Nomadic James Ennis eager to unleash ‘Ennis the Menace'


CAMDEN, N.J. — James Ennis has lived a nomadic basketball life. At 29 years old, the Sixers’ wing has experience playing at three colleges, for the Perth Wildcats in Australia, Piratas de Quebradillas in Puerto Rico, and for six NBA teams.

Back with the Sixers after turning down opportunities to earn more money elsewhere this summer, Ennis has a secure spot in the team’s rotation and a lucid understanding of his role. That’s not something he takes for granted.

“When you know your role, it makes it easier for the player,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I know my role coming into this year so I’ll be a lot better and I’m going to be more comfortable. You guys will be able to see ‘Ennis the Menace’ this year.”

How exactly does Ennis define that role? It's pretty simple.

“Hard-nosed player, knock down shots, guard anybody,” he said.

Though he showed all those qualities in his short stint with the Sixers last season — 18 regular-season and 11 playoff games following general manager Elton Brand’s bargain of a February trade with the Houston Rockets — Ennis thinks he’s capable of more. He bolstered a lean Sixers bench in the playoffs, averaging 7.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while providing competent perimeter defense.

Ennis’ three-point shooting numbers, however, did drop from his career average of 35.7 percent. He only hit 30.6 percent of his three-point shots in the regular season and 28.1 percent in the playoffs. The Sixers will hope he can improve in that area following the departure of sharpshooter JJ Redick. 

Ennis said he’s going to “hang his hat” on defense this year, which does not make him unique on a Sixers team that’s leaned into that organizational philosophy this offseason — along with a love of size and length. Even at 6-foot-7, there’s a good chance Ennis is the second-shortest player among the top seven in the Sixers’ rotation. He thinks he can handle just about any assignment.

“I’m versatile — I can guard one through four,” he said. “Even on the switches, I can get down and guard a point guard. And I can chase guys off a screen and stuff like that.”

This summer, Ennis has been training in Marina Del Rey, California, working on his “overall game.” He said trainer Drew Hanlen is among those helping him.

That work off the court hasn’t attracted much attention, but Ennis’ comment that the Sixers are “going to walk to the Finals in the East” drew plenty of fanfare.

While he acknowledged Thursday that the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are among the teams that will pose challenges to the Sixers, he again didn’t back down from the remark.

“Obviously there are a lot of good teams,” he said. “I’m very confident in this group. We have a lot of talent … I’m going to continue to believe in this team.”

The future beyond this upcoming season is, yet again, uncertain for Ennis. He’s on a two-year, veteran minimum deal, but he has a player option for Year 2. 

He reiterated that his desire to return to Philadelphia for this season trumped the extra cash available to him.

“I wanted to come back here,” he said. “I had a couple of teams offering me more, but it’s about the long term. I really wanted to come back to Philly and play with Ben [Simmons], Joel [Embiid] and all those guys — Mike Scott, Tobias [Harris]."

Does that mean Ennis hopes to be a Sixer for the long haul?

“I wish,” he said. 

With the laugh of someone who knows the vagaries of professional basketball well, Ennis then added, “That’s all up to Elton.”

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