James Ennis

James Ennis thinks Sixers' bench will be 'bulldogs'

James Ennis thinks Sixers' bench will be 'bulldogs'

CAMDEN, N.J. — With a scrimmage to play tomorrow, the fourth and final day of training camp for the Sixers wasn’t a physical one. Friday’s practice was mostly about “polishing up what we’ve put in,” Brett Brown said. There will be plenty of chances down the line for his team to fully impose their “smash mouth offense and bully ball defense" mentality.

Here are a few notes ahead of Saturday’s Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware:

Building an environment

In the final few minutes of practice, five-man teams on three separate courts ran through baseline and sideline out of bounds plays and drills for specific situations. Brown also had his team do some 5-on-0 work to develop greater comfort with the Sixers’ “A to B” offense

He instructed his starters at one point to play off “B deny,” which is how the offense begins when the point guard, “A,” keeps the ball instead of passing to the trailing big man, “B.”

We’re already familiar with the “organic” style of offense Brown wants his team to have. But what factors into how he approaches baseline and sideline out of bounds plays, after-timeout sets and other special situations?

With the creativity of coaches nowadays where you can come out and they could be sitting in a zone, they could switch one through four, keep five at home, sag the inbounder, pressure the inbounder, there’s just so many things that you’re seeing. And to feel like you’re going to come out with all the answers is really not smart. 

“And so for me, I like to just put them in an environment — and that’s the word, an environment. Then they’ve got to choose different options out of it. That’s the mentality when you’re talking about “need” plays, ATOs, catch shot down three, catch shot down two, need two with time, all that stuff. 

Bulldogs off the bench 

James Ennis had an answer ready to go when asked how he’d characterize the personality of the Sixers’ bench.

“Bulldogs,” he said. “Mike Scott leading us, myself, Furkan [Korkmaz], Kyle [O’Quinn] and whoever is on the second team will be bulldogs ready to get stops.”

Ennis and Scott will be key members of that second unit, but the full composition of the bench is still up in the air. The backup point guard competition will be one to watch at Saturday’s scrimmage and likely throughout the preseason, and there are a ton of names in the mix on the wing. 

Brown said Wednesday he expects the rotation will comprise 10 or 11 players in the beginning of the regular season, so Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Korkmaz and Shake Milton all might see opportunities to earn minutes.

While Smith and Thybulle are both renowned for their defense, they’re not identical players. If the rotation is indeed a large one at first, the idea of playing them together and showcasing their different defensive strengths in tandem is intriguing.

They both are very, very good defensive players,” Brown said. “Matisse’s ability off the ball, where he can cover ground and shoot gaps and get in lanes and pick stuff out of the sky with his length stands out. I think Zhaire’s gravity, his center of gravity when he’s just dogging somebody and lower sort of balance levels — he reminds me a little bit of Avery Bradley at times. … They both are tremendous athletes and for sure elite defensive players for their ages. That carryover into an NBA game will be part of their learning curve. But that is sure how they see the world — they play defense.

A different perspective on Simmons' shot 

Brown began his availability with the media Friday with a joke.

“As long as nobody asks me about Ben Simmons’ jump shot or Joel’s health or things like that, I’m happy,” he said.

That subject had come up often the day before, with Brown pushing back against the notion that it should be “the thing” everyone fixates on with Simmons (see story).

Though Brown didn’t address it Friday, Joel Embiid, unprompted, had something to say about Simmons’ jumper when asked about his extended after-practice three-point shooting session.

“Like I’ve always said before, I don’t like shooting threes,” Embiid said. “But this year since we’re going to have Ben willing to take those threes, maybe it’s going to put my game more inside. I’m hoping that he will shoot them, so I do my job, what I do inside.”

Random observation: Embiid was pretty subdued Friday, but he did throw in a jab at new player development specialist Roy Hibbert, a two-time All-Star with the Indiana Pacers.

“Well, I’ve been busting his a--,” Embiid said, “but it’s been good. Another guy with size. He helps a lot. Another guy who’s strong. He’s in the training room every day after we work out because I’m always hitting him. But he’s a great guy.”

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Sixers Talk: James Ennis joins the pod, hanging with Charles Barkley, more

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Sixers Talk: James Ennis joins the pod, hanging with Charles Barkley, more

James Ennis joins Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick has things to share from his day hanging out with Charles Barkley on the Mike Missanelli Show on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Ennis talked to Danny about why he decided to re-sign, Ben Simmons' jumper and Tobias Harris' new nickname.

Paul has a few tidbits about spending the day with the always entertaining Barkley and the Mike Missanelli Show crew.

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Nomadic James Ennis eager to unleash 'Ennis the Menace'

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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