Following a solid regular-season campaign that included some impressive clutch shooting, Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis is taking his chance at the next level, officially entering his name in the 2014 NBA draft on Thursday. Ennis released a statement on his decision, via Cuse.com:
"I'd like to thank Coach Boeheim, the coaching staff, my teammates and the amazing fans of Syracuse for the opportunity to play at a great university like Syracuse," said Ennis. "I feel this experience has helped prepare me to fulfill my lifelong dream – to play in the NBA."
Jeff Goodman of ESPN initially reported the news:
Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis will leave for NBA, sources told ESPN.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 27, 2014
Ennis, a second-team All-ACC selection, is considered a borderline lottery pick. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) ranks him as the ninth-best player and third-best point guard in the 2014 class. DraftExpress' rankings are slightly less favorable at No. 15, but that still puts Ennis in range for the last part of the lottery.
As a freshman, Ennis averaged 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists while leading Syracuse to a 28-6 record overall. While considered a 5-star recruit coming out of high school by 247Sports' composite rankings, Ennis' ascent up the national ranks is a bit of a surprise. He was ranked behind Kentucky's Aaron Harrison and Florida's Kasey Hill, both of whom would go well after Ennis if they entered the draft.
Ennis has wowed scouts with maturity beyond his years. Jim Boeheim consistently put the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and over and over again Ennis rewarded that faith. He made eight of his first nine shots and all 14 of his free throws during clutch situations to start the regular season, according to Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com.
Though few considered Ennis as someone who could leave school early, those shots and his overall play kept him rising up draft boards. In February, an anonymous NBA general manager told ESPN's Ford (subscription required) he would take Ennis over Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving right now. All Irving has done in his three NBA seasons is make two All-Star appearances, including 2014 when he won the game MVP.
Going that far is a bit overzealous. Irving has the ability to be a foundational talent; Ennis is more of a late-lottery selection. But there is plenty to like about the young guard, beyond the intangible factors so many rave about.
Scouts around the league so often use "feel for the game," and Ennis has plenty of that. He's a smart ball-handler who works well within the framework of an offense, talking with teammates and keeping the ball moving. He'll be the latest Boeheim product, following Michael Carter-Williams, who sees the court at an advanced level from the moment he steps on an NBA floor.
When it comes to the NBA game, Ennis' ability to score off the pick-and-roll also sticks out as promising. Too often point guards aren't given enough trust within collegiate offenses to create off the dribble, which stunts their initial growth as they learn the nuances of an NBA attack. Roughly a third of Ennis' possessions that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or foul came as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Shot consistency is a bit of an issue, but Ennis has range and projects as a good, if not elite shooter. He hit three-point jumpers at a 35.3 percent success rate last season and appeared more comfortable taking those shots at higher volumes as the season went along. At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Ennis isn't as big as Marcus Smart or Australian Dante Exum, but he's big enough.
Where Ennis differs most from his contemporaries and the biggest knock on his draft stock surrounds his athleticism. While neither ground bound nor slow off the dribble, Ennis is decidedly not a great athlete—especially for today's point guard position. He may struggle a bit defensively against bigger, faster guys like Russell Westbrook or a healthy Derrick Rose, and it's likely he'll be a below-average finisher at the rim.
Smart has frustrated fans and scouts alike with his lack of progression as a sophomore, and Exum remains largely a mystery, but neither will have trouble athletically at the next level. Exum in particular fits right in with that Westbrook-Rose mold of point guards today. Given the opportunity to rank all three now, most experts have it right at this point.
Ennis is a good, late-lottery selection who could start if he learns to use his body well. Either way, things have changed an awful lot in the life of 19-year-old Tyler Ennis.
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