It was a quiet trade deadline for the Magic, with a small deal with old trading partners Philadelphia constituting the franchise’s only business. Out went a second-round pick coming from the Lakers, and in came James Ennis III, a small-forward expected to shoot the ball and plug the gap on the wing caused by Orlando’s current injury concerns. It’s a minor but neat transaction that potentially addresses some immediate concerns while not altering the core of the team in any way.
Let’s take a look at what Orlando have in their latest addition...
Ennis represents only minuscule risk for the Magic. He signed a two-year, $4 million pact with Philadelphia over the summer, meaning he’s on the hook for just $1.9 million this season. In 2020/21 this inches up to $2.1 million, but because he has an option in his favor he could potentially choose to explore the free agency market in a bid to secure more money long-term. Regardless, even if he opts in, his small number won’t clog up Orlando’s cap or restrict them in other things they might be interested in pursuing.
In 2019/20 Ennis has played a shade under 16 minutes per-contest, totaling counting stat averages of 5.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists. The scoring numbers have been reached on 44.2% shooting from the field, while turnovers and fouls have generally been kept pretty low (0.6 and 1.7 per game, respectively). Each of these figures are relatively in line with his career averages, so they make for a pretty good predictor of expected contribution.
The biggest worry regarding Ennis’ play is simply that his opportunity to do so has been dwindling of late. Across his first 40 games this season he was comfortably seeing about 19 minutes of court time each night; since then, he’s averaged just 8 minutes per game, topping the 10 minute mark only three times.
Ennis evidently fell out of favor in Philadelphia; that’s why he was available for next to nothing. The 76ers are a team in some state of crisis at the moment, so it’s probably not necessary to judge the handling of a lower-end rotation player too harshly; that team’s fortunes are linked to higher wattage stars, so the shifting of deck chairs around those at the top of the pecking order is to be expected during times of angst.
Ennis wasn’t the problem in Philly, but neither was he the answer. The Magic will be hoping that the questions they’re asking of him are a little easier.
There’s a chance that Ennis is immediately provided the opportunity to plug the current hole on Orlando’s wing. Since Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu went down, the Magic have been stretched thin at the position, forced to rely on stop-gap and fish-out-of-water measures to get by. Ennis will get a crack at meaningful minutes, likely at the expense of Wes Iwundu, Gary Clark, and Khem ‘seriously guys, I’m a backup center’ Birch.
Ennis’ shot profile is one that could theoretically benefit the Magic. Throughout his career he’s been a volume three-point shooter, with attempts from long distance accounting for 44.5% of his total shots. That number was actually higher this season in Philadelphia, where the long ball made up 46.9% of his total output. He’s generally been pretty accurate from deep as well; although he’s dipped just below the league average this season with a conversion rate of 34.9%, his career mark — 35.6% — pegs him as a reliably average marksman. For greater context, it’s worth noting that these numbers make him one of the better shooting options in Orlando, trailing only Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic in three-point accuracy. The swingman should be able to step in immediately and make a positive contribution to the team’s shooting.
In addition, the location from which Ennis takes these shots is another aspect of his game that the Magic could leverage. 41.5% of his total three-point attempts have come from the corner, an area of the court that Orlando are currently getting close to league-worst value from. As a team the Magic take just 13.9% of their long-range shots from these two spots, a rate that ranks 30th by almost three whole percentage points (and that is more than doubled by the league’s most prolific corner shooter, Detroit). It’s a shame, because the side is draining 40.1% of these attempts, good for eighth and significantly better than their fourth-last ranked mark of 33.6% on all triples.
It’s understandable why the Magic have struggled to take advantage of one of the highest-value shots in the game. The personnel currently in the rotation aren’t really suited to these spots on the floor, and Clifford has game-planned accordingly. Aaron Gordon and Wes Iwundu are more damaging slashing from the wings. Fournier has been tasked with a wealth of ball-handling duties. Birch is not a stretch-four that can be parked in the corner (nor is he a four at all, really). Michael Carter-Williams can’t shoot, Terrence Ross is better running off screens, and Nikola Vucevic operates up high as an offensive fulcrum. The arrival of Al-Farouq Aminu in the offseason is something that could have been used to address this (and I certainly thought it would!), but his deployment before injury didn’t seem to make the shot a priority. Ennis could help the Magic move towards more modern basketball.
Elsewhere, the newly acquired forward certainly has some limitations, which would explain why he was available for a pittance. He’s a spot up shooter exclusively, with every single one of his makes from distance this year (and 96.4% for his career) coming on the back of an assist from a teammate. He doesn’t get to the free-throw line much more frequently than the Magic already do — a personal rate of .270 compared to the team’s mark of .256 — while his assist percentage of 7.4% speaks to the fact that he’s not much of a playmaker. He’s an average rebounder and disruptive defensive presence, but he at least keeps the turnovers to a minimum and has exhibited some capacity to contribute above a replacement level.
It’s tough to imagine that the arrival of Ennis is going to have a major impact on Orlando’s fortunes this season. His presence certainly won’t hurt, but the roster’s issues run deeper than an end-of-the-rotation journeyman. A modest contribution is a fair expectation: some scoring, the threat of outside shooting, and average wing defense. For a Magic side with an increasingly tenuous grip on the postseason it might be enough.