Published on Apr 4, 2014
Tyler Ennis exceeded all expectations in his lone year at Syracuse, earning Second-Team All-ACC and All-Rookie team honors while leading the Orange to a 28-6 record. Now that his college career is over, we can now take a step back and conduct an inventory of everything he displayed this season as an NBA prospect, as well as the things he still has to improve on.
Ennis' playmaking ability is what separates him from other players in this draft class. He is one of the few "pure PGs" you can point to, as he led the NCAA in PPR as a freshman, posting a rate 50% higher than the next best PG. Ennis plays with a maturity beyond his years, as he operates at his own pace, is incredibly unselfish, and is always under control. He whips the ball all over the floor with great timing, moving the ball ahead for easy transition baskets, making pinpoint post-entry passes, and doing a tremendous job executing the pick and roll thanks to his superb ball-handling skills and court vision.
Ennis' excellent anticipation skills show up on the defensive end of the floor too, as he generates a good amount of steals (2.4 per-40). Part of this has to do with the fact that Syracuse plays exclusively in a zone, but his solid wingspan (6-5), quick hands and exceptional instincts also have plenty to do with that.
Ennis is not a prolific or efficient scorer as we'll discuss below, but he does show some promise as a shooter. He's proven capable of making jumpers with his feet set or off the dribble, and has the type of mechanics and touch that lead you to believe he'll continue to improve in time.
Another aspect of Ennis' game that breeds optimism is his demeanor. He shows tremendous poise and maturity for his age, as he never looks rattled and seems to elevate his game when his team needs him the most. He took all of Syracuse's big shots this season, leading to some very memorable moments (and some less), but nevertheless proved that he likes the spotlight, has a killer instinct, and won't back down from a challenge.
On the downside, Ennis has a number of flaws, some of them significant, which could become much more notable in the NBA.
One is his overall athleticism, as he's not the quickest or most explosive player around. His first step is average, which forces him to rely heavily on his superior ball-handling skills, timing and hesitation moves to create his own shot in the half-court, something he found mixed results in at the college level. Often you see him pushing off his man with his off hand to try and gain separation without a screen, which might not work quite as well in the NBA against stronger defenders.
This shows in his struggles getting inside the paint and finishing around the basket, where he converted just 42% of his attempts when accounting for floaters and layups. He shot nearly as many floaters (60) as he did layups (94) this season, and hit just 28% and 50% of them respectively, both very poor rates. Getting stronger could help him do a better job of finishing through contact and getting to the free throw line.
Ennis wasn't much of a scorer in general in college, his 15.8 points per-40 ranked 12th among the 15 point guards in our top-100 prospects. That's something most NBA teams expect from their point guard these days, particularly late in games, so it will be interesting to see how he develops in this regard in the long term. How he shoots the ball from the perimeter in workouts could go a long ways in convincing teams just how much he can improve in this area. He was somewhat inconsistent from the perimeter this season (35% 3P%), but seems to have good potential here thanks to his solid mechanics and touch. This is almost certainly an absolute must considering his limitations in other areas.
Another thing teams will want to look at in private settings is his man to man defense. It's tough to get a great read on this part of his game due to Syracuse's strict insistence on only using the 2-3 zone, but based on the glimpses we can see on film and how he looked in other settings (such as the U19 World Championship last summer), he likely projects as an average defender at best. His lateral quickness is not exceptional, and his fundamentals as a man to man defender weren't great going into college, so a full season of not practicing or improving on that part of his game may cause him to struggle on this end of the floor, at least early on in the NBA. That's not to say that he can't improve on this in time, though, as he has good length and excellent anticipation skills, and certainly doesn't look like a lazy player.
Finally, while Ennis only played one season of college basketball, he is a little bit older than your average freshman, as he turns 20 this summer. He's a full year older than fellow freshmen Aaron Gordon, James Young and Noah Vonleh for example, and the same age as Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris. That's not a deal breaker, but it is worth noting.