ORLANDO - Twelve trades were made within the 24 hours prior to the Feb. 6, 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline. A few involved marquee names. D’Angelo Russell and Andrew Wiggins were traded for one another as part of Golden State and Minnesota’s blockbuster deal, Andre Drummond was sent to Cleveland, Clint Capela became a Hawk and Andre Iguodala was acquired by the Heat.
Of all the moves made, though, so far the one that has made the biggest impact on team performance this season, now restarted after a 4 ½ month pause, is the one that probably received the least league-wide attention at the time.
James Ennis III, acquired by the Magic from the 76ers in exchange for a 2020 second round draft pick, has made a truly remarkable impact on his new squad since arriving. So much so that Orlando has been the best offensive team in the league since he came aboard.
That’s not to suggest Ennis is a dominant offensive player or anything of that magnitude, which is kind of obvious considering he’s averaging 6.4 points in his NBA career. But what is true is that Orlando has been incredibly sharp with the six-year NBA veteran in the lineup.
“Natural competitor, great energy,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “The more comfortable he gets, the better he plays. He’s like a glue guy to me. He brings a lot of intangibles to your team. He likes to be in the gym. He likes to work. He’s like MCW (Michael Carter-Williams). He just has a natural intensity that’s contagious for the other guys.”
With Ennis, the Magic are averaging 121.3 points, the best mark since Feb. 10, and 29.2 assists, second best in this period. Friday’s win over the Nets was just the latest of the many great offensive efforts the Magic have had since early February, and Ennis, even though he scored just a run-of-the-mill eight points, played a big part in it.
You may never have guessed it, but Ennis actually has the Magic’s second best offensive rating this season, although of course it’s in far fewer appearances than his teammates. Nikola Vucevic ranks No. 1 in this category, Michael Carter-Williams is third, Markelle Fultz fourth and Aaron Gordon fifth.
Ennis, a native of Ventura, California who played his college ball at Long Beach State, has done a fantastic job moving without the ball, which has helped him score a lot of easy baskets at the rim. The unselfishness of his teammates, he says, has made it pretty easy for him to adapt since coming over from Philadelphia.
“We have great passers. People are really unselfish over here,” he said. “I’m going to continue to move without the ball, that’s one of my strengths is cutting.”
The Magic are now 9-4 with Ennis, who hopes to make his third NBA postseason appearance. He was part of the Grizzlies’ 2017 team that played the Spurs in the first round. In that series, he scored in double figures in three of the six games and averaged 8.3 points. Then last season with the Sixers, he was on the court for 11 of Philly’s 12 postseason games and averaged 7.5 points.
Ennis hasn’t been the Magic’s only supporting cast member stepping up. One player who really stood out during the win over Brooklyn was Khem Birch, who posted 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.
“I can see myself just providing energy off the bench, (playing) great defense and helping getting my teammates open. That’s my role on this team,” Birch said in regards to his expectations for himself the rest of the season.