Meet James Ennis

Meet the newest Pistons' swingman, James Ennis, who they recently acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies via trade.

On the day of the trade deadline, the Pistons made their last move by trading Brice Johnson, whom they had only recently acquired, and a second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for James Ennis.

Who is James Ennis?

James Ennis is a 6 foot, 7 inch, 210 pounds, 27-year-old forward from Ventura, California. Ennis went to two community colleges before spending his last two seasons playing for Long Beach in the Big West Conference. He was very successful and won Big West Player of the Year honors in his senior season. After college Ennis was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks, but he did not last. His rights were traded to the Miami Heat, and while they wanted him to play for their D-League team, Ennis declined. To help support his family, he went overseas, where he played for the Perth Wildcats in Australia. While there, he helped lead the Wildcats to the 2013-2014 NBL championship, averaging 21.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. After the Australian season was over, he had a brief stint playing in Portugal before returning to the NBA for the 2014-2015 season.

Ennis rejoined the Miami Heat, his former team, but this time they didn't require him to play in the D-League. He was a fairly regular rotation member with the Heat until he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in November of 2015. Because he struggled to break through a deep wing group in Memphis, he was once again sent to the D-League. Eventually, the Pelicans signed him to a 10-day contract to finish out the 2015-2016 season. Last season, Ennis returned to Memphis, and he has become a regular contributor in the Grizzlies' rotation leading up to this trade. 

Where he fits with the Pistons

He figures to slide right into the rotation off the bench, playing minutes at either forward spot. He is in the second year of a 2 year $6 million contract, which will make him a free agent after the season. The Pistons should be able to offer him somewhere around $4 million per year with his early-bird rights, assuming they are over the cap (which is almost a certainty at this point).

The Good

Ennis is a nice player who plays both ends. The best thing he brings is a reliable long-range shot -- he is a career 36.9% long-range gunner, though he has not yet played enough to consider him a reliable threat from deep. He has a nice combination of size and a pretty quick release to really frighten defenses. Also, he does not need much space to launch, so he can just shoot over smaller guys, which is always a nice advantage. The Pistons lost two guys (Harris and Bradley) who were shooting the ball really well, but Ennis' arrival should help to replace that shooting. Having him on the roster will allow the Pistons to avoid playing quite so many minutes with several non-shooters on the floor.

Beyond his shooting, Ennis is a really good athlete who can get up for huge dunks and likes to get out and run in transition. The benefits of his ability to get out and run are obvious, especially given the presence of guys like Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson, and Blake Griffin, who all like to do that, as well. When on the floor with any of them, he will help punish any team that is even a little bit lazy in getting back defensively. His athleticism also makes him a bit of a threat when he puts the ball on the floor with some space. His handle is too sloppy to create space consistently (more on that later), but if opponents close out too hard and he gets a free lane to the rim, he can really finish with huge dunks or acrobatic layups. Offensively, I think he is a more athletic version of Anthony Tolliver. (It isn't a perfect comparison, but in terms of the overall impact, I think it is not that far off).

Defensively, Ennis also brings good stuff to the table. He is long, athletic, and has bulked up a bit over the past couple of seasons. He is not a stopper by any stretch, but he has the right combination of tools and effort to defend a variety of players and not be totally overmatched. Over the past couple of years, the Grizzlies used him to defend big wing types like Kevin Durant or Paul George and also guards like James Harden. Once again, he is not a stopper, but he does a respectable job. Defensively, the vibe I've mostly gotten is that Ennis is on a similar level to Marcus Morris, and that is really valuable to the Pistons. Other than Stanley Johnson, the Pistons really do not have a physical wing defender on the roster who can go up against bigger wing players -- Reggie Bullock tries hard, but he is a bit thin for that. Ennis will allow the Pistons not to over-rely on Stanley Johnson against those players -- whether in order to let Stanley stay rested or in the event of foul trouble -- and also will allow them to put more shooting on the floor, without punting on defense.

Lastly, Ennis is a guy who plays hard and seems to play with a lot of joy. He has a touch of flair to his game at times, which is fun, and he runs hard like a dog at the park. Most of the time he is out there, you just get the feeling that he is really enjoying himself.

The Bad

First off, he may well be a rental. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and it is not unlikely that he gets an offer that the Pistons cannot match this offseason. Even if it is only a second-round pick, it is never great to give up a future asset for a rental. On the other hand, though, it looks like the market is not going to be flooding with money, which means there is a good chance they could retain him if they want.

As for his actual game, the biggest thing to note is that he is limited in what he can do. This isn't a big deal, but it should be made clear up front. Ennis is a mid/back-end rotation player on a good team; he isn't going to radically change the Pistons or be a super integral piece come playoff time. He makes the Pistons a better team and will be valuable, but he is not some huge game changer.

