2016-2017 Season Overview:
Per-Game: 6.7 PTS, 4.0 REB, 1.0 AST, 23.5 MIN, .455/.372/.782 (3P%, FG%, FT%)
Per-36 Minutes: 10.3 PTS, 6.2 REB, 1.5 AST
Advanced: 10.6 PER, .581 TS%, .427 3PA-Rate, +1.5 On-Off per 100 possessions
In his second go-round with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016-17, James Ennis became an everyday player. In his two seasons prior, with the Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, and Grizzlies, Ennis logged 1,380 minutes of game time. In 2016-17 alone he played 1,501. That’s not the breakout year that fans imagine and desire, but for a fringe NBA player playing time can be all you ask for.
I’m not even sure if he was supposed to get that much playing time initially. With Chandler Parsons starting the season injured, James Ennis became the starting Small Forward on opening night. Since Parsons never fully recovered to be productive or available, Ennis took advantage and kept his spot in the starting lineup/rotation for the rest of the year.
Outside of Parsons, the wing rotation last year consisted of Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Troy Daniels, and towards the end of the year, Wayne Selden Jr. Tony Allen is Tony Allen, and Wayne Selden showed some defensive potential, but Ennis has the size advantage over that entire group which made it easier to put him on whatever wing Tony Allen wasn’t guarding and on occasion put him at stretch four. James Ennis got a lot of tough assignments just because there was no one else his size who was competent defensively. You trust Vince Carter to be a smart defender who knows when to help and what to do on the court. But you don’t trust someone Vince Carter’s age to try and keep up with the opponent’s most athletic player, even if Vince is ageless.
Last year, James Ennis proved he could not be a liability on defense and that he could hit 3-pointers at about a league-average level. Those feel like fair benchmarks for him to accomplish if you think of him as a rotation player, not the starter he was forced to be early last season.
In the off-season Memphis lost both Tony Allen and Vince Carter. Troy Daniels was traded to Phoenix in September well after Memphis signed Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore to fill out the rotation. Ben is (McLe)more of a Shooting Guard than any other position and he is expected to fill the role of a spot-up shooter, if nothing else. Rade Zagorac and Dillon Brooks are both rookie SF’s, and Chandler Parsons is expected to be fully healthy for 2017-18.
In that roster turnover, James Ennis may stick out positively in the rotation for continuity and consistency. Especially considering Chandler Parson’s injury concerns and NBA coaches general avoidance of playing rookies, James Ennis can be entrenched in the rotation while others fall in and out. He may be the starting SF when Parsons is injured or playing PF, but even if he doesn’t Ennis will still get similar if not increased playing time compared to 2016-2017.
Best Case Scenario:
James Ennis was solid a year ago, but he can really improve his game. His best case would include keeping up his shooting percentages at higher volumes, particularly 3-pt shooting. David Fizdale’s pace-and-space system is going to be faster and more perimeter oriented than a year ago and with that should come a lot more opportunities for spot-up and corner 3-point attempts. Also, with Tyreke Evans as a great playmaker and great drive-and-kick facilitator, James Ennis won’t have to create his own shot or rely too heavily on just Mike Conley to get him the ball.
If his 3 point shooting improves in volume while remaining above average in percentage, it will be a godsend for the Grizzlies. Ennis is already 27 years old even though he is entering just his 4th season. The room for improvement is there and with just 148 game under his belt, there is an opportunity for Ennis the Menace to reach that potential now that he’s a full-time NBA player. In the best case scenario, Ennis does that and keeps himself in the top 7-8 spots of the rotation, possibly as a spot starter.
Worst Case Scenario:
In the worst case scenario for James Ennis, he regresses back to his pre-Memphis Grizzlies days where he cannot find himself on the court. If Chandler Parsons is healthy enough to keep his starting spot and both Rade Zagorac and Dillon Brooks show themselves capable of playing, James Ennis could be traded or yet another casualty of Memphis’ current roster crunch. The development of Wayne Selden is important to this as well. He showed himself to be a great defender in what limited time he had to show last season. If Selden continues to be a lockdown defender and can hit 3’s the Grizzlies will have newfound depth at a position they were scarce with a year ago.
It’s possible this worst case scenario includes Ennis maintaining his exact level of play yet bad luck and surprising rookies just leave him on the outside looking in of Small Forward musical chairs. He doesn’t have the pedigree, reputation, or cost to warrant shoehorning him into the rotation. If Ennis doesn’t keep up with his competition, it could be costly for him.
Expectations for 2017-18:
I expect James Ennis to improve in his role as backup-to-fringe starter on this Memphis team. The worst case scenario mentioned above definitely could happen, but it is unlikely Zagorac and Brooks will play enough or be good enough to make any impact on Ennis’ role in the organization. I also think since James Ennis is still a young player, he’s likely to improve rather than regress if he doesn’t simply maintain his play. Ennis’ role will be more defined this year with a healthy Chandler Parsons and Tyreke Evans in tow. I expect Ennis to have a similar year to last year, with improvements in his spot-up shooting after a full year in David Fizdale’s system.