Syracuse Basketball: On Tyler Ennis & The Decision To Go Pro

Rich Barnes

Every weekday morning my CNY Central colleague Alex Dunbar and I take a few minutes to discuss Syracuse Orange basketball before our boss tells us to knock it off and get back to work. So when Tyler Ennis announced he was leaving SU for the NBA Draft, we thought we'd continue that conversation here at TNIAAM.

Jeremy: All right, Alex. Might as well jump right into the deep end. True or false - Tyler Ennis will be out of the NBA in five years.

Alex: False - Ennis might need a year in a team's practice facility but he can run an NBA offense and keep defenders honest with his scoring ability. Will he be an All-Star? Maybe not, but I bet he develops into a solid starter. Ennis is the kind of player who will need to be in the right situation so hopefully he doesn't get Jonny Flynn-ed. If some crazy GM expects Ennis to be Russell Westbrook or Goran Dragic, he could struggle. If a team sees Ennis as a Ty Lawson/Mike Conley type, he could be around for a long time.

Jeremy: But do you think he can be athletic enough to get into the lane and finish against NBA defenses? The NBA is a pick and roll league now. Will he be able to turn the corner and get to the rim?

Alex: Ennis showed he could use picks well in college and you have to admit that he has a knack for finishing at the rim. What he lacks in unbelievable athleticism, Ennis more than makes up for with court vision and old school sneaky playmaking. Couldn't you see him as a late 90's Derek Fisher/Sam Cassell style player? Also - what teams do you think would be good for Ennis? What teams would be a David Kahn level career killer?

Jeremy: I definitely could see him as a Fisher/Cassell type of player, especially if he continues to develop his jump shot and a go-to floater. One NBA comparison that I have heard is Andre Miller, the Wizards point guard who played at the University of Utah in the late 1990s. Same build, same level of athleticism, similar basketball instincts and savvy.

Speculating about which team will select Ennis is tricky until the draft order is decided. That won't happen until the lottery on May 20. But it's still fun. Assuming Ennis is available somewhere in the middle of the first round, I think the Lakers, Kings, Nuggets and Magic are all logical destinations. Every other team in the lottery already has a 'franchise' type point guard. But each team has its own pitfalls. The Kings have been a tire fire of an organization for the last decade, and I wouldn't want any of my impressionable rookies within a mile of super-moody DeMarcus Cousins. The Magic need to decide what position 6'4" Victor Oladipo plays - PG or SG. Pairing him with Ennis would make for an undersized backcourt. The Nuggets have Lawson, who isn't a superstar by any means, but he’s a solid veteran. They may choose to look elsewhere. The Lakers need talent at every position, and I'd imagine Ennis would be ok with playing alongside a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Kobe Bryant for a couple of years.

Where do you think he'd fit in well?

Alex: I think the Ennis to Orlando talk will heat up over the next few weeks. Jameer Nelson is 32 and still playing well, so Ennis wouldn't need to be a day one starter, but Ennis is good enough to groom for the future. It almost makes too much sense. The Lakers would be a good landing spot too. Don't count Boston out either. It would not be a surprise to anyone if Rajon Rondo is traded this offseason (even Rondo has talked about it) and the Celtics would probably love to start over with a point guard who isn't unanimously hated by his teammates. The Bulls might be a long shot, but it could be time for some Derrick Rose insurance.

Sacramento would be bad news for Ennis and I don't think Atlanta is a great situation either. The Hawks would probably consider taking a point guard but I don't know what they would do with him. Atlanta has a roster full of decent players and it would be easy for another prospect to get buried on their bench, stuck in limbo while Hawks management tries to find a long term plan.

Jeremy: Good point. So much of a player's future can be tied to the situation he gets dropped into. Ask Donte Greene. His head must have been spinning after being traded twice before ever playing in an NBA game. He ended up with the Kings, who may have been the worst franchise in the league at the time - and aren't a hell of a lot better today. If he had stayed with the Grizzlies or Rockets things could have turned out much differently.

So where do you come down on the Ennis 'stay in school' vs. 'come out early' debate? Do you think he's doing the right thing by striking while the proverbial iron is hot?

Alex: I think he made the right choice. *Hides under desk as a mob of long time SU fans/basketball purists come running by with torches and pitchforks* The NBA draft was very different 25 years ago and now teams treat it like a prospect draft. GMs and owners are willing to take bigger chances and hope for bigger payoffs. If scouts like your upside and you are basically a lock for a top 20 pick, that's a lot of money for a player to leave on the table. Ask Marcus Smart how coming back to Oklahoma State this year worked out for him. Ennis will get better but the tape on him shows scouts what they really need to see. Also, he's 6’1", so his draft ceiling is limited. Ennis could play three more years at SU and he's still likely to be picked in the 10-20 range. That's *if* he doesn't get hurt.

