A year ago, the Phoenix Suns traded away a young pass-first point guard who couldn't win a backup spot ahead of Ish Smith in training camp. Now, with the pick obtained in the trade, the Suns have drafted another pass-first point guard in Tyler Ennis. Is Ennis a better prospect than Marshall?
The Phoenix Suns selected PG Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and the whole Suns world echoed the same sentiment: "Oh no, another Kendall Marshall!"
Tyler Ennis didn't have the Suns as his #1 choice either. A Toronto native, he had a soft spot for the Raptors who were picking just few picks further down the draft. Now, the Canadian kid gets to find out what climbing into a hot oven feels like.
"This is probably going to be my first year not seeing snow,'' Ennis said of his new home in Arizona, "but I think change is good.''
Still, the Suns were a team Ennis liked and could see himself playing for.
"I had a really good workout in Phoenix,'' Ennis said to Syracuse.com after the Draft. "Their style of play fits mine, and I think with the young talent Phoenix has and me being a facilitator, I think it could work really well.''
When he worked out just a week before the Draft, Ennis was ready to go.
"I think anyone that has a chance to come here and be a part of this organization is lucky," he said after working out in Phoenix. "They have a great staff and a great set of players. If I end up here I'd be more than happy."
The Marshall experiment
Kendall Marshall was the 20 year old sophomore point guard who led UNC's college All-Star team as the best assist man in the past decade. Marshall's college problem was a poor shooting stroke and utter lack of confidence in his shot coupled with a lack of athleticism to keep up with NBA players. As soon as the season ended, Marshall was projected in the Top 10 of the 2012 Draft. By draft time, his stock dropped into the late teens and was eventually taken as the point guard of the future for the Phoenix Suns.
But Marshall spectacularly flamed out in Phoenix. First and foremost, he entered his rookie season with "nothing to prove". After struggling for playing time on a terrible team, his father began ranting on social media about giving Marshall a chance. When Marshall got a chance in the second half of the season, he did exactly what we thought he would do: pass it well, shoot it terribly, and make enough layups against NBA competition to count on one hand.
The Suns imported a "shooting coach turned head coach" who promised to help everyone on the roster shoot better than ever. Hornacek's first bomb was to mention what Marshall and rookie Archie Goodwin needed to do to become quality NBA shooters: remake their shot. Hornacek had done it when he entered the NBA in the late 80s and saw no reason these two young players couldn't do the same.
He said that Marshall needed to raise the release point of his shot to get it off over NBA defenders. He commented that Marshall couldn't just work on consistency, since the NBA players would close out harder once he proved he could make shots. He also worked with Goodwin had a different release point on every shot, making it difficult to find any consistency.
Marshall showed up training camp with the same exact shot. Goodwin showed up ready to start over with his shot.
A month later, only Goodwin was still on the team.
The Washington trade nets Ennis
Now that the dust has cleared, we can see that the Suns traded Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee for Tyler Ennis.
Those four former Suns were traded for the Washington first round pick that was eventually used on Tyler Ennis last week.
But to put that pressure on Ennis is a bit much. He didn't devise this plan. The Suns did. I just think it's ironic that the Suns traded, essentially, Marshall's future for Ennis' future.
Now the Ennis experiment
Now, the Suns appear to have drafted much the same player in Syracuse's Tyler Ennis. Ennis is a great passer, but inconsistent with his shot and could struggle against NBA athleticism.
However, these players are very different.
For one thing, Ennis already has a good shooting stroke with good height at the release point. He does not need to remake anything. He will not struggle to get his shot off against a close-out defender.
In addition, Ennis has made a lot of big shots to help his team win games. Marshall never (as far as I know) made a game-winning shot. Ennis has done that. Ennis scored 12.9 points per game as a freshman, while Marshall scored less than 9 points per game at UNC and has not cracked 10 in the NBA, even with Mike D'Antoni as his coach for nearly 30 mpg his second season.
While Marshall is a risk-taker in the passing game, Ennis had an incredible assist-to-turnover ratio in his only year in college. He makes the flashy passes as well as the simple ones. He is great with dump off passes under the basket after driving into the teeth of the defense.
Marshall committed a lot of turnovers in college, the NBA, Summer League and even the D-League. Conversely, Tyler Ennis comes in with a 3.2 Assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman in college.
"I think the thing that stands out most about Tyler Ennis is his composure," GM Ryan McDonough said of Ennis in June. "He was unbelievable in late game situations this year. If you look at his possessions in close and late games he was off the charts in how many game winners he hit, and how many big plays he made down the stretch. He's also got a really good feel. He just catches (the ball) and makes a simple play. He doesn't over complicate it.
"He had a great year as a freshman and he's a guy we're certainly interested in."
While Marshall has become a turnstile on D in the NBA, Ennis has enough athleticism to at least survive on that end. He still has to prove it at the NBA level, but he is a better athlete than Marshall (though both are below NBA average).
