Tyler Ennis has been delivering for Syracuse since Day 1, but it has taken a while for the point guard's NBA draft stock to catch up.
If you haven't placed him right alongside the cream of the crop in the 2014 draft class, you're doing something wrong. This kid truly belongs among the elite draft prospects, and he's an uncommon talent for a freshman.
Rarely does the basketball world enjoy a teenager with such poise and cool command of an offense. The Ontario, Canada, native displays smooth skills and intangibles that outclass most other NBA hopefuls.
Scouts and experts are starting to move Ennis into the top 10 on their boards, but that doesn't even really do him justice.
He is worth much more than his statistics, 6'2" frame and underwhelming athleticism suggest. Even though he had a less-than-spectacular outing against N.C. State, he remains a tantalizing option for high lottery NBA clubs.
When he directs the Orange attack, he is in no hurry at all. The ACC's leader in assists and steals thrives on being patient, staying balanced and making the right decision for the team. As Ennis surveys the floor, the opposing defense doesn't know whether he'll pull up for a jumper, toss a dime into the post or drive in for a floater or finish.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton that Ennis' outward and inward unflappability makes for a once-in-a-generation type of floor general:
He’s been as steady, probably steadier, than any point guard we’ve ever had...He’s a smart player. He knows how to play the game, he’s got a good pace, he doesn’t get rattled. He plays at a pretty even keel.
Due to his composure and unwillingness to force crazy plays, Ennis is averaging just 1.8 turnovers per 40 minutes. Meanwhile, he's dishing out 6.4 assists, scoring 13.4 points and shooting 37 percent from long range.
The amazing buzzer-beater against Pittsburgh is all anyone is talking about these days, but I'm still exceedingly impressed with his leadership down the stretch against Duke. In overtime, he took over, tossing perfectly-placed passes over the Blue Devils defense, giving his teammate Jerami Grant high-percentage dunk opportunities. He also drove the lane, drew fouls and sank every single one of his free-throws.
So how does all this collegiate accomplishment translate to the Association, though?
For starters, his cool demeanor and quiet confidence will help him navigate the pressures and responsibilities of being a young NBA point guard. We saw Damian Lillard calmly exceed expectations last year, and I think Ennis can operate in a similar manner, even if he's not as productive.
As for his physical tools and basketball skills, Ennis has enough gifts to hold his own at the next level. He's not vertically explosive like Andrew Wiggins, nor is he lightning-quick like Dante Exum, but he can get by his man.
ESPNU recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi notes that he has sneaky quickness, as he moves well with the ball and uses well-timed shifts and changes speeds to outplay swifter opponents:
Former Espn #20'Tyler Ennis has always had deceptive speed with the talent to change speeds and direction. http://t.co/JQKcIb4P75— Paul Biancardi (@PaulBiancardi) February 13, 2014
Not many players can control the ball while maneuvering quickly through traffic, and Ennis does just that. And he does it while keeping his head up in order to maintain awareness of his teammates.
His point guard execution and passing skills are far superior to the average major-conference freshman. Ennis doesn't pick up his dribble until he's sure of his decision.
On the perimeter, he delivers crisp cross-court passes for shooters coming off flair screens and curl screens. On the wing, he drops textbook entry passes into the post, giving an unskilled Syracuse frontcourt the best chance to use their athleticism and length. When he drives, he's able to make interior passes that most youngsters would botch or fail to see.
Ennis won't be a dynamic playmaker in the NBA, but if he's surrounded with the right weapons, you can bet he'll get the most out of them and put them in position to thrive.
Scoring shouldn't be a problem, either. When called upon, he's shown that he's more than capable of getting buckets. He can go all the way to the tin and finish or use his ultra smooth floater in the lane. Ennis is also shooting 37 percent from three-point range, exhibiting a fluid jumper that should only improve over time.
If you think he's simply overhyped because he runs point for the nation's No. 1 team, think again. An NBA General Manager recently told ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) that he's good enough to run a high-level attack:
If you were to ask me right now whether I’d take Ennis over Kyrie Irving, I think it’s Ennis. He does all the things that help a basketball team win basketball games. You can pick him apart on individual flaws, but I would take this kid right now and trust him to run my team. I think there’s very few freshmen you could ever say that about.
Ennis may never be as good as Kyrie, but the point is that we can no longer consider him a "fringe lottery pick."
More NBA executives near the top of the lottery will highly consider drafting Syracuse's hardwood quarterback. He should earn top-five consideration by the time draft night rolls around.
At the beginning of this season, he wasn't even on the 2014 radar, as most thought he'd be in college for at least a couple years. By mid-February, however, it's clear that he's good enough to take the big stage this summer if he wants to.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR