Timing is everything in life, and perhaps no one proves this more than James Ennis and his tenure in the NBA. A 29 year old who has earned everything in his professional career, Ennis has an uncanny ability to time his leaps. Known for baseline crashes and well timed put-back dunks. Ennis has found himself on a burgeoning Eastern Conference powerhouse in Philadelphia. “I just know what I have to do to stay on the floor and help this team out. I have to knock down shots consistently and just stop players from scoring.”
Timing is so important for rim protectors in the modern NBA, but often less visible is timing on the offensive glass. A player’s ability to time a crashing of the offensive board is crucial to the risk/reward calculus of deciding on how to approach second chance opportunities. Ennis has the ability to crash the boards from a baseline angle that allows him to quickly re-route and pick up a player on his way to getting back on defense.
A vertical crashing of the boards takes a player away from the defensive end and can lead to transition opportunities for the other team. When asked about this Ennis said, “It’s just the feel of the game just seeing the shot goes up mostly. Nowadays when the shot goes up, you will see the defender turn his head and look where the ball’s going. That’s when I just come from behind and just try to grab it.”
Ennis The Menace?
The summer of 2019 could likely be described as the summer of the Micro-fanbase. Philadelphia has always prided itself on embracing the gritty roleplayer and focusing in on something very specific and catchy. James Ennis has a nickname that dates back to his days in the NBL, Australian league. Ennis the Menace implies a defensive mindset and willingness to pick up the mantle (full court) from TJ McConnell, who departed to Indiana this summer. When talking about his mindset for defense, Ennis spoke about versatility and his reputation for ferocity.
“The defensive reputation is kind of with the Sixers.” When talking about how he can assist, Ennis mentioned, “Guard one through four even on the switches, and if they kick down a point guard, I could chase (them) off the screen.”
Ennis the Mentor?
At 29 and having played just shy of 280 total NBA games, it’s interesting to think of Ennis as a veteran who could be looked to as a guidepost on how to succeed in the NBA. But his role, spots on the floor, and mindset could arguably be a perfect example for Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith to follow. Last summer, Landry Shamet shadowed JJ Redick and picked up a lot of nuance to add to his offensive repertoire. Thybulle and Zhaire can look directly to Ennis as an initial mentor.
“They’ve been working very hard since Monday,” said Ennis. “I’ve seen Zhaire and Matisse; they can shoot the ball very well and defend a little, and I like to do that too.” He continued, “I can give them pointers on, you know, how to defend players different ways.”
Ultimately, as we saw last year, it is the responsibility of the young player, not the veteran, to learn. Ennis is on a two year contract with the 76ers at the veteran minimum. He has a very slim margin to carve out a defined reputation on a team that appears to be loaded with weapons. It is enough for him to focus on his own improvement, but Thybulle and Smith will do well to watch his approach.
Ennis the Mainstay?
Ennis has a player option on the second year of his veteran minimum deal. Should he decline that option, the 76ers would retain his bird rights for free agency next summer. This would allow the team to exceed the salary cap to retain him and match an offer he might get elsewhere. This nuance in the contract is a shrewd move for Elton Brand to have made. Should Ennis thrive in the system, the 76ers will have every opportunity to keep him in Philadelphia. Zhaire Smith and/or Matisse Thybulle may step up and show a readiness to be counted on for that role in 2020/21. If so, Ennis will be able to get a significant pay raise next summer to move to another team.
Ennis will have options this next summer, which is really all a player can ask for. He is highly motivated to carve out a productive role, and his success is very much tied to team success. All incentives are aligned here which typically is the sign of a good contract. When discussing his desire to remain in Philadelphia long term, Ennis said, “I wish; it’s all up to Elton.”