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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Scouting Report: James Ennis

In his second and final year of playing Division One college basketball, James Ennis showed a lot of improvement and has placed himself in a fairly favorable spot to get drafted. Ennis has always possessed outstanding athleticism and starred in the high jump in junior college in addition to playing ball. After transferring to Long Beach State from Ventura College in his junior year, Ennis seemed to gain even more confidence this season and became a more aggressive player.

Ennis's game is based around his outstanding athleticism and he does a great job of using it in game situations. He really gets after it on the defensive end and averaged 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes this season (pace adjusted). Ennis plays with a lot of energy and is one of those guys who can come out of nowhere to block shots. He chases guys down in transition for blocks and is aggressive when it comes to playing help defense. He is very intimidating when he closes in on you and he was very aggressive when it came to double teaming opponents. He forced a lot of bad passes just by bringing defensive pressure and also came up with a lot of steals. He plays the passing lanes very well, has cat-like reflexes, and very good length for wing defender.

Ennis is a lanky, wiry strong guy and pulled down 7.5 boards per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) which was up from 5.6 his first season with the team. He has good hands and was able to go over defenders backs and tip the ball to himself. His aggression and effort on defense carries over to the boards.

His team was also undersized and needed him to provide a paint presence. They looked to get up and down the court as fast as any team in the nation. Ennis was able to start breaks right out of rebounds, but showed shaky ball handling skills.

At this point, he can create plays off the dribble but only because of his elite athleticism. His athleticism at the mid-major level allowed him to mask his shortcomings as a ball handler, as he is most definitely poor in that area. He didn't let that stop him from attacking the basket though, although he was often forcing up circus shots. He was unable to drive into the lane in a controlled matter and most of the shots he put up ended up being really awkward. The only way he got them off was because of his elevation.

Because of his lack of ball handling or control, Ennis has no mid-range game of which to speak of. His team as a whole performed poorly in the halfcourt and they lacked structure. Ennis' shots off the dribble were pretty much freestyled attempts without much rhyme or reason. One thing he did do well was going inside without the ball and capitalizing on offensive rebound opportunities. He is able to control the ball well on tip-in plays.

Ennis also scored baskets by cutting towards the rim once a teammate had the ball in the post. There wasn't much structure in these plays or cuts, but they were effective. In the pros, Ennis may benefit from a system that will focus more on getting him open off of these plays. He's a great finisher at the rim due to his athleticism, strength, and also his creativity. His creativity hurts him on perimeter drives because he is completely out of control once he reaches the rim, but it works to his advantage off cuts without the ball.

As a shooter, Ennis is able to hit a good percentage of his long range shots when he has the time to get them off. He shot a respectable 35% from behind the arc each of his two season at Long Beach State. The bigger problem for Ennis shooting the ball is his release. He isn't a guy you have to worry much about from behind the arc because it takes him too long to get off the shot. In the NBA, defenders close out quickly and he will need to really work on speeding up his shot.

Although it doesn't project to be a big part of his game at the next level, Ennis did show some potential creating his own jumper off of one or two dribbles. His ball handling is too shaky for anything more, but he has a really quick stepback crossover move. With more repetition  he could develop more confidence to use it more often. But he has to use it smart - a lot of his stepback moves resulted in long 2-pt attempts just inside the 3-pt arc.

Ennis is also a good teammate who looks to get others involved. He can make some impressive passes, but turns the ball over too often because he makes things too difficult. He had a negative assist to turnover ratio this year, which again speaks to how poor of a ball handler he is.

Overall, Ennis will have to make a name for himself on the defensive end but he has all the tools to do just that. He showed on a consistent basis that he can be an impact defender in college and with his athleticism, he will still be one of the better athletes in the NBA. He will need to improve his focus and really key in on his man to man defense instead of being a guy who is all over the court. Teams will certainly likely his defense as well as his rebounding ability.

In the end though, he will need to be able to prove he can space the court as well as play smarter. He hasn't played in a structured offense up to this point so there will be a learning curve. He will also have to adjust to playing without the ball in his hands and against better competition. He did benefit from playing the likes of North Carolina, Ohio State, UCLA, Syracuse, USC, and Baylor in one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules this year.

In terms of his ranking among other small forwards, I see him behind other second rounders like Solomon Hill and Adonis Thomas due to his lack of potential and polish. But compared to Carrick Felix - a guy who is projected to be the same kind of defensive player - I like Ennis better because he's an even better athlete. Ennis hasn't locked up a draft spot in the second round, but he has improved his stock since college ended with strong showings at both Portsmouth and the combine in Chicago. He could end up being a guy like James White who had to spend years in the D-League before getting a legit shot in the NBA.

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