2018-2019 Off the Glass Breakout Players Series: James Ennis
With the 2018-2019 NBA season fast approaching, Off the Glass is making predictions on who the breakout players of each team will be. Today we look at James Ennis from the Houston Rockets.
Yes, I know that photo is three teams ago. My breakout argument for James Ennis hinges on him rediscovering the magic he had during his short stint with the New Orleans Pelicans. His numbers are eye-popping for someone who has been largely considered a fringe NBA player.
Check him out. In those nine games, Ennis took 50 threes, connecting on 24 of them. His efficient 16 points on 11 shots while chipping in a steal and four boards is a Moreyball wing dream come true. Move on over, Melo -- the only thing that could stop this guy was the season ending!
Slotting into the interchangeable forward spot, Ennis’ main duty on offense is going to be sprinting the floor to an open corner to draw a defender away from the paint. His development as an off-ball player has led to his shot distribution being already on par with Houston standards. For his career, nearly 80% of his shots have come at the rim or behind the three-point line and long twos make up a paltry 7% of his shot selection.
Ennis is well within the range of playing small ball four, sporting a 6’11 wingspan in the Rockets’ switch everything defensive scheme. He’s capable of defending positions 1-4 but could probably use an injection of effort to take his defense to another level.
The spacing will bring out the best of his physical gifts as his ability to attack the rim on straight line drives will be available most trips down the floor. A more than capable transition finisher, Ennis will be the beneficiary of plenty Chris Paul and James Harden cross court passes for thunderous dunks. Watch out for Ennis crashing the offensive boards as he slips in along the baseline or hangs out in the paint after cuts that coincides with a Rockets three.
Ennis isn’t going to excite every night with his well utilized off-ball play but will be a steadying presence on the wing. He’ll have his highlight dunks and efficient games but Gerald Green will out highlight him and Tucker will always be slightly more efficient by his defense and ability to never shoot anything except corner 3s (they account for an improbable 70% of his career three point attempts). Ennis has shot 38% from the corner in his career, so while even Anthony will have greater scoring barrages on hot nights expect, Ennis to be solid all around throughout the season.
I’m definitely in on Ennis but won’t call it an island since that’s Dion Waiters territory and Ennis isn’t flashy enough for his own island. Still, I think this guy has a chance to be great this year and I want a place to stake my claim. James Ennis Terrace? No. How about Vista? James Ennis Vista. Yeah, I can live with that.
OK. Now that we’re sufficiently hyped on Houston’s 6th or 7th option on offense this season let's remind ourselves Ennis isn’t a natural basketball player but more so an athlete with basketball skills. The feel and flow you see in the vast majority of NBA players doesn’t exist for him and he struggles heavily to create his own shot or break defenders down off the dribble.
Enter the Houston Rockets offense: where the action is isolated to a lone creator cooking out on the perimeter and wings players substitute feel and flow for stand and shoot.
As awful on the eyes as the Houston offense can be, it does generate more handsome looks than Memphis or Detroit was able to afford Ennis in the past. He should be salivating for an opportunity to play alongside two top five distributors in Paul and Harden with the ability to enter free agency after this season by declining his $1.8 million player option.
Ennis has yet to claim his first big NBA payday and is hoping to cash in with plenty of teams having cap space and needing to spend after they miss out on the big name stars. For once, it appears there are far more orchestras than conductors available. You can picture Ennis saying to himself “You mean to tell me Trevor Ariza clanked everything in Game 7 of the Western Finals and Luc Mbah a Moute couldn’t hit a lay-up but they still grabbed a total of $19 million this offseason? In a tight market!? Stop the dribbling Harden and pass me the ball.”
All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com.