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Season in Review: James Ennis - Idea vs. Reality

James Ennis seems like an ideal 3-and-D wing, but does he really fit the bill?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Check out previous entries in the Season in Review series here.

James Ennis 2017-18 Stats

Points Rebonds Assists Steals Field Goal % 3pt % Free Throw % PER
Points Rebonds Assists Steals Field Goal % 3pt % Free Throw % PER
7.1 3.1 1 0.7 47.4 33.3 83.6

Quick side-note: I know James Ennis isn’t on the Memphis Grizzlies, but he was on the team this year and played more minutes than eight guys who are currently on the roster, so work with me, please.

“3-and-D” has become the ideal player prototype in today’s NBA. Multi-positional players that can defend and shoot the 3-ball are commodities in today’s pace-and-space environment.

On the contrary, people use it as a lazy generalization for someone with decent size, okay athleticism and a mediocre skillset.

Take James Ennis for example.

The idea of him is quite glorious. He’s a 6’7” combo wing with a 6’11.5” wingspan — a dream for any coach that wants to play pace-and-space basketball. Combine that with the fact that he shot 37.2 percent from deep prior to this season, and your favorite team’s general manager is ready to give him $10-12 million.

Except the idea of him is much better than the reality. Yes, he has great size for the wing, but his speed and athleticism hinder him against some perimeter players. Yes, he can use his size to guard multiple positions, but his poor lateral quickness gets him into foul trouble far too often to be a reliable defender. His 3-point percentage is great and all, but his release is super slow. He’s a good cutter and shooter, but that’s all he can do, as he lacks the ball-handling to score off the dribble.

Ennis is a fine player good enough to be your third or fourth guy off the bench, but the idea of him masks his flaws as a player.


The Good:

There wasn’t a signature game that left you in awe. His impact flies under the radar, which makes all his good performances sneaky.

Plays like the one above are what makes James Ennis a rotation player. He has a natural feel on when it was time to release for a fast break.

This skill alone made him a vital part of the Grizzlies’ rotation, as they looked to speed up the tempo. In addition to releasing on the fast break, he can slash to the basketball to find easy dunk opportunities.

When he was on, he was a major player in the rotation. He’s one of the few players on this team that could cover multiple positions and make it rain from deep.


The Bad:

Can I still talk about how Ennis dribbled the ball off his foot with 2 minutes left in game 6 last season?

No? Ok, I’ll move on.

I touched on the bad a lot above. He’s not that quick. His shot is slow. He’s an average defender.

The bad for Ennis is that he can disappear in games. Whenever he’s off, it’s virtually a 4-on-5 game, given the minimal impact on the court.

There are a lot of decent things Ennis could do on the basketball court, but there’s nothing that stands out — a primary reason he can disappear in games.


Things to improve on:

James Ennis is going to be a free agent this summer, so really he must prove to teams he can be a quality 3-and-D rotation player. He has the chance to do that, but he must improve on both ends of the court.

For starters, he must prove his worth on the less glamorous end of the court. He has the size and athleticism to become an above-average defender, but he must improve his lateral quickness. If he can stay in front of his man and recover quicker on pick-and-rolls without fouling, he’ll prove himself as a valuable commodity to a team’s second unit.

Offensively, he must become a more lethal 3-point shooter. He only shot 33.3 percent from deep this year — the second-lowest percentage in his career. Ennis has proven himself capable of doing being a solid shooter, as he shot 37.2 percent from downtown in his first season with Memphis. To land in a rotation though, that number must be closer to 38-40.


NBA: Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Grade:

The overall idea of James Ennis is quite pleasant. He could’ve served as a lockdown defender and 3-point shooter for a playoff-bound Grizzlies team this year. Instead, Ennis’ inconsistency made him a fringe rotation player, even when the season fell apart.

There were some quality games for him, but he disappeared a little too often. Hopefully he can land on a team this summer, as he’s proven himself as a playoff contributor last season.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t be with Memphis.

Overall Grade: C

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com

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