Philadelphia 76ers: James Ennis has won ‘tournament’ for minutes

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

All season, the Philadelphia 76ers have lacked decent two-way play in the second unit. James Ennis is filling that void.

The Philadelphia 76ers, now with sole possession of the third seed, are beginning to build momentum. Even after a sluggish win over Cleveland, it’s clear the Sixers are beginning to put some of the pieces together.

One important piece has been James Ennis, who’s beginning to find his groove in Brett Brown’s rotation. After competing for playing time with Jonathon Simmons, the recently acquired swingman is putting his stamp on the second unit.

After getting traded for virtually nothing, fans expected Ennis to contribute in Philadelphia’s thin second unit. That’s why his early struggles — when he fell significantly behind Simmons in what Brown dubbed a “tournament” for minutes — were so disappointing.

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Ennis struggled to find his rhythm early on, looking lost on offense and failing to match his reputation on defense. Now things are trending upward, as evidenced by his recent performances. Even with lackluster numbers, Ennis has made a clear impact off the bench.

At 6-foot-7, Ennis fits the mold of what Philadelphia needed all season — an athletic backup wing who can defend multiple positions, hit threes and occasionally score off the bounce. He’s also quintessentially Philly, in both his style and his mentality.

It’s evident Brown enjoys hard-working defenders who hustle in transition and look to influence games with their effort, the prime example being T.J. McConnell. Ennis fills that role in a much more important position, all while boasting a more well-rounded skill set.

In Tuesday’s win over Cleveland, Ennis got the start in Jimmy Butler‘s absence. He scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, thoroughly outperforming Simmons. With Furkan Korkmaz hurt, there’s not much of a competition left. Ennis has won the backup wing minutes in relatively convincing fashion.

Ennis’ three-point shots haven’t been falling in recent weeks, but one can expect that to improve. He’s shooting 35 percent on the season, which mirrors his career average. Regression to the mean should be expected, which will only boost his production further.

There’s an argument to be made that Ennis is rounding into the Sixers’ second or third-best reserve. That’s not ideal, for obvious reasons, but it’s an important development for Philadelphia — a team that lacked capable reserves for most of the campaign.

With 14 games remaining in the regular season, expect Ennis to continue seeing 15-20 minutes per game. Furkan Korkmaz might get another shot once healthy, but it’s difficult to picture him challenging Ennis for minutes in critical games. That’s especially true in the postseason, where versatile defenders become invaluable.

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