The future of the Miami Heat is uncertain at this point, as Norris Cole and Chris Andersen will be the only players locked in contractually after this season. It casts a vague image of who to expect in a Heat uniform going forward, but one player Miami can rely on is James Ennis.
Ennis, a 6'7" small forward out of Long Beach State, was drafted with the No. 50 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He was immediately traded to the Heat, but no available roster spot has Ennis playing out this season in Australia.
Ennis is currently the starting small forward for the Perth Wildcats, where he has taken the National Basketball League by storm. The Wildcats are 16-6 to lead the NBL and, while the team deserves credit, Ennis has played a big part.
He's currently averaging 22.3 points per game (which trails the league-leading ranking by just 0.1 points), in addition to 7.3 rebounds while shooting 47.8 percent. Ennis' 6'11" wingspan has allowed him to rank second in total rebounds, making him a very difficult player to contain.
Ennis' athleticism has become his biggest advantage against the Australian competition, where he leads the NBL in free-throw makes and attempts (77.4 percent). He scores the majority of his points driving to the rim but still has a reliable jump shot.
Ennis currently shoots 39.5 percent from the three-point line, which makes his transition much easier. His shooting form is good, yet his ability to cut to the rim remains his biggest strength.
It's unlikely Ennis would be just as potent offensively in the NBA, but he'd remain a solid option for the Heat. To predict, it's likely Ennis would play as a reserve for Miami early on. He's shown the ability to continually improve, and it's probable that trend continues going forward.
Ennis' ceiling isn't really limited at this point, leaving the door open for further improvement with the Heat coaching staff.
NBADraft.net's Aran Smith compares Ennis' game to Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, despite his 200-pound frame being slightly lighter than Butler's 220 pounds. Ennis is quick on his feet because of this, on both ends of the floor, leading to a plethora of disruption in passing lanes and finishes in the paint.
As a one-on-one defender, Ennis has shown the ability to stay in front of his man. He currently ranks No. 17 in personal fouls in 22 games, which equates to 2.5 fouls per game. Ennis plays 33.0 minutes per game, so it's a solid ratio that might rise slightly at the NBA level.
He does gamble here and there on steals in passing lanes, which can lead to open opportunities for opponents. The Heat's current point guard in Mario Chalmers does the same, yet is able to recover quickly.
Ennis' length and speed means he can also recover, but what he can do on the offensive end if he is successful stealing is worth the gamble. Miami's coaching staff can certainly direct Ennis not to do so if necessary, but it's a natural part of Ennis' defensive style.
What Lies Ahead?
As aforesaid, Miami's roster situation is difficult to foresee. Yet regardless if the Big Three opt out of their deals to sign elsewhere, the Heat will still retain Ennis' rights. He has an out clause in his contract, meaning he can be called up to Miami any time.
His combination of quickness and outside shooting makes him a perfect complement to the current roster. The Big Three rely on perimeter shooting to space the floor, which Ennis provides nicely for the Wildcats.
Even if the roster does disband, Ennis could still come in as a reserve scorer for Miami. The Heat have never been overly concentrated on developing prospects, instead looking toward veteran players to fill out the roster.
In this case, Miami should shake things up slightly with Ennis. It isn't likely he'll lead the Heat, but he can still be a valuable player going forward.
If Ennis' play in Australia is any indication, he looks ready to contribute right away. It might be later rather than sooner before that becomes an opportunity, but the Heat can remain optimistic about Ennis' skill level and talent.
All statistics courtesy of Fox Sports Pulse.