This is the first episode of a new series, where every week we’ll look back at one player’s performance to see who stood out and why. Whether it’s the best player on the team, someone at the bottom of the bench who stepped up, or anyone in between. First up, the Sixers’ four games from November 25 to December 1.
Last week’s results: 96-101 L @ Toronto, 97-91 W vs Sacramento, 101-95 W @ New York, 119-116 W vs Indiana.
Joel Embiid came close to getting the nod to start this series thanks to three dominant games to end the week. But after starting with the worst game of his career against Toronto, it’s fair to give someone a bit further down the roster some recognition. James Ennis has been having a strong season for the Philadelphia 76ers, and this week was no different.
Ennis’s week started fairly quietly, with only seven total shots and five points across the first two games against Toronto and Sacramento. He competed well defensively, though, which has generally been the case for him throughout the season so far.
It’s Ennis’s performances against New York and Indiana that stood out as two of his best games 2019-20 so far. He was the Sixers’ second-leading scorer against the Knicks with 20 points — his highest total since coming to Philadelphia last season, and an indicator that this might have been his best game with the team yet. With 4-of-5 shooting overall, 3-of-4 from three-point range and a perfect 9-of-9 at the free throw line (another high since joining the Sixers), he couldn’t have done much more.
Ennis became the only player in the NBA this season to record at least 20 points on five or fewer shots in a game. In fact, until Ennis came along on this random November night in New York, this had only been done 12 times in NBA history.
He added four rebounds, two assists and a block, hit the open looks he had from three, provided some strong drives to the rim to complement his shooting, and played stout defense against the Knicks’ array of forwards.
With his effectiveness attacking the rim, Ennis added to a couple of career-highs he’s recording to start the season. He’s getting to the line (1.8 free throw attempts per game and 3.8 per 36 minutes) more than ever, and he’s never been so efficient finishing at the rim (73.8 percent).
Ennis continued to showcase some of the other strengths he’s been providing this year against the Pacers. He finished with nine points, shooting 3-of-7 from the floor and 2-of-3 from deep, to go along with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
While Ennis has only shot 36.3 percent from three for his career and it’s likely some negative regression will hit, his current mark of 43.9 percent (on 2.1 attempts per game and 4.4 per 36 minutes) is terrific. Add his strong finishing inside, and the result is a career-high 66.3 True Shooting Percentage.
The Sixers need their shooters to provide good volume, which means Ennis not hesitating to take a three out of the dribble hand-off in the first play in the clip below is ideal. In the second play, he smartly tries to set a flare screen for Mike Scott, who, for some reason, decides to cut inside and further clog the paint (this has been a consistent problem for Philly’s offense in general). Thankfully, Ennis helps Embiid out late in the clock here by relocating into space at the top of the arc for another triple:
Ennis is never going to command a ton of attention from defenses. He doesn’t have the volume, quick release, or confidence with defenders in his face for that. Nevertheless, if he can hover anywhere close to 40 percent from three this season, it would be a big help.
He even made a couple of smart passes to set up his teammates inside as well. First, he beat a Domantas Sabonis closeout and caught the attention of Al Horford’s defender, Goga Bitadze, to create positioning for a layup, then set up Ben Simmons for an uncontested dunk after driving into traffic and waiting for Myles Turner to leave his feet:
The Sixers’ endless size has helped them rank fourth in defensive rating so far. When Ennis can factor into that off the bench by shifting his feet fairly well and bodying up forwards, this team is almost overloaded with helpful defensive personnel. This possession from Ennis on TJ Warren, who was on fire with 29 points on Saturday night, was one of Ennis’s standout plays on defense from the week:
Ennis’s defense doesn’t often result in high steal or block numbers, but it did against the Pacers. He kept his hands active, stripping TJ McConnell and making a key play in the final 90 seconds by poking the ball away from Jeremy Lamb:
The more Ennis can do to help increase the Sixers’ transition opportunities (they’re up from 19th in steals per game last season to fourth), the better.
He’s clearly a limited player, but he’s doing what he needs to for the Sixers so far. With his hot shooting, efficiency at the rim, capable defense, and always-instinctive knack for grabbing offensive rebounds (averaging a career-high 2.8 per 36 minutes), he’s playing his role well.
Ennis made a big impact for Philly last week. Hopefully for them, it continues.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.