Houston Rockets: James Ennis to start at small forward in season opener

By Tevin Williams
James Ennis III #8 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
James Ennis III #8 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Mike D’Antoni has decided that James Ennis will start in the season opener after previously being unsure of who would fill the small forward spot for the Rockets after Trevor Ariza‘s departure.

Just two weeks ago, Mike D’Antoni was leaning towards starting a three guard lineup featuring Eric Gordon, James Harden and Chris Paul, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

After James Ennis strung together a few strong performances in the preseason, D’Antoni has seemed to reverse course.

Speaking with the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen, D’Antoni said that Ennis’s hustle and grit makes him a perfect fit in Houston’s offense.

“I just hadn’t seen James Ennis when September rolled around. When we practiced, you could just tell. Without a doubt, just being able to flatten things out (helps.) He runs the floor; he comes up with loose balls. He gives us all the little stuff, like P.J. does. You have two of those guys and obviously talent around them, he’s a perfect fit.”

Many people were on board with Houston’s plans to roll out a three guard lineup. When Harden, Paul and Gordon shared the floor together last season, the Rockets had an offensive rating of 134.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s an impressive output, but the trio only played together for 148 minutes for the entire season, so it is a very small sample size. Not to mention, that lineup was almost certainly used against teams that have smaller forwards.

The Rockets can still roll out that small lineup, but it’ll probably perform better in spurts.

Ennis averaged 11.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals in just 25 minutes in five preseason games. He even nailed 56.3 percent of his 3-pointers, which proves that he’ll fit in nicely with Houston’s offense.

So far, Ennis looks like the perfect replacement for Trevor Ariza. Ennis is a bit more hesitant to let it fly from deep, but he’s more athletic than Ariza, plays stellar defense and he seems to always be one to come up with loose balls.

Next. 2018-19 Regular Season Predictions: Houston Rockets

Putting Gordon in his normal sixth man role with Carmelo Anthony behind him gives Houston a serious one-two punch in the second unit. With Chris Paul running the show at point guard, the Rockets won’t miss a step when their bench takes the floor. Expect Houston to have one of the highest scoring benches in the NBA next season.