A whole new world for new Piston James Ennis III
Atlanta — Sunday was like the basketball version of the first day of school for Pistons forward James Ennis III.
New coaches, new teammates, new uniform, new number.
It’s the reality of the NBA trade deadline, only sped up and condensed into a whirlwind couple of days for Ennis, who was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies for Brice Johnson and a second-round draft pick ahead of last Thursday’s deadline.
Ennis’ first day was just his first day. Even guard Jameer Nelson, who also was traded to the Pistons on Thursday, was able to take a flight in and meet his new colleagues and get acclimated Friday before making the trip to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Sunday.
Ennis, 27, was all set to join the Pistons for Friday’s home matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, but the snow came — a lot of it — and forced a change in plans.
“I was in Memphis at the airport with my family and the flight to Detroit got cancelled,” Ennis said Sunday. “I went back home and they said to meet them in Atlanta, and here I am.”
There was Ennis, sporting a new uniform, with a new number, 33, going through pregame drills with assistant coach Rex Walters and learning new calls and codes for new plays, on a new court.
There was one familiar face: Reggie Bullock.
The two had some history, having played against each other in college for a pair of games in the fall of 2011 and ’12, while Ennis was at Long Beach State and Bullock at North Carolina. The Tar Heels won both matchups but Ennis made an impression in the second game, with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in the 96-91 loss.
Both players went in the 2013 draft and have found a way to stick in the NBA, with their versatility and scrappy style. They’re not volume scorers, but they do enough of the little things to find minutes and stay on the court.
“Everybody tried to make him feel welcome. He came in the game and played very well tonight. I was telling him: ‘Me and you are two players (still) lasting in this league in our draft class,’” Bullock said. “Our style of play hasn’t really changed. I already knew his type of game: he’s a spacer, defender, gritty type of player, who gets a lot of steals and gets out in transition — same type of stuff that I do.
“(There are) similarities in the games — he cuts too — and he’s a great addition to our team.”
That’s the same game that Ennis displayed in his debut: getting a loose ball for a steal, scooping it up and driving to the basket, getting contact and finishing for a three-point play. Ennis finished with 14 points — one off his season high — on an efficient shooting day: 5-of-7 field goals, including a 3-pointerr, with four rebounds and two steals.
Not bad for the new guy, who got a crash course in Pistons nomenclature on the morning of the game. The sequence was emblematic of Ennis’ game: defense first, with solid fundamentals to find a way to score, without having many plays called for him on offense.
“He plays hard and with good energy,” coach Stan Van Gundy said of his new pupil. “He ran a few good cuts and hit a 3; I thought he played well.”
It’s another quick turnaround, without a practice and valuable time to get acclimated, as the Pistons were on the second game of a back-to-back before Monday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’ll be Ennis’ first home game, and another day of seeing new people, new faces and another new locker — this one at home. It’s another layer, as he’ll be planting short-term roots — his contract is up at the end of the season — with his family in the Detroit area.
A good work ethic travels well, though, no matter what next season brings.
“(It’s all good) if you play hard, with energy and just shoot the ball and share the ball,” Ennis said. “We have good players on this team.”
The new guy isn’t bad, either.