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Can James Ennis Continue His New Orleans Success with the Memphis Grizzlies?

We know he was good in NOLA, but where did he excel? Can he do it on Beale Street?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers
James Ennis (8) dunks against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

James Ennis was a Grizzly, if only briefly last season, and his time in Memphis was aggressively unremarkable. He played only 40 minutes in ten games and put up 13 shots for 16 total points. It was a classic Grizzlies scenario of a young dude being tacked onto a trade, then never seeing the court.

Ennis, 26, was part of the Mario Chalmers deal that sent Beno Udrih to the Miami Heat. He didn’t last long before being waived by the team and subsequently signing a ten-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, where he finished the season.

The Grizzlies’ front office never lost faith in Ennis, choosing to sign him back to the team this offseason on a two-year, $6 million deal. Presumably they also liked what they saw of Ennis in his nine games in the Big Easy.

Memphis Grizzlies v Chicago Bulls
James Ennis (8) attempts a layup against the Chicago Bulls.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Statistically, he was MUCH better than he had ever been anywhere in his career in nine games in New Orleans. Ennis started five games and averaged 15.9 points in 31.3 minutes per game on 50 percent shooting and 48 percent shooting from three. In his final two games, he scored 29 and 28 points respectively.

His shot selection, according to Basketball Reference, was more than ideal. He took 39 percent of all his field goal attempts from within three feet of the rim, and another 50 percent of those attempts were from three. His effective field goal percentage was a very high 62 percent, and his true shooting percentage was also high at 64.7 percent.

And speaking of those three point attempts, Ennis showed a propensity for hitting corner threes. One-third of Ennis’ total three-point attempts occurred from the corners, where he shot 53.3 percent.

Therefore it would appear that the 6’7, 210 lb wing should slot in VERY well if given an increased role in Beale Street Blue. He’s long and can shoot, he isn’t afraid to take the ball off the dribble, and will every now and then make smart backdoor cuts along the baseline or time a run to the rim for an offensive rebound perfectly for a putback dunk. He’d act as a younger Vince Carter. Not like a 1999-2007 young Vince Carter, but like a 2013-2016 young Vince Carter. A young, old Vince Carter, if you will.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans
James Ennis (4) attempts a shot over Ronnie Price (14).
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

But before we go and say he will be a super sixth man, let’s take a closer look at those New Orleans numbers, because nine games is a fairly small sample size. When Ennis joined the Pelicans, the team was afflicted by injury. During Ennis’ time with the Pels the team went from nine available players to SEVEN.

Grizzlies fans are familiar with a seven-man roster and know what the caliber of play is like when a team can only scrap together a starting lineup plus two healthy players. Ennis was the beneficiary of all those injuries, allowing him to play a lot of minutes (he played 40 minutes in each of his final two games). In those games his plus minus was a combined -25.

Ennis began taking more shots because, if he didn’t who else would? He was arguably as good as any of his teammates, so he got a bit of a green light. He took 100 shots while with the Pelicans, and I went to and watched all 100 shots. What I saw, for the most part, verified the shooting information I found on Basketball Reference—he shot a lot of threes and was especially good from the corners.

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
James Ennis (32) celebrates a three-pointer.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

But there were definitely some loud hiccups that sat uncomfortably with me. For instance, Ennis would get to the rim or get an offensive rebound next to the basket and not convert the bunny.

The other concern came from outside. Ennis showed that he could knock down shots from distance, but when he did miss, he tended to miss badly. Really badly. And it wasn’t just one or two airballs, he’d throw up at least one really bad brick nearly every game. Those make it hard to rebound, and are essentially a turnover.

Now maybe that’s due to the lack of support around him. Perhaps he chose to shoot some bad shots because if not him, then someone else would. Likely, he would never have to take a shot he was uncomfortable with due to the talent in Memphis. But some of these bricks were good, open looks that he just flat-out missed.

I think that my concern may be overstated, because the advanced statistics from his nine games in NOLA show that he was as efficient as any other time in his two-year career. And his shooting was good on a solid amount of attempts, which is exactly what the Grizz need. So I’m probably worrying about nothing important. And you don’t need to worry about it either because if Grizzly tradition has shown us anything, over-analyzing a young player who might have some value means absolutely nothing because he’ll never play anyway.

As long as he plays within himself, and Memphis doesn’t ask him to be their bench Superman, Ennis could flourish with the Grizzlies.

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