Everybody who knew James Ennis knew he could dunk.
If you’d heard of the swingman, who’s played the past seven games with the Pelicans and has signed with the team through the rest of the season, there’s a good chance it’s because of the slam he threw down on the Washington Wizards last season when he was playing for the Miami Heat.
Type in his name on YouTube, and most of the suggestions include the word “dunk.”
But Ennis, who’s split his time this season between the Heat, Grizzlies, Pelicans and the NBA Development League, has been working to be more than a high flyer, and he’s displayed some versatility during his brief stay in New Orleans.
“I’m kind of a versatile player,” Ennis said. “People didn’t really know I could play defense, but I knew I could play defense. That’s what I’m trying to show, show all the teams that I can guard the best player there and (do) the little things. Little things add up.”
So the 6-foot-7 Ennis is battling on the boards, averaging four per game. He’s trying to make the right pass, resulting in two assists per game. He’s guarding a range of players, from point guards to power forwards, and trying to show