When I first heard Tyler Ennis committed to Syracuse back in August 2012, I had thought the Orange just found their floor general for the next three to four years.
At around 6'2'', 180 pounds, he didn't scream one-and-done like Kentucky commit and current starting point guard Andrew Harrison, who, at 6'6'', 215 pounds, was widely viewed as a can't-miss NBA prospect at his position.
But now it's January 2014, and we're looking at these prospects through a completely different lens.
Just two weeks into conference play, it's Ennis who appears to be the next can't-miss point guard in the class.
He's playing 33.6 minutes per game as the primary ball-handler for the No. 2 team in the country. And when you start dishing out credit for Syracuse's start and overall disciplined demeanor, a fair share needs to go to Ennis.
With February rapidly approaching, he's averaging close to 12 points and 5.5 assists for the undefeated Orange. But it's not stats or a towering ceiling that has scouts buzzing about his game.
Pure As They Come...
Ennis is one of those rare pass-first point guards. He's as pure as they come at his position. That's not to say he can't score; rather, he chooses to score opportunistically as a secondary option—the ideal mentality you want your point guard to operate with.
This kid is poised. He's a guy you trust with the ball to command the offense and execute the play—not necessarily a skill you can just learn.
Ennis has handled pressure like a pro and acts as a calming influence out there on the floor.
With the ability to control the pace of a game and the set he's running, it's Ennis' intangibles that allow him to glow as a facilitator.
Maybe the stat that jumps out most early on has been his clean assist-to-turnover ratio. He's only coughed it up 24 times through 18 games, dishing out 99 dimes during the stretch. It's the fourth-best ratio in the country at the moment. He's also No. 8 in the country with a pure point rating of 6.83, a more complex metric devised to accurately weigh assists to turnovers relative to each other.
“I’ve used the word comical a lot this year. His assist-to-turnover ratio is almost comical,” said assistant coach Gerry McNamara, via Associated Press (H/T Washington Post). “His feel is as good as I’ve ever watched. I said that about Michael [Carter-Williams] last year. Tyler’s in that same realm. It’s difficult to speed him up. He plays at the pace that he wants to play at.”
As a passer, he just seems to know where his other four teammates are, as well as where they're going to be:
In the half court, Ennis has a terrific feel for orchestrating the offense and hitting the open man, whether it's off a pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, an entry pass or simple ball movement.
But those passes aren't just about timing and accuracy. He's got some phenomenal offensive instincts.
He's not the biggest, fastest, strongest or most athletic. But Ennis knows how to use what he's been given—he takes the right steps at the right speeds, which ultimately neutralizes his lack of blow-by quickness.
Down the stretch against Pittsburgh, that couldn't have been more evident.
With Pittsburgh up one in the final two minutes, Ennis would answer with a beautiful take to the rack. It wasn't generated by a blazing first step or explosive leap to the rim.
Ennis got the defender to bite on a simple jab step and fake to the right. And it completely knocked his man off balance.
Check out Ennis at the point with really nowhere to go.
And just like that—boom, a quick fake right and he gets his man to spin around in a circle.
Sure, we might be overanalyzing one little fake, but these are savvy tricks he uses to make up for his average physical tools. He knows how to maximize his quickness by using it at the right times.
Even as a finisher around the hoop, Ennis has textbook fundamentals. Despite the inability to play above the rim, he still finds ways to convert in traffic.
Up one with 30 seconds against Pittsburgh, he took his man off the dribble and got to the basket for a sweet lefty finish:
But instead of exploding past him and up toward the rim, Ennis found another way to create separation.
He uses his body really well here, ultimately shielding his man from the ball by taking a step right in front of him. This makes it impossible for the 6'9'' Talib Zanna to block or contest his layup.
These are just a few ways Tyler Ennis compensates for athletic ability with smart and timely basketball plays.
Though it won't be his forte moving forward, Ennis can go out and get buckets. He actually led the entire FIBA Under-19 World Championships in scoring this summer with 20.9 points a game.
He's deceptive—Ennis will separate for a jumper when you least expect it or find ways to avoid the contest at the rim and somehow finish around it.
With a reliable stop-and-pop pull-up, Ennis can be a threatening scorer off the dribble, even if he can't get all the way to the rim. He also has an assortment of runners, floaters and push shots he can make on the move.
And though you wouldn't refer to him as a sniper, Ennis can knock them down out to 25 feet away. He won't attempt a three-pointer unless it's a good, open look (only 2.2 attempts per game), and he's converting the ones he's taking at an excellent rate (40 percent).
Ennis may never evolve into a consistent scoring threat, but you can count on him to give you a punch when the opportunity calls.
NBA Outlook and Draft Breakdown
I'm not sure Ennis projects as the NBA's next All-Star point guard, but this kid is bound to contribute whether he hits his ceiling or not.
The point guard position is tricky. Having Kemba Walker's speed, John Wall's hops and Russell Westbrook's explosiveness certainly helps, but athleticism can only take a point guard so far.
Ennis offers the intangibles and instincts that can't be coached. And it's not as if he's a stiff out there—with broad shoulders, sound footwork and shifty agility, he shouldn't have trouble with the physical transition.
From a character, toughness and stability standpoint, there's absolutely nothing to question. He never seems to get too high or too low, as evidenced by his stone face and mature approach.
There could be a number of point guard-needy teams drafting in the late lottery to late first round, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic (Denver's pick). Even teams with shallow depth at the position—like the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons—might want to give Ennis a look.
Given his limited visible upside, a team might feel hesitant to reach in the top 10. But for those searching for a little certainty in this draft as opposed to a hit-or-miss, boom-or-bust prospect, Ennis has established himself as a solid option this June.