To get more specific, as I already noted with his defense, he is something like Marcus Morris. And while Morris remains a beloved guy in Detroit (with good reason), there were nights where he was simply overmatched in one-on-one matchups. Ennis makes you better defensively, but he is not going to turn the tide of a game with multiple great defensive plays. In particular, he is a little too small against some of the really big guys on the wing, although he's added enough mass over the last year or so that it is less of a problem.

On offense, his problem is that he can't really handle the ball. The good news here is that he probably won't be asked to do that much, but if you have him do a whole lot beyond dribble with plenty of space, he is prone to lose the ball with his sloppy handle or try and throw impossible passes. In general, he turns the ball over quite a bit for a guy who is primarily a spot-up dude, and he is not a good passer. So, those dribble handoff that the Pistons like to run with their wing players should probably not be going to Ennis.

One very real hole in his game is rebounding. His length and hops sometimes allow him to snag impressive rebounds in traffic, but he has consistently put up pretty mediocre numbers. Fortunately, the Pistons have the greatest rebounder to ever live on their roster to cover up for that. 

The upshot for the rest of the roster/rotation?

Given that the Pistons had been using an 8-man rotation the last few games, my guess is that Ennis won't push anyone out of the rotation. He will certainly soak up all the backup small forward minutes, which will take some minutes and burden off of both Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard. I don't know if SVG will do it, but I hope that they play him some minutes at power forward as well so that Anthony Tolliver is not going for nearly 30 minutes per night. There are also likely to be some games where he takes more than a few minutes from Stanley Johnson, where SVG decides that he needs to get extra shooting on the floor, but I also really like the possibility of Johnson and Ennis sharing the floor at the forward spots for some really tough defensive play. 

Is it possible that he ends up starting?

I wouldn't be entirely shocked. It has worked so far, but the Pistons putting out a single shooter in their starting lineup right now is going to have larger negative effects eventually. Stanley has done good work with the ball in his hands but there are possessions that are painful to watch, given how little opponents care about the Pistons shooters. That said, I'm guessing it is Stanley's spot to lose. In my personal opinion though, I wouldn't mind starting Ennis and bringing Stanley off the bench. This would be purely for lineup purposes, but Stanley will still play more minutes.

Best case scenario

Ennis slots right in and shores up the bench on the wing, taking some burden off of Stanley Johnson. Ennis will enjoy playing on one of the better teams of his career, and he will take advantage of this by producing career-bests in shooting and minutes, helping the Pistons keep enough shooting on the floor to run a viable offense. After being an important part of a deep playoff run, Ennis feels like he has truly found his NBA home. He doesn't seriously field offers from other teams in free agency, and he signs a cheap multi-year contract with the Pistons.

Worst case scenario

Ennis struggles to get acclimated and hits a cold streak shooting the ball. He ends up not really helping the rotation, but, because the Pistons have no real option to turn to other than him, they allow him to sink bench units until he eventually falls out of the rotation entirely. His inability to soak up minutes causes Tolliver and Johnson to get over-taxed. The Pistons get bounced early from the playoffs, and Ennis does not remain with the Pistons.

The Verdict

Once again, just in principle, you have to be a little hesitant to give up any sort of future asset, even a second-round pick, for a rental. This is especially true of the Pistons following the Griffin trade. The challenge going forward for the Pistons will be that they have to find at least a couple cheap rotation players each season, and draft picks are chances to do that. If Ennis had even one more season on his contract, then I would have absolutely no problems with it. Ennis is a very solid player, and he fills the right holes for the Pistons. I think he will really be a nice addition to the team this season, but the reality is that there is a good chance the Pistons can retain him. If they retain him, this will be a really nice trade. Brice Johnson would've been interesting to keep around, I guess, but he didn't really have a clear future with the team. So all in all, I think this is as close to a great trade as it can be, considering that the Pistons traded a second-round pick for a guy who is unlikely to play more than 20 minutes per game. 

They supposedly could've had the exact same trade but for Dante Cunningham. Was this better?

Probably. In a vacuum, it definitely is better, because I'm pretty sure that Ennis is objectively a better player than Cunningham. The only on-floor thing that I would've preferred Cunningham for is that he's a bit bigger, which would allow him to play power forward with more ease.

In the end, the only real reason why Cunningham would be a bit more attractive is that he is not quite as good and is a few years older. Cunningham is very likely to be cheap enough next year that the Pistons could've retained him, whereas there is a good chance that Ennis will be a rental. If Ennis is able to be retained, they definitely made the right trade. What do you think? Will Ennis fit right in? Will he take minutes from Stanley Johnson?

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