When the Knicks and coach David Fizdale put the ball in the hands of Mario Hezonja, inserting him in the starting lineup and letting him run the offense, no one other than maybe Hezonja expected much.
Hezonja scoffed at the notion that, at 6-8 and having spent most of his brief career as a power forward or small forward, he wasn’t equipped to serve as the point guard as the Knicks ran down the final days of a lost season.
After he put up numbers in the past three games that were unlike anything he’d done before, he shrugged at the question of whether he could have helped his own pending free agency by being given the ball earlier. He remains confident that he’ll do well this summer on the market — and would love it if he could get some of the Knicks’ cap space.
“I’m ready to talk to [Madison Square Garden executive chairman James] Dolan,” Hezonja said. “If he gives me that call on July 1, we’re done. But yeah, my second family is in this organization. Steve [Mills] was the guy that first called me when Phil Jackson was here. Scott Perry drafted me. Fiz came to L.A. to bring me here. [Assistant coach Keith Smart], he’s like my second father right here. So just wonderful relationships with everybody in the organization. The city embraced me to the fullest. I just love playing here.
“We’ll see. But also, free agency, that was my first time last year, so I know it’s crazy. People calling all over the place and all those All-Stars and everything. I’ll be patient. But we all know where I want to be. We’ll see.”
Hezonja started his run Wednesday with a career-high 29 points in Orlando. Fizdale started him as a gift when the Knicks played in the city he called home for his first three seasons against the team that made Hezonja the No. 5 overall pick in 2015.
With Emmanuel Mudiay and four other point guards sidelined Friday, Fizdale started Hezonja at point guard against the Rockets and he responded with a 16-point, 16-rebound, 11-assist triple-double.
With Dennis Smith Jr. returning Sunday from injury, Fizdale brought him off the bench and kept Hezonja as the starting point guard. He had 30 points, six rebounds and five assists, delivering a three-point field goal in the final minute to help secure a 113-110 win over the Wizards.
Hezonja, 24, has no complaints that the ball wasn’t put in his hands earlier this season.
“We have a lot of young guys on this team,” he said. “They had to develop. So I wasn’t going to step in anybody’s lane or anything because there’s a lot of great talent in this locker room. This team can benefit a lot from playing them right now.
“I am still like one of the youngest guys on the team. I mean, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it a lot of times. I was in that situation in Orlando. I think it’s important the rookies feel it right, what this is about and how serious it is. They’re learning. It’s a learning experience for them.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to myself at all. I knew with my talent and my abilities I’d be fine, always. So I just want to help them and maximize their potential. I’ll be fine. Trust me.”