Newly acquired Bucks PG Ennis ‘in a much better spot now’
MILWAUKEE — On draft night, the realization of a dream didn’t allow Tyler Ennis to spend too much time thinking about the makeup of the Phoenix Suns’ backcourt.
He would soon realize he had no chance to play.
What was a head-scratching pick at the time became more puzzling a month later when the Suns acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas in a sign-in-trade. With Goran Dragic already in the fold, Phoenix’s point guard count reached four when restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe agreed to a five-year deal.
Ahead of Ennis were three established point guards, two signed long term and the other the team’s leading scorer.
"It didn’t play out ideally for me," Ennis said. "But I think everything happens for a reason. I was able to learn from those guys and I think I’m in a much better spot now."
That better spot is in Milwaukee. The Bucks, who acquired Ennis along with Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee in a three-team trade with Phoenix and Philadelphia, have long-term plans for the 20-year-old.
In two games with the Bucks, Ennis has played more than half of the 58 total minutes he saw the floor for with the Suns.
Ennis appeared in just eight of the 54 games he spent with Phoenix, with seven of those games decided by at least 16 points. While stuck behind Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas, the 6-foot-3 point guard used the time to try to add strength to his 175-pound frame while studying the trio of guards ahead of him.
"If you are not going to play you don’t want to waste a year," Ennis said. "You don’t want to sit around and pout. I just took it as something I can learn from. Going forward, that’s not something I want to go through again."
A consensus top-20 recruit out of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., Ennis committed to Syracuse University where Carter-Williams was starring as a sophomore point guard.
When Carter-Williams declared for the draft, Jim Boeheim turned the reins over to the then 19-year-old Ennis.
"He gave me a lot of freedom as a freshman and trusted me," Ennis said of the Hall of Fame coach. "I was able to go out there and play my game and be really comfortable right off the bat."
Ennis averaged 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists to help the Orange to a 28-6 record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. He committed just 58 turnovers in 1,215 minutes, as his 3.22 assist-to-turnover ratio was third-best in the ACC and 10th in the country.
The native Canadian declared for the draft after his freshman season, becoming just the third one-and-done player in Syracuse history.
"It was difficult because I love Syracuse — the fans, the players, everything," Ennis said. "I had to really look at what was the best situation for me and what was the best decision for me. That’s basically how I made my decision."
After the Bucks acquired Ennis, Jason Kidd called Boeheim to get a scouting report on his new point guard.
"I like that he had to practice every day against those guys in Phoenix, they’re not too bad," Kidd said. "Being a rookie, he probably had to take his lumps. He wasn’t going to shy away from that. I like his basketball IQ, being able to talk to some of his former coaches, including Boeheim, understanding that the kid is very smart, understands the game and just wants a chance to play.
I’m really fortunate I came to such a great organization and such a great spot for me. I’m going to have an opportunity to prove myself in such a great environment with a team that’s so close.
"I have a lot of respect for Boeheim. I talked to him just to get the feedback and get a feel of him, and Boeheim talked very highly of him."
Ennis was on the team bus ready to depart for the Phoenix airport when he received a text message saying he had been traded to Milwaukee. It was at that point Plumlee turned to him and told him, "Damn, I was looking forward to playing with you."
Plumlee received the same text message shortly thereafter, as Phoenix traded five players to three different teams at the deadline.
"I was basically prepared," Ennis said. "The situation I walked into — having four point guards on a team, three of them top-of-the-line point guards — I think you kind of have to be prepared for something to happen.
"I was fortunate to be able to learn from those guys for the five months I was there. Just watching those guys every day and seeing how hard they work, how much they prepared and what made them successful, I will be taking pieces I learned from them my whole career."
It didn’t take long for Ennis to be thrown to the fire with the Bucks. He hadn’t even gone through a shootaround, let alone a practice, with his new team before he was called upon to play.
With Carter-Williams out due to a sprained right big toe, Jerryd Bayless has started Milwaukee’s last two games at point guard. Ennis has slid into the backup role, playing 18 minutes in each of his first two games with the Bucks.
"I think it speaks to his demeanor, his natural talent," Kidd said following Friday night’s victory over Denver. "He’s a poised kid, as you can see. He didn’t panic. Guys trusted him with the ball. . . . Not having any practice or knowledge of what he was supposed to be doing, I thought he did a great job."
Ennis had just 58 minutes of NBA action under his belt prior to his Bucks debut, but Kidd isn’t afraid to use his entire roster, even if a player hasn’t been on said roster for 24 hours.
After scoring four points with two assists and three turnovers against the Nuggets, Ennis tallied four points with three assists and three turnovers Sunday in Milwaukee’s loss to Atlanta.
"With this group of guys right here, we’re going to make it as easy as possible," Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. "Communicating is a big thing. Don’t be scared. You are a hooper. We definitely respect you as a hooper. You are rolling with Milwaukee now."
Exactly how Ennis fits into Milwaukee’s long-term plans remains to be seen. Kidd referenced acquiring the team’s future starting and backup point guard in the three-team trade, which would likely mean he sees Carter-Williams as the starter and Ennis as the backup.
Bayless is under contract for one more season, which would allow Ennis time to learn. There’s also the chance Carter-Williams and Ennis could eventually play together depending on how both develop.
"I’m really fortunate I came to such a great organization and such a great spot for me," Ennis said. "I’m going to have an opportunity to prove myself in such a great environment with a team that’s so close.
"I think we have a really young team and a team that’s building together. They’ve done a great job of putting themselves in a playoff race. Me, Mike and Miles are trying to come in and continue to that to do whatever we can to get to the next level."
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