- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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Heading into Thursday’s draft, Heat president Pat Riley issued a mandate to his scouting staff: Select the best 61st pick possible.
With 60 draft slots and none of them belonging to the Heat, Riley initially believed the Heat’s best course of action was to pluck young talent from free agency after the draft.
But that all changed when a prospect named James Ennis was still on the board late in the second round. The Heat couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snag the Long Beach State product. So they bought the 50th pick from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for a future second-round pick.
Who is Ennis?
He’s a 6-7 swingman, who was the Big West Conference Player of the Year after a senior season in which he averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks, while posting a 25.3 player efficiency rating (third-best in the conference). Ennis is not young at age 22, but he’s actually still raw as a basketball product; his senior season was only his second year playing Division I basketball.
Why did the Heat feel the need to jump in the draft to get him?
Scan through the film and scouting reports, and you’ll see there’s a lot to like. Our own draft expert Chad Ford called him “one of the sleepers of the draft.” A key point for the Heat is that he showed NBA range with his jump shot, nailing 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers last season while attempting 4.8 per game. Plus, he is athletic and can defend multiple positions. That's worth taking a flier.
Expect Ennis to join the Heat’s summer league team in Las Vegas and vie for a training camp roster spot next season. However, there’s no reason to believe that he will crack the Heat's rotation.
If anything, Ennis is a slightly stronger and taller version of Terrel Harris, who the Heat waived after seven games this past season. Like Harris, Ennis figures to struggle puncturing a wing rotation that features Shane Battier, Mike Miller, James Jones and those guys LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Considering how stacked the Heat are on the wing, it would likely take an injury bug to open the door for Ennis next season.
But if we’re being honest, the Heat didn’t have 2013-14 on their minds when they drafted Ennis. All signs point to Battier retiring after next season, and Miller could be an amnesty candidate next summer when he’s due $6.6 million in 2014-15. This was a long play and a cheap way -- reminder: second-round picks are not guaranteed -- for the Heat to have Battier/Miller insurance, reel in a player that they liked and, perhaps, stash him overseas like they did with recent draftees Jarvis Varnado and Justin Hamilton.
It’s possible that the Heat heard whispers that Ennis appealed to another team or would’ve picked elsewhere as a free agent where he might see more playing time. But Ennis is under the Heat’s control now, and the Heat are high on him.
The Heat were once high on Harris as well, and for a veteran team trying to win its third title in a row, there’s not much room for guys like Ennis or Harris. But getting a guy who could be a lesser version of Draymond Green is not a bad move. And if it doesn’t work out, something tells me the Heat won’t sweat not selecting the best 50th pick possible. They have a pretty solid team already.
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