Miami Heat

James Ennis leads Miami Heat’s youth movement

Promising future: Heat rookie James Ennis, who is averaging 16 points per game this preseason, brings energy off the bench.
Promising future: Heat rookie James Ennis, who is averaging 16 points per game this preseason, brings energy off the bench. AP

Heat rookie James Ennis still isn’t completely sure about what position he’s playing this season, or when he’s coming into games or exactly what to do when he’s on the court.

Heat fans, on the other hand, already have it all figured out.

Although Ennis’ role remains unclear after a few weeks of training camp, it’s already apparent what he represents: the future. He’s young and he’s athletic and he scores points.

Those are all areas of need for the Heat.

So, when Ennis wasn’t substituted into the first half of the Heat’s preseason loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Heat fans on Twitter began asking questions.

Was something wrong with the new fan favorite?

Turns out, he was fine.

After watching from the bench for the majority the game, Ennis replaced Dwyane Wade with 4:28 left in the third quarter and went to work.

Over the next 211/2 minutes, he helped turn an 18-point Cavaliers’ lead into an overtime thriller.

Ennis and rookie point guard Shabazz Napier combined for 33 points (17 and 16 respectively) in the final two quarters and overtime, and gave the Heat something positive to take away from its third consecutive preseason loss.

“Just to be competing at a high level and just to be on the floor in Brazil,” Ennis said. “I’m blessed to get an opportunity to play for the Heat in front of great fans over there. I’ve never been to Brazil, so that was something new.”

At this point, everything is new for Ennis, but that’s not to say he isn’t already well traveled.

This time last year, Ennis was just getting used to life on the other side of the world. After a humbling experience in the Heat’s 2013 summer league, he signed with the Perth Wildcats in Australia, where he transformed his body, improved his jump shot and eventually lead his club to a championship.

Uncertainty remains about Ennis’ place with the Heat, but his average of 16 points per game this preseason is promising. When it comes to offense off the bench, the Heat needs all the help it can get. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff are in the process finding ways to work Ennis into the rotation.

“We’ll know more about our roles and where we’re playing next week,” Ennis said.

Spoelstra has been hammering defensive principles since the beginning of training camp, but Wade is more worried about the offense. The scoring of LeBron James and Ray Allen will be difficult to replace this season.

Ennis has showed potential, so the team’s veterans have taken an active role in helping him learn the system.

“Defense wins championships, and we want to be a great defensive team, but we have to be a better offensive team,” Wade said. “We have to put points on the board, especially nowadays. Teams can flat out score the ball, and we’ve got to be a team that can score in different ways.

“It’s going to take a lot of communication between guys, and a lot of individual work. We have to help guys to fast track it.”

Athleticism helped carry Ennis from community colleges in California to Long Beach State to a preseason in the NBA, but his ability to slash to the rim isn’t enough at the game’s highest level. His shooting has improved since last year, and now the Heat’s coaching staff has Ennis working overtime to shore up his ball-handling skills.

If he can dribble the ball well enough to play shooting guard, it would help his chances of earning more minutes. Ennis has a tendency to drop his head when he’s dribbling, which will expose him in the NBA.

“At this level, everyone can do what you do, so you’ve got to separate yourself in a different [way] than just being able to jump and use your athleticism,” Ennis said.

Still, moments of energy like his three-point play at then end of regulation on Saturday are difficult to duplicate, and the Heat has been searching for a youthful presence to spark some offense off the bench. Ennis will be given every chance to succeed this season.

“It’s a veteran team,” Ennis said. “Last year, the Spurs, they had a couple of young players on the bench, so I think that’s going to help in the long run just so we can go to the bench. We have a lot of young guys this year and I think that’s going to help out a lot.”