Where Ennis will make his mark is with steals. He has great anticipation on passes in the back court and makes great closing moves to get the ball, leading the Syracuse zone with 2.1 steals per game. Having that kind of anticipation can generate game-changing plays in close games.
This remains to be seen, and I will be watching closely. I figure that Kendall will disagree with me on this point, as is his right, but I was less than impressed with his self-awareness in the NBA. He appeared to think he'd already arrived and deserved a chance to be exactly the same player he'd been in college. He's gotten chances on two of the worst NBA teams in the last two years - the 2012-13 Suns and 2013-14 Lakers. The Suns traded him for basically nothing a year ago, and now the Lakers have brought in rookie Jordan Clarkson who will be the same age as Marshall this season (22). Clarkson had been projected as high as middle first-round before the draft.
Ennis did talk about the things he has to work on, showing a bit of self-awareness with his game, when he worked out for the Suns a week before the draft.
"What I want to show is that I can defend the point guard position," Ennis said after his pre-draft workout. "Coming from Syracuse, a lot of people question that. And, I want to show that I can shoot the NBA three. College wise they know I can knock it down, but the NBA line is a little further. So I want to show them I can knock it down off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, and show them that I can also lead guys that are older than me."
But that's enough from me. I'm just one voice. Let's hear what draftniks and NBA scouts have to say about the Ennis/Marshall comparison.
Aran Smith, Editor, NBADraft.net
[Ennis is] definitely a better shooter. Similarly strong PG instincts and intelligence. A little quicker and more athletic, though below NBA average on both. Kendall really struggled with his shot and I think Ennis can improve as a shooter to where you have to respect him. Interesting that he ended up going where Marshall failed, since they're compared to one another.
[On defense being a challenge for him] That's so difficult to say with a Syracuse guy. He's starting from scratch as an on ball defender, so that will take take. His foot speed isn't a strength so probably always more below average than average, but then again he's very cerebral and focused.
Mike Schmitz, Scout, DraftExpress.com
[Ennis is a] much better shooter and a better defender [than Marshall]. Bright future. (via twitter)
Kris Habbas, Editor, NBADraftInsider.com and Bright Side contributor
The similarities between future Phoenix Suns point guard Tyler Ennis and former Kendall Marshall are limited. For the most part they are surface value similarities like each have good size for position, play with pace, and are not the best athletes for their position.
Marshall as a non-athlete played in a system that allowed his strengths to shine in the open court as a passer and limited his weaknesses in perimeter shooting. For Ennis, who played in a combination system where his teams were opportunistic in transition and worked for the most part in the half-court on offense. Marshall was never effective in the half-court.
They are both very good passers seeing angles with Marshall as more of a risk taking passer (2.8 TPG in college) and Ennis as a pick-and-roll master that was as efficient with the ball (1.7 TPG) as anyone in college in recent years. There were only four games in Ennis college career (one season) where he had more than two turnovers in a game.
Shooting and leadership are what separate Ennis from Marshall. While he did not shoot an incredible percent from three last year, Ennis is a much better mechanical shooter and was a terrific scorer late in games in college and in college.
What hurt Marshall the most was his attitude, aura, and leadership as a point guard. They were all lacking. Ennis is the consummate leader on the court and in the locker room by all accounts with the way he took over games late in the final five minutes. Ennis is craftier with the ball, more efficient in the pick-and-roll, a better perimeter shooter, a better finisher in the paint, and carries himself as a leader with a better atmosphere. Defensively they are about the same in terms of being limited, but Ennis wins that one by a nose with his instincts in passing lanes and slightly better lateral movement. However, the 2-3 Zone protected and enhanced Ennis' defensive output.
Attitude, shooting, half-court efficiency, and leadership are the primary intangibles that make Ennis a better prospect than Marshall. Most of Marshall's flaws were on display, but unfortunately the ones that hurt the Suns the most came out after he was drafted in his lack of leadership and aura he carried himself with as an established star before he played.
Tyler Ennis is not Kendall Marshall. That's for sure. He's a better prospect in the NBA and could become a starter if he can develop consistency in his shot and use his quick hands to negate his slow feet. Many NBA players have become passable on D with "athletic hands" as their calling card.
Ennis is also a hard worker, according to the only guy that matters: Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek likes guys who bust their butts. The Suns drafted two guys who killed in their workouts, while bypassing guys who did not. Workouts aren't everything, but they do show you who's got the natural work ethic when you've got them running non-stop the entire time. If you've got two equal talents but believe one of them works harder, you'll take the harder worker.
Where he fits on the current Suns team is immaterial. You don't draft for today, especially a 19 year old kid. You're drafting Ennis for the future.
Unless he is traded in the next two weeks in a deal for a star, expect to see Ennis running the point in Summer League this year. Last summer, Marshall put up 7 points and 4 assists per game as the starting PG for the 7-1 Summer Suns.
That's not a high bar for Ennis to exceed. I expect once we see Ennis play in the Suns system, we will forget all about that former pass-first point guard who couldn't shoot straight.
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