It is not easy playing basketball in Australia. It feels a whole different world away.
It does not have the accessibility of the D-League. It does not have the notoriety or prestige of playing in Europe. It does not even have the commercial capabilities of playing in China. It is basketball nowhere.
James Ennis had a golden ticket, having been drafted 50th overall and traded to the Heat. He played exceptionally well at Summer League. Miami though had championship aspirations and no roster space for another wing player to develop. They wanted him to go to the D-League according to reports, but he wanted to make more. So he played in Australia.
There he created highlights like this:
For the Perth Wildcats, Ennis put up YouTube highlights and averaged 22.3 points and 7.3 assists per game. The time in Australia helped him flourish individually. As he returned to the U.S. to play for the Heat, it was clear he had improved greatly.
During the Heat’s Summer League run, Ennis averaged 15.5 points per game. He played only one game with the Heat’s team in Vegas but could very well have been one of the best individual players at the Orlando Summer League. His efficiency needed work but he put up impressive numbers nonetheless.
“It felt really good because over this last year I just worked on my shot a lot when I went overseas,” Ennis said. It’s just good to see the ball go into the basket. [Playing overseas] helped me a lot because the physicality over there in Puerto Rico and Australia. The environment. I think I’m mentally tough. I just grew as a person.”
Ennis compares his game to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler. It is hard to disagree. They have similar body types and similar athleticism. Butler’s game is just a bit more advanced as Ennis is still a bit raw. He put things together very quickly to impress at Summer League.
The question is whether the Heat want to take a flyer on him this season. Obviously without LeBron James, there is less pressure to win immediately and a better chance to develop players. Ennis said the Heat kept tabs on him throughout the season, knowing full well they could bring him in full time this season. The Heat did sign Ennis this summer and so he will be in training camp with them.
The experience overseas, Ennis said, did improve his mental toughness, having to be away from family and friends. Ennis said he hoped to have improved his defense and his jumper from his time overseas. Those are the two things keeping him from the league and could cut his dream short.
At Summer League though, it was clear he made those improvements and that his teammates enjoyed feeding him the ball.
“It’s super fun just because when you see guys knock down shots and excitement off their faces, as a point guard, it makes you happy,” Shabazz Napier said. “That’s my job is to get guys open shots. Most of the time, James can get himself a shot so when I’m able to be fortunate enough to get him the ball where he can shoot, it makes it so easy for myself as well as him. It’s a great deal for me to play with guys like that.”
Ennis will get his chance this season to make the Heat roster and make his impact. That time spent overseas was used wisely it seems.
Perhaps now, Ennis will make some YouTube highlights on this side of the world.