With the Raptors now out of the playoffs, it’s natural for fans to start looking to the future. And the next thing in the future for the Raptors is the draft. In my first instalment, I looked Andrew Wiggins, and just to be clear, I realize what an infinitesimal chance the Raptors have of actually acquiring Wiggins, but I wanted to look at him for a couple of reasons. The first, and main one, is that he’s Canadian. He’s not going to be a Raptor anytime in the next five to seven years (if at all) but there are still lots of Raptor fans that had thoughts of Wiggins dancing in their head, so taking a look at him was a good way to launch the series.
Another potential Canadian lottery pick is Tyler Ennis, and he has a better chance of taking the court as a Raptor next season.
Last year at this time few basketball fans, even Canadian ones, had heard of Tyler Ennis. He was left off both the McDonald’s All-American and the Nike Hoop World team like his more famous compatriot. There wasn’t any fanfare when he picked Syracuse as his college of choice. That’s not to say he wasn’t completely unknown. Those that followed prep basketball knew he was. He just wasn’t expected to be an impact player immediately as a freshman.
Ennis didn’t start off his college career with a huge bang, missing all six of his shots in his first game, but he managed to get 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in a Syracuse win, so it wasn’t a bad beginning. Syracuse went on to win twenty five straight and Ennis was one of the main reasons why.
It wasn’t long before Ennis started climbing the mock draft boards, until he was being mentioned as a possible top ten prospect. Hitting a last-second game winner against Pitt only added to the hype.
There are definitely things to like about Ennis’ game. He has a cerebral feel for the game that few point guards have nowadays, and even fewer freshmen point guards. In fact, it’s been said by more than one scout that Ennis has a European style to his game1.
[aside]1. Ironically, ‘European-style” is actually a compliment. A far cry from when ‘European’ was synonymous with ‘soft’. It wasn’t that long ago that many Raptor fans were bemoaning the number of international players on the Raptor’s roster. Meanwhile, eight of the top ten scorers on the best team in the league are international players.[/aside]
While he’s got his weaknesses as a scorer, he has a decent enough jumper to finish the season with a .353 shooting percentage from the three point line. And he has a habit of hitting them when they count (his last game notwithstanding).
He’s also got good defensive instincts, although his average athleticism and Syracuse’s zone defense does make one wonder about how his defense will translate on the next level. He won’t be able to stay in front of guys like Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker, but who in the NBA can? Good defensive instincts and a high basketball IQ should allow him to make up for his lack of foot speed.
What is most to like about Ennis is probably not anything you see on the stat sheet. He’s a cerebral player who understands how to run an offense and make his teammates better. You can probably count on one hand the number of point guards who can do that in the NBA, so his appeal is understandable. He’s also got an almost tangible confidence that never seems brash or arrogant.
He reminds me a little of Maurice Cheeks, but with a bit better jumper. Ennis is taller and with a wider wingspan than Cheeks, but Cheeks was probably a better athlete and played at a time when 6’1 was pretty average for the point guard position. Nowadays, that’s considered undersized.
At this point, mock drafts have Ennis going anywhere from 16 to 10, so with the Raptors drafting 20th, it’s doubtful he would drop that far, but the Raptors could easily move up a few spots if they feel the need to grab him.
On the surface, point guard is probably the position that’s the strongest and deepest position on the Raptors. Kyle Lowry was undoubtably the team’s MVP, despite not making the All Star team. Greivis Vasquez struggled early backing up Lowry, but played well after the All Star break and had a very good playoff series against the Nets. Spurs’ import, Nando De Colo, also showed promise when he was allowed to run the point.
Unfortunately, both Lowry and De Colo are unrestricted free agents and while Lowry has publicly stated he’d like to return to Toronto, his salary demands, and interest from other teams2, will have a big say in whether Lowry will don a Raptor uniform next year. Vasquez is a restricted free agent and isn’t likely to get a big offer, but with so many teams with cap room, you never know. There’s a chance none of the point guards will return, so drafting a guy like Ennis might be a smart decision. If nothing else, he could be insurance in case one or all the current Raptor point guards play hardball with their salary demands.
[aside]2. The Lakers are the team most brought up as a possible suitor for Lowry, as they will have lots of cap room and a need for a young, dynamic point guard. Depending on the plans of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, Miami might also have cap room and might become an attractive destination for Lowry, especially if Pat Riley decides he work his magic. Houston doesn’t have cap room, but might have the pieces to do a sign and trade , and apparently made overtures to trade back for Lowry earlier in the season. If Kevin McHale doesn’t return (which is looking more and more likely, especially after being soundly outcoached in their first round loss to Portland), then Lowry’s only reason for leaving Houston might be gone. [/aside]
Point guards like Ennis always seem to end up getting drafted too low and make teams who passed on them regret it. Ask Eric Bledsoe, Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson.
And Ennis is the perfect type of point guard for the Raptors. He’s more of a pass first point guard than Lowry is, but plays with a similar confidence (without the chip on his shoulder) and penchant for heroics. If the Raptors can pick of Ennis, it might be an excellent idea, even if Lowry ends up returning. This season is the first in several where he didn’t miss significant time to injury, which is not surprising considering his style of play. And should Lowry revert to his pre-2014 self, it would be nice to have his replacement waiting in the wings.
Next week, we’ll end up looking at the last Canadian prospect, and then onto those not fortunate to be born in Canada. Mark your calendars for Tuesdays and Thursday each week until the draft.