James Ennis Making His Mark in Memphis

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With the departures of Tony Allen, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph from the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason, the team was losing three key contributors who needed to be replaced. With a high payroll already in place, the Grizzlies weren’t able to bolster their team through major free agent moves.

They did manage to bring in a couple of wing players in Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore to help offset that loss, but McLemore has yet to suit up this season due to a foot injury. Evans has looked decent off the bench, but there is one wing on the team who has had a major impact so far on the Grizzlies’ current 3-0 record. That player is James Ennis III.

This is Ennis’ fourth year in the league and he’s entering his second full season with the Grizzlies. Originally drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Miami Heat, Ennis split that season between Australia and Puerto Rico before finally signing with the Heat in the 2014-15 season. The following year, he was traded to the Grizzlies after only seven games.

His first stint with Memphis in 2015-16 consisted of mostly G-League duty and he only appeared in ten games, averaging 1.6 points per game in only 4.0 minutes of play. The Grizzlies ended up cutting him in the second half of the season. He then joined the Iowa Energy of the G-League and put up an impressive 18.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field.

Ennis’ play caught the attention of the New Orleans Pelicans, who were dealing with a rash of injuries to their backcourt. Using a disabled player exception from the NBA, the Pelicans signed Ennis to a ten-day contract on March 30, 2016. In his first game with the Pelicans that same day, he scored 13 points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out four assists, albeit in a 100-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Finally given consistent minutes, Ennis flourished in the final nine games of the season for the Pelicans. During that stretch, he averaged 15.9 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent shooting from the three-point line. Possibly trying to rectify their mistake in cutting him from the team, the Grizzlies scooped Ennis up that offseason on a two-year contract.

Ennis was in and out of the starting lineup last season, helping to fill the void left by Chandler Parsons injury. He saw action in 64 games and started 28 of them. He became a decent bench player for the Grizzlies with 6.7 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.

This season, however, even with a healthy Parsons, head coach Dave Fizdale named Ennis as one of the starting forwards from the get-go. Seizing the opportunity, Ennis has stepped his game up and helped mitigate the loss of Allen and Carter on the wings.

In the first game of the season, a 103-91 win over the Pelicans on Oct. 18, Ennis had a decent game with five points on 100 percent shooting from the field. But on Oct. 21 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Ennis scored 13 points on another perfect game from the field (6-6), pulled down four rebounds, and dished out three assists in a 111-101 Grizzlies victory.

In their most recent game, a 98-90 win on the road over the Houston Rockets, another potential Western Conference powerhouse, Ennis posted a double-double with 14 points on 50 percent shooting and 11 rebounds.

The Grizzlies have not had much success by way of the draft in recent years. They cut last year’s first-round draft pick Wade Baldwin IV prior to the start of the season. Jarrell Martin, their first rounder from two years ago, is only now starting to show some consistency. And even before that, their 2014 first round pick, Jordan Adams, was never able to stay healthy and was ultimately cut from the team.

Where the Grizzlies have been able to seemingly strike gold, however, is with under the radar free agent moves. In 2015, it was JaMychal Green. Last year it was Wayne Selden Jr. This year, it appears to be Ennis. If Ennis can keep up his recent play, the Grizzlies will have found another diamond in the rough.