Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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Man, it is wild how much the Mike Scott Hive has already grown. Just a couple months ago, someone getting a MSH tattoo was still considered national news; these days, any week that goes by without a Burning Man-like gathering of paganistic debauchery and/or human sacrifice in his honor is considered a rather dull week for the Hive. Not that Mike Scott hasn’t earned the outsized devotion -- and he’s certainly done his fair share to Iverson-like ear-cupping to spur the hive’s buzz to ever-louder volumes -- but I can’t help but wonder how the rest of the team’s role players are starting to feel, not having coteries of their own to follow them into the dark and do their bidding without even being instructed.
That’s why I think it’s time for Mike Scott’s partner in reserve reliability to get his own mini-cult. That’s right: It’s time for us to call for an initial membership count of the James Ennis Group.
Of course, the name -- originally suggested by Mike, following Spike’s lead on last week’s State of the Union Ricky -- is not a particularly sexy one. That’s because unlike the streaky, swaggering, quotable, little-shot missing and big-shot draining Mike Scott, James Ennis III is not a particularly sexy player. (Not speaking in physical terms here, natch, we’ve already established that everyone on the Sixers is a GQ cover star.) He’s solid. Serviceable. Consistent. If you throw him the ball for a wide-open three pointer, he’ll take it, and he might occasionally make it, but all things being equal he’d probably rather not be put on the spot like that. Cult herodom is not really Ennis’ game like that.
But man, of all the players that the Sixers signed or re-signed in free agency, I think I might have been most excited about James Ennis. Partly that’s because I can’t believe we got him back at the contract he did: Ennis could’ve waited around for whichever L.A. team got desperate for players after missing out on Kawhi and milked them for at least three years and $15-20 million, but instead he re-signed here for a paltry $4.1 million for two years, practically a veteran’s minimum. That’s not the most important deal the Sixers struck this summer, but it might be the best sheer value; anytime you can get a proven rotation guy in his prime on a multi-year deal practically as a free-agency throw-in, you just gotta hope you’re not too obvious with your evil cackling when you hand him the pen to sign.
Largely, though, it’s because I still can’t get over James Ennis III being a proven rotation player in the first place. I was pumped to get him from the Rockets at the deadline last year, but even with their tax restraints, those guys aren’t exactly in the habit of throwing away useful players for nothing. I assumed Ennis would ultimately prove highly expendable. But whether it was Daryl Morey’s misestimation, or the crucible of The Tournament forcing him to raise his game to ever greater heights, Ennis was decent for Philly down the stretch in the regular season -- and given that our wing rotation at that point was essentially Butler and Redick and Call For a Medic, “decent” may as well have been pre-All Star break Paul George. I particularly enjoyed watching him soar for offensive rebounds and dive for loose balls -- the great majority of both of which he usually ended up missing, but still.
It was in the playoffs that Ennis really proved his mettle, however. His numbers were actually better than they were in the regular season -- up from five a game on 41% shooting to eight a game on 48%. But more importantly, we could trust him on defense, we could half-trust him unguarded beyond the arc, he made a couple hustle plays and we just didn’t have to fucking hold our breath the entire team he was in the game waiting for one of our real players to sub back in for him. He played 21 minutes a game for us this postseason! That’s almost certainly more than he should have to play on a team with a fully stocked playoff rotation, but the fact that he played nearly half the game every game and we didn’t leave the postseason never wanting to see his beautiful mug again is an accomplishment in itself.
And now, of course, we have Ennis’ “Walk to the Finals in the East” quote. I’m still not 100% sure whether that means we’ll walk to the Eastern Conference Finals (seems likely!) or to the Finals as the Eastern Conference representative (we’ll see!). But either way, it’s such a boldly unequivocal claim -- and Ennis is such a random dude to be the guy making it -- that you gotta love it at least a little bit. Yeah, the Celtics version of OptionaliTEES is already probably a click away from selling a hundred different T-shirt designs making fun of us for that quote if and when things go wrong for Philly this year, but whatever: summer is the time for putting shit out there and worrying about backing it up in the fall and winter when the time comes to actually do so. Like his tough-talking benchmate, James Ennis III ain’t no bitch.
Anyway, he’s done his part, and now it’s time to do ours. The meetings of the James Ennis Group will be business-casual affairs in practical and easily accessible locations, with reasonable food and drink spreads and solid soundtracks of adult contemporary jams. Personally, I can’t wait to lunge to intercept one member tossing a low-calorie beer to another and end up just missing.