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Salman Ali: Is James Ennis a Diamond in the Rough for the Rockets?

James Ennis could be a key addition for the Rockets. Leon Halip/Getty Images

Every NBA offseason there are signings made that go under the radar, but end up being very critical during the season. Take for example, Joe Ingles for the Utah Jazz last summer. While Ingles was considered to be a good player, he had only started 58 out of 242 games for the Jazz up to that point and had to fill some pretty big shoes with the departure of Gordon Hayward.

Utah made a gamble that while Joe Ingles was already 29 at the time, there was still some untapped potential to be had. It ultimately ended up paying off big time as Ingles went on to have a career year, averaging highs in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, on 31.4 MPG).

It seems the Houston Rockets are making a similar gamble this summer with the signing of 28 year old James Ennis. While it may not cost them as much as Ingles ended up costing Utah (4 years, $52 million), there's a lot riding on Ennis working out for Houston.

It's well noted that the Rockets lost a lot of wing depth this summer with the departures of starting small forward Trevor Ariza and bench swingman Luc Mbah a Moute. Houston's switch-heavy defensive scheme relies on having versatile wings who can defend multiple positions. Without Ariza and Mbah a Moute, Ennis will have to fill a huge role right off the bat. Also, with Ennis having the option to opt out of his minimum deal next summer in favor of a bigger deal, it's beneficial for both sides that this gamble work out.

Now it’s not like James Ennis is completely unproven, but he’s never had the chance to establish himself in a team’s consistent rotation. Ennis has been in the league for 4 years but has already bounced around to four different teams. The best season of his career was in 2015-16 when the New Orleans Pelicans were hit with a barrage of injuries and Ennis had to step up and play big minutes (31.3 MPG). However, in those minutes he averaged 15.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 1.3 SPG on 64.7% True Shooting. He even shot a ridiculous 48% from 3 on 5.6 attempts per game. While it’s unlikely he’ll ever replicate this kind of season, there’s reason to believe that Ennis can be very productive if he’s given the proper playing time, which he’ll find in droves in Houston.

Ennis certainly fits the mould of a 3 and D wing the Rockets have liked to plug and play in their system over the years. He’s long (6’7 with a 6’11 wingspan) and athletic which translates well to the switching scheme the Rockets have played the last couple of years. It’s also translated to Ennis being an above average defender over the course of his career. Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies were 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when James Ennis was on the court. As a point of comparison, the Rockets were 4.2 points per 100 possessions when Luc Mbah a Moute was on the floor.

Here’s a clip of James Ennis doing a good job to contain James Harden in 2017.

Ennis has also been a capable shooter stretching back to his college days. As a junior and senior, he shot 35.0% and 35.8% respectively. As an NBA player, Ennis is a career 35.9% 3-PT shooter. In comparison, Trevor Ariza shot 35.3% from 3 throughout his career and Luc Mbah a Moute shot 33.6%. Essentially, Ennis is on par, and perhaps a slight notch above the players he will be replacing as a shooter. In Houston, he will have to bump up his attempts per game quite a bit, but that shouldn’t be a problem if his career trends persist.

The Rockets brass seem to have a high level of belief in Ennis. When asked about Houston’s offseason at Texans’ training camp, head coach Mike D’Antoni said “I think James Ennis can be really good. I think people are downplaying him.” General Manager Daryl Morey also had similar things to say on The Herd with Colin Cowherd when asked about the departure of Trevor Ariza, “We feel like James Ennis coming in is someone that can really add a lot.”

Whether or not James Ennis starts or not is irrelevant. What matters is he will have to play a ton more minutes this year and a lot of those minutes will come with closing units and Houston’s most important lineups. Ennis looks like a promising addition, but he will still have to prove his worth in a new role with bigger responsibilities.

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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