hezonja’s defending’ comment – ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bulls–t.’”

Nevertheless, Hezonja is enjoying the defensive image Fizdale is trying to project. However, it doesn’t appear Hezonja has yet played well enough to increase his chances of being a long-term Knick.

Signed to a one-year, $6.5 million deal for most of the mid-level exception, he’s probably just keeping the starting small forward seat warm for cold-shooting lottery pick Kevin Knox. The former Kentucky star has gone 7 of 22 since his 27-point breakout vs. Milwaukee.

“I try to impact the game more with more responsibility, trying to get guys open looks and play defense and that’s about it,’’ Hezonja said. “The role will expand and I’ll get better and better. I’m really enjoying all these challenges. I’m learning from it. It doesn’t affect me that I step back from scoring. I know that I’m playing 20 minutes a game. I’m just out there trying defend as hard as possible.”

Sources in Orlando have said Hezonja was happier in the starting lineup. And Knicks GM Scott Perry was in Orlando for Hezonja’s first two rocky years there. Perry was part of a front office that made Hezonja, 23, the fifth overall pick in 2015.

“Absolutely,’’ Hezonja said when asked if he’s more adept at starting. “Because you’re right into it. I’m the type of guy when the game starts, I’m ready for it. From the bench, you never know what’s going to happen the first few minutes of the game — do you come in with the lead, come in losing? You still have to have that killer mentality. Coming off bench, you’re in a scoring role. It’s a little bit difficult. I love the starting lineup.’’

Fizdale said at the 25-game mark, he’d have a starting lineup set. The Knicks are 8-18 and the coach admits things are still fluid. Plus, Kristaps Porzingis should be back in the new year.

The quintet of Emmanuel Mudiay, Tim Hardaway Jr., Hezonja, Noah Vonleh and Enes Kanter will be trotted out for the 10th straight game when Brooklyn visits Saturday. Fizdale likes the more veteran unit than his three-rookie alignment of the past.

“I have more responsibility now,’’ Hezonja said. “I like these challenges.’’

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