After losing Trevor Ariza to the Phoenix Suns and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, the Houston Rockets ran the risk of entering next season without a small forward who could fill the all-important 3-and-D role next to James Harden and Chris Paul. The franchise then pulled off perhaps the best low-key signing of the offseason in signing James Ennis, the 50th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, to a two-year deal worth $3.4 million.
Free agent James Ennis has agreed to a two-year deal with the Houston Rockets, league sources tell Yahoo. Deal includes player option in second season.- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 11, 2018
The 28-year-old will fill a specific role with the Rockets. In replacing Ariza and Mbah a Moute, Ennis will be tasked with guarding the opposing team's best scorer on a nightly basis and spacing the floor for Houston's All-Star backcourt. The Long Beach State product said as much once the signing was official, telling the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen that he's "definitely a defensive player" who can "run the floor" and "shoot the ball."
It helps that Houston's associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik has worked with Ennis before - they were both members of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2015-16. Ennis is not as accomplished defensively as Ariza and Mbah a Moute, but being 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan gives him the tools needed to play in Bzdelik's switch-heavy system that has turned the Rockets into one of the better defensive teams in the league.
If he is not the defensive player Houston needs him to be to begin with, the hope is they'll be able to groom Ennis into someone who can stay on the floor against the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason. He's at least proven he can put his length to good use on defense in matchups with Harden and Kawhi Leonard in the past.
How Ennis fits on the other end of the floor isn't as clear-cut.
Ennis has shown promise as a long range shooter in his NBA career, but consistency has been an issue for him. He peaked in the 2015-16 season, when he knocked down 46.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, albeit in only 22 games. He then regressed to making 37.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in 2016-17 (64 games) and 35.3 percent in 2017-18 (72 games).
|Season||C&S 3-Point Frequency||C&S 3PM||C&S 3PA||C&S 3P%|
Ennis will have to be a more accurate 3-point shooter to succeed next to Harden and Paul. He'll have to knock down 3-pointers in greater volume, too. Ariza took 5.7 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers per game last season, the sixth-highest rate in the league. While Mbah a Moute (2.7) didn't attempt nearly as many as Ariza, he still took more than Ennis.
If Ennis can become a more confident in that department, he'll be far more valuable than the contract the Rockets signed him to this offseason. If he can't, it'll give Harden and Paul far less room to work with on offense.
Ennis brings more to the table than just shooting, though. According to NBA.com, he generated almost a quarter of his offense in transition last season, doing so at a rate of 1.16 points per possession (61.5 percentile). These Rockets don't play at the same blazing speed as Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns teams, and yet Harden and Paul do like to push the pace following missed shots and turnovers. Ennis will make himself a target in those situations, both as a shooter and as an athletic rim-runner.
The combination gives Ennis the potential to thrive in the same role Ariza and Mbah a Moute had success in with the Rockets. He would've had a lot more teams interested in signing him this offseason if he was more polished on both ends of the floor, but Houston has the benefit of sliding Ennis on into an established system that will enable him to play to his strengths, making him an ideal signing for a team that was in desperate need for a cheap 3-and-D wing this offseason.
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