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2017-18 Pistons review: When will a team really appreciate James Ennis?

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NBA: Detroit Pistons at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

“The British are coming, the British are coming!”

Y’all know who said that, right? Paul Revere, right. [Well, at least our American readers are probably well aware of that piece of lore.]

Yeah, Sybil Ludington must have been sitting on the sidelines watching towns get named Revere thinking, “This is some bullshit.” She rode twice as far as Revere that night to get militia forces moving, even though she was only 16 years old.

James Ennis must be feeling similarly unappreciated.

To be honest, I was getting tired of writing season reviews. Part of me wondered, “Hm, would anyone notice if we just didn’t get to Ennis?” Probably could have gotten away with it. Meanwhile Stanley Johnson’s season review is currently sitting at 134 comments.

Being under-appreciated is nothing new for Ennis. Barely drafted by the Hawks, immediately traded to the Heat, then traded to the Grizzlies, sent to the D-League, then waived, signed by the Pelicans, they let him walk, he signed back with the Grizzlies, then traded to the Pistons for peanuts. All in the course of four seasons.

And in every stop, he’s always been a solid player. He’s never had a season with a win shares per 48 minute figure under .088 and never had a true shooting percentage below 54 percent. He brings prototypical size for a small forward, solid defense, shooting, athleticism...what’s not to like with this player that no one seems to really like that much?

Most Pistons fans enter the summer looking at Ennis as a likely cap casualty who was a nice fling, but won’t be missed. Stanley Johnson will be the presumptive starter at small forward to open the next season. But should that be the case?

Yes, Johnson is younger. But even at his best, he’s unlikely to top Ennis’ performance. So...should the Pistons try to keep Ennis around as a potential starter for next season?

After all, it’s easy to pin the “Not Starter Material” on a player, but that is generally a mistake. It’s not a matter of whether a player is starter material, it’s a matter of whether they’re what the starting line up needs.

Ennis indeed brings much of what the Pistons need from that spot to the table. While it’s easy to dismiss him due to the lack of Name Recognition Per 36 Minutes, Reggie Bullock is a great example of why that’s a mistake.

He’s not a volume shooter, averaging just 13.2 points per 36 minutes during his time with the Pistons. But he’s efficient. That’s something not currently present in the Pistons projected starting lineup, with Reggie Bullock as the only above average true shooting percentage starter.

His offensive game leaned heavily on spot up situations and transition, which makes it rather impressive that he managed to still be an efficient player despite his three point shot being below average for him after his move to Detroit.

For the season, 40 percent of his shots came off the catch and shoot and 45 percent came from inside 10 feet. That’s the kind of distribution that’ll produce solid results.

In a lot of ways, Ennis brings the type of game that Bullock used to find success last year - just a bit less reliant on the three point shot and leaning more on his athleticism inside the arc.

Both off transition opportunities and cuts, Ennis was a tough finisher inside.

While less of a knockdown three point shooter as Bullock, he was at least a contributor for stretching the floor.

It’s kind of weird picking three misses for examples of floor spacing, but those are shots the Pistons need this position taking. And his 30 percent three point shooting with the Pistons probably isn’t a great example of Ennis’ shooting prowess. It was the lowest mark of his career, and in his time in the league he’s averaged a more respectable 36 percent.

Ennis is also pretty good on defense!

Like on that other end of the court, he’s not going to blow you away with his numbers. His basic defensive stats are solid and his defensive field goal percentage is pretty damn good at 42.3 percent, 3.4 percent below opponents’ averages. But no matter your source, his defensive rating was terrible.

At the end of the day, you’ve got a guy with athleticism and decent size who is a willing defender. Cool. That’s about the same as Johnson. Johnson really should be a better defender than Ennis...but he’s not.

So, Ennis can ball. But this isn’t a call for him to be a starter just yet.

Remember that point where I said, “It’s not a matter of whether a player is starter material, it’s a matter of whether they’re what the starting line up needs”? There’s one big gap that Ennis has that this starting lineup needs. Ball handling. Johnson brings it. Ennis doesn’t.

As a starter with the Pistons, Ennis’ personal stats were pretty good. But his +/- was -5.4. Folks can dismiss that +/- stat all they want, but every number can tell us something. This was that Stan Van Gundy liked to start Ennis with Bullock when Ish Smith was the starting point guard at times to help with spacing over Stanley Johnson.

It made sense. You can’t have more than two non-deep threats, and the Pistons had two in Ish and Drummond. And Stanley isn’t one. But it still didn’t work.

A big reason for that was because of the lack of creators on the offensive end. Bullock, Ennis, Drummond, none of those guys should be looking to create their own shot. And Ish is at his best when creating for others.

That’s the one edge Johnson has. He has been developing an increased competence running the pick and roll and putting the ball on the floor without silly mistakes (i.e. stepping out of bounds). Ennis isn’t a terrible ball handler, but he’s not going to create much in the half court.

So long as Reggie Jackson remains healthy, Ennis is probably the better fit. If not, it’s Johnson.

But either way, it’s interesting to start a player review wondering if it’d go unnoticed if you skipped him and ending it with wondering if he could be a starter...