What do you think? Am I alone on the "If the NBA calls, you need to pick up" viewpoint?

Jeremy: Nah. On the surface, of COURSE it’s stupid for Ennis to not take the guaranteed money. If anyone handed me $10 million to drop out of college and play basketball for a living I’d do it in a heartbeat. I think we all would, and we're lying if we say we wouldn't. So that’s going to win you the argument every time.

But here’s the thing: Young basketball players dream of playing in the NBA, right? But how many of them dream of being the last guy on the bench? How many of them dream of bouncing from team to team, signing ten day contracts, scratching and clawing just to make a roster year after year? How many of them dream of playing in China or Australia or some other far-flung foreign league just to keep their careers alive? My guess is not too many. But that's what happens to so many 'prospects' who don't have the skills to survive in the NBA beyond their first guaranteed contract. Sure, they make the quick money, but what happens when that first deal expires and they haven't become the players they hoped to be? They become basketball nomads, fighting to achieve a dream that seemed so close when they were 19 years old.

Not to continue to pick on Greene – because you can use Fab Melo or Jonny Flynn or several other players as examples too – but if he knew his career was going to take these twists and turns, would he have stuck around SU another year and refined his game? I can’t answer that for certain, but something tells me yes. College ball can teach you a few things that the pros can't. It can allow a player to mature at his own pace, instead of being thrust into a literal 'boy among men' situation. It can allow a player to make mistakes without the pro spotlight shining on them. Yes, players can develop in the pros. But I think they can develop more COMPLETELY in college.

Alex: I would agree with that, and you make a compelling case for the proposal to keep players in college for two years before they go pro. The idea is to let players develop and mature in college before being thrown to the wolves, but I think it's really about protecting teams from themselves. Flynn never should have been a top five pick and it may still come out that David Kahn was a mole trying to destroy the Timberwolves from within. Greene wasn't ready for the NBA game and the Kings destroyed the potential he had. Teams should have known to leave him in school for another year and re-evaluate. I would love to meet the NBA scout who thought Fab Melo (best known for his terrible work ethic and poor conditioning) was worth a first round pick.

NBA teams really are their own worst enemy. Some teams thought the Pacers were crazy when they took Paul George 10th overall as a sophomore out of Fresno State. Now less talented scouts are trying to find diamonds in the rough and failing. The odds of making an NBA roster are one in a million so kids don't want to miss their one opportunity. I'm sure Indiana or San Antonio would have told Donte Greene he needed another year in school, but multiple front offices desperate for a home run set him up to fail. (For what it's worth, I don't think scouts see Tyler Ennis as a "tremendous upside" guy. Hopefully even the worst-run front offices know what they are getting.)

Jeremy: Well, we're both SU alums and Celtics fans, so the Fab Melo experience (worst band name ever) hit us extra hard. The C's could have traded their pick for a bologna sandwich and it would have been less of a waste than if they drafted Melo - who they ironically traded for Greene last summer. Not coincidentally, neither of them is currently in the NBA.

I've made no secret that I am all for raising the NBA minimum age to 20. I don't think it's asking too much to require a kid to invest two years in his school before he goes off to the pros. It's a win-win for both the NBA and NCAA. The NBA theoretically gets a more polished player, and the NCAA gets a higher quality of play and more marketable faces to promote. I know people say "it's a free country" and players should be able to go pro whenever, but last time I checked the NBA is a private company and can hire whomever they want. Why is that different than a delivery service requiring all of its employees to be 18 and have a drivers' license? If a player doesn't want to go to college, he can go overseas or to the minor leagues. If the D-League ever becomes a full-fledged feeder system, I suspect more players will take that route if they can't or don't want to spend two years in school. But they'll never be marketed as well as they are while in college, which means fewer opportunities for endorsements and other additional revenue streams right out of the gate.

We should probably wrap it up before everyone reading this falls asleep. How will you remember Ennis’s stint at SU when you’re watch him in the NBA next season?

Alex: I will remember watching him find the balance between facilitating the team's offense and when he needed to score. That is a skill he will need at the next level. Do you think he can maintain that balance surrounded by gigantic NBA egos?

Jeremy: Sure he can. If anything, his greatest NBA skill may be his selflessness and ability to contribute WITHOUT scoring. That might be SU’s biggest loss. Kaleb Joseph may come in next year and duplicate Ennis’s stats, but there was something about his on-court demeanor that was all about levelheadedness and winning above all else. In the few times I spoke with him he seemed like genuinely a nice guy and good teammate. Those traits will serve him well regardless of where he plays next season. I wish him well.

Coming soon: A conversation about Jerami Grant.

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