Given the opportunity to pick from what is expected to be a grand selection of talent in the 2014 NBA Draft, the smartest pick would still be Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins. His athleticism, length and skill level as wing player gives him unequaled upside.
However, if one were asked to identify the freshman whose body of work has been most impressive up to this point, the answer should be the Syracuse Orange's Tyler Ennis.
The No. 2-ranked Orange are a perfect 17-0 heading into their clash with No. 22-ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday. While the record is clearly a team accomplishment, Ennis has had perhaps the most impact on his team's success than any other.
Numbers Don't Lie. And the More You See, the Clearer the Picture Becomes
When you look at the most popular statistics (points, rebounds and assists), Ennis' value can be missed. He's scoring at a decent clip (11.6 per game), rebounding well for a point guard (3.2) and dishing out a fair number of dimes (5.6). Still, those numbers won't blow any one away.
But you must look a little deeper to see how bright Ennis' star has shined.
What freshman has made the biggest impact in 2013-14?
The young Canadian is not only running the show for one of the nation's best teams, he's also making an impact on the defensive end. Ennis has been a terror in the passing lanes. He's averaging 2.8 steals per game.
He is registering these pilfers while only being whistled for 1.8 fouls per outing.
Through 17 games, Ennis has not only proven himself to be efficient at taking the ball away from opposing teams, he's also been great at handling it with care for the Orange.
Despite playing 33.2 minutes per game at the toughest position for a young player in the sport, Ennis is only averaging 1.4 turnovers per contest. That's pretty amazing considering he has a possession percentage of 20.7, per StatSheet.com.
There's a statistic called win shares that was originally created by baseball statistician and historian Bill James. It was designed to determine how many wins were created by a player's offensive and defensive contributions.
Basketball-Reference.com has cultivated the concept for use in hoops.
When you compare Ennis' total to the other highly touted freshman in this year's class, the Syracuse point guard comes out on top. Take a look at this breakdown.
|Player and Team||Win Shares|
|Tyler Ennis, Syracuse||3.2|
|Julius Randle, Kentucky||2.6|
|Aaron Gordon, Arizona||2.5|
|Jabari Parker, Duke||2.5|
|Joel Embiid, Kansas||2.1|
|James Young, Kentucky||2.1|
Statistics are Just Part of the Equation
A deep look at the stats shows some of what makes Ennis' first 17 games so good, but to fully appreciate his play you need to watch him work.
Take a look at the way he works pick-and-roll with the Orange's long and athletic forward Jerami Grant.
If you took the Denver Nuggets' veteran point guard Andre Miller, and gave him more explosiveness and natural athletic gifts, you'd have something close to what Ennis is.
Miller is known for his high basketball I.Q. and natural feel for the game, but he's never been mistaken for a world-class athlete. Ennis isn't a freak like Wiggins or UCLA's Zach LaVine, but he has sneaky quickness and the first step to beat his man off the dribble consistently.
Couple that with an understanding of the game far beyond his 19 years, and you have one of the most intriguing point guard prospects in the last five years.
People are starting to notice Ennis more of late. Adam Zagoria of NBA.com cautions late-arriving fans about the maximum occupancy on Ennis' fictitious bandwagon.
The Tyler Ennis bandwagon is beyond full...People should get off before somebody gets hurt.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) January 12, 2014
It's tight for sure on the bandwagon, but Ennis understands that winning is the key to keep the positive attention coming. Per C.L Brown of ESPN.com, Ennis said:
We're going to continue to try to win games as a team, the further we go as a team the more personal accolades we will get. I don't think I would have gotten the amount of attention I have got if we had five or six losses.
In Syracuse's come-from-behind 78-62 win over the Villanova Wildcats on Dec. 28, Ennis' excellent understanding of the flow of a game was on display.
'Nova came out on fire from three-point range at the Carrier Dome. The visitors took a 20-5 lead on the Orange before the defense woke up, and the shots started falling.
With his team struggling to score and knock down shots, Ennis took the initiative to find and create his own offense. He finished with one of his lowest assist numbers (2), but he scored 20 points and got to the free-throw line 11 times.
Ennis adapted his game to do what was necessary, and this is just part of what makes him special at the position. The best lead guards in the NBA have this skill. The Los Angeles Clippers Chris Paul, Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams—when he's healthy—both have a feel for the game.
They know when to aggressively chase their own offense, and when to create. Want an example of a perfect blend of his talent?
Take note of Ennis' 17-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist performance against Indiana on Dec. 3.
Ennis did a little bit of everything in that game—including picking up four steals. As good as he's been, at such a young age, he's only scratching the surface of what he can be at Syracuse—and in the NBA.
Guard play is the most important factor during the NCAA Tournament. Ennis is the main reason the Orange are one of the favorites to go deep, or even win it all.
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