Tyler Ennis didn’t look like a potential lottery pick at the beginning of the season. Nor was he considered likely to leave Syracuse after just one year, but last Thursday he did just that, and declared himself eligible for this June’s NBA Draft. While considered a Five-star recruit coming out of high school by 247 Sports’ composite rankings, Ennis’ ascent up the national ranks is a bit of a surprise. The Canadian native came into the year ranked no higher than the 20th-best prospect in his class by recruiting services, but since then the Syracuse point guard has swiftly changed opinions with clutch performances and poised point guard play.
Ennis, a second-team All-ACC selection, is considered a mid-to-late lottery pick. ESPN’s Chad Ford ranks him as the tenth-best player and third-best point guard in the 2014 class, behind Dante Exum and Marcus Smart. In current mock drafts, Draft Express has him going 14th, NBA Draft.net has him being taken 18th, and Bleacher Report has him going seventh. In February, an anonymous NBA general manager told Ford (Insider subscription required) he would take Ennis over Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving.
In 34 games he averaged 12.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 2.1 SPG in 35.7 minutes per game. His slash line was .411/.353/.765.
Ennis has impressed scouts with maturity well beyond his age. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim consistently put the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and Ennis rewarded that faith. He made eight of his first nine shots and all 14 of his free throws during clutch situations to start the regular season, according to Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com.
Boeheim isn’t known to shower acclaim on his players, much less on freshmen, but has been quite vocal in his praise of Ennis this season. Boeheim said, “Tyler, for us, he’s so valuable. He plays 40 minutes in the [ACC games]. We can’t win a game without him. Literally. If you talk about the best pro prospect (in the ACC), it’s Jabari Parker, but who’s the most valuable to his team? We don’t have a point guard, I don’t know where we would be without Tyler Ennis.”
Scouts around the league often use the term, “feel for the game,” and Ennis has demonstrated plenty of that. He’s a smart ball-handler who works well within the framework of an offense, communicating with his teammates and keeping the ball moving. He’ll be the latest Boeheim product, following Michael Carter-Williams, who sees the court at an advanced level from the moment he steps on an NBA floor.
When looking at how his skills translate to the NBA game, Ennis’ ability to score off the pick-and-roll also stands out as being promising. Many point guards aren’t given enough trust within college-level offenses to create off the dribble, which slows their growth as they try to learn the nuances of an NBA attack. Roughly a third of Ennis’ possessions that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or foul, came as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Ennis is a pass-first point guard, and is as pure as they come at his position. That’s not to say he can’t put up points, but he chooses to score more as a secondary option, which is the more traditional mentality you want your point guard to operate with. It has been said that Ennis is too unselfish at times, and he doesn’t look to score as often as he should. The point guard position has changed over the years, and there aren’t many stars at the point who don’t score in volume.
One stat that jumps out is his 3.24 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also 18th in the country with a pure point rating of 5.38, a metric devised to accurately weigh assists to turnovers relative to each other. “His assist-to-turnover ratio is almost comical,” said assistant coach Gerry McNamara. “His feel is as good as I’ve ever watched. I said that about Michael [Carter-Williams] last year. Tyler’s in that same realm. It’s difficult to speed him up. He plays at the pace that he wants to play at.”
As far as being a scorer, his shot consistency is a bit of an issue, but Ennis has range and projects as a good, if not elite shooter. He hit three-point jumpers at a 35.3% success rate and appeared more comfortable taking those shots at higher volumes as the season went along. He can also be quite deceptive. Ennis is able to gain separation for a jumper when you least expect it or find ways to avoid the contest at the rim and somehow finish around it. With a reliable stop-and-pop pull-up, Ennis can also be a threatening scorer off the dribble, even if he isn’t able to get to the rim. He has an assortment of runners, floaters and push shots he can make on the move successfully. Ennis might not evolve into a consistent scoring threat, but he can provide some points when the opportunity calls.
Defensively, Ennis might lack the size and strength to guard the larger NBA guards, but he certainly has the speed and the basketball intelligence. He led the ACC in steals, and was second in steal percentage at 3.9. Ennis was eighth in defensive win shares at 2.2. He doesn’t project as an elite defender, but should be an above average contributor.
Ennis’ game has been compared by Dick Vitale of ESPN to Jason Kidd‘s, although I don’t see him as having the same physical strength as Kidd. He’s also been compared favorably with Chris Paul. Paul is a quicker player, but Ennis has a similar ability to change directions to beat defenders and similar steal numbers for players of similar height and build. Paul was 6’0″, 175 pounds coming out, whereas Ennis is listed at 6’2″, 180 pounds. As a passer, Ennis actually has a higher assist percentage as a freshman than Paul did in his first season at Wake Forest. Defensively, Ennis sits just below Paul in steal percentage and steals per game, according to the article by Peter Bukowski at SI.com, who made the Paul comparisons.
Ennis might not become an All-Star level point guard, but he is almost certain to be a solid contributor. He offers plenty of intangibles and instincts that can’t be coached. From a character, toughness and stability standpoint, there’s not much to question. He never seems to get too high or too low, which is what you want from a floor general and potential team leader. The difficulty with teams gauging Ennis’ draft stock is that much of what he offers is in the way of intangibles. He might not wow scouts in pre-draft workouts, but watching Ennis on film, and appreciating all the subtle things he does on the court might tempt some teams to take him in the top ten. My best estimate is that he is the second point guard taken after Exum, and comes off the board in the six to ten range.