A lot of people are talking about the 2014 NBA Draft class. And why wouldn't they? From all indications, it's set to be a gold mine of NBA prospects and franchise cornerstones. One in which you can blindly reach into the top five and pull out a superstar. But lost in all of the talk about potential and length and athleticism is Syracuse's freshman point guard, Tyler Ennis.
Ennis has played fantastic in his first collegiate season. He scored 20-plus points in three out-of-conference games and has notched double figures against every single ACC opponent thus far. He's shown a poise in running the offense that most 19-year-olds do not have. He's calm and seems to understand who to pass it to and he balances it with his own ability to score.
He can weave in and out of traffic in transition and finish with either hand. He can set up his defender with hesitation dribble moves, get past said defender with a crossover and find an open teammate. And despite using nearly 20 percent of Syracuse's possessions when he's on the floor, Ennis rarely turns the ball over. He's averaging just 1.4 turnovers a game, compared to 5.4 assists, an astounding ratio for any college point guard, much less a freshman.
They aren't the same players, but the way he controls the offense brings to mind Syracuse's point guard last season and No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Michael Carter-Williams. The former Syracuse point guard seemingly had a grip on the Orangemen offense and has transitioned into the front-runner for the NBA's Rookie of the Year award. A quick look at the per 40 minutes numbers of the two gives us a better view:
Carter-Williams, at 6'6, is naturally the better rebounder and has the size to make passes that Ennis cannot, but Ennis has Carter-Williams beat in just about every other statistical category. He scores at a slightly better clip with much more efficiency and he records steals at a rate just as high. Ennis' free throw rate is slightly better than Carter-Williams' and he's converting those attempts at a much higher clip. He's also turning the ball over at nearly half the rate that Carter-Williams did and he's doing all of this at 19 years old, where Carter-Williams was 21 in his sophomore season.
Obviously, Carter-Williams' size and length had a lot to do with his prospects as a professional basketball player; the combination of his size, ball handling and playmaking made Carter-Williams an intriguing NBA point guard prospect. That he translated to the professional game so fast is a bit of a surprise. Ennis doesn't have that length and he isn't as athletic overall as Carter-Williams is, but for Ennis to put together numbers similar to the former Syracuse point guard is impressive.
Still, Ennis isn't typically shared in the same light as his freshman counterparts. Some of that has to do with the high school recruiting process. He was ranked No. 20 by ESPN and No. 22 by Rivals; those are high rankings, but they aren't high enough to become a household name.
Some of his obscurity has to do with the sheer potential of his freshman counterparts: he doesn't have the body and strength of Julius Randle; he doesn't have the length or presumed upside of Joel Embiid; he doesn't dunk like Andrew Wiggins or have the scoring touch of Jabari Parker; he isn't the athletic specimen that the Harrison twins are. He isn't the type of NBA prospect that NBA franchises throw away an entire season for.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve the national spotlight. He may already be the very best point guard in college basketball and he's leading a team that is 19-0 in one of the nation's toughest conferences. He's a fantastic college player, one who will make it and stick in the NBA, regardless of hype.