Keep your eyes on James Ennis. He's in the process of hitting his stride—something some guys hit early, some hit late and some never hit at all.
The stride is all about gradual progression.
After spending his first two years in junior college, Ennis raised his scoring average from his junior to senior year at Long Beach State by 6.5 points to 16.5 a game.
The jump got the attention of the Miami Heat scouting department. They traded for him in the 2013 second round, though Ennis spent last season in Puerto Rico and Australia, where he made basketball look easy.
Ennis averaged 21.2 points a game in Australia's National Basketball League. He led his squad to a championship and finished third in MVP voting.
Now, he's Miami's leading scorer in the Orlando summer league, looking a bit more fine-tuned than when we saw him out of college. Ennis debuted with 18 points against the Boston Celtics and then opened eyes with a 29-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets.
He's been scoring from every spot on the floor, from behind the arc and mid-range to above the rim on the break.
The arrow is pointing upward for Ennis, who should have a legitimate shot to not only make Miami's roster, but find a spot in the rotation with LeBron James moving home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, per Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.
"We’re very optimistic about James. He exceeded what we expected. He should have been MVP in the league [in Australia]," Heat team vice president/player personnel Chet Kammerer told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
Ennis has an exciting blend of athleticism, length and skill for the NBA wing. He shot it 35 percent from downtown in both seasons at Long Beach State (39.5 percent in Australia), sporting promising shooting mechanics and deep range.
And Ennis is automatic in the open floor, where he's got the jets and burst to sky above traffic for easy buckets.
At about this time last year, Ennis looked like your textbook "Three-and-D" forward with a limited offensive game.
"Love that [Pat] Riley is talking about bringing back Long Beach State's James Ennis. He's the kind of athletic 3-and-D guy they could use on bench," Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk recently tweeted.
Only I'm not sure that label does Ennis enough justice based on his production overseas and in Orlando this summer.
Over the last few seasons, Ennis has really expanded his shot creativity and off-the-dribble game, making him a bigger threat to score and giving him more purpose in a lineup.
Ennis has flashed some potential as a go-to option—a guy who can get you a bucket with the game slowed down. And with James gone and Chris Bosh in danger of leaving as well, Miami is going to need to find offense wherever they can find it.
With the Heat in jeopardy of a down year, there isn't a better time to call on Ennis for some on-the-job training. Besides, Miami's lineup is looking a little stiff—it could use an injection of high-level athleticism.
The next step in Ennis' development is improving that shooting consistency and tightening up his floor game as a creator and passer.
At this point, Ennis doesn't present the Heat with an immediate impact presence, but it's tough to ignore the upside tied to his explosiveness, shot-making ability and defensive tools.
The fact that he continues to improve only enhances his appeal as a prospect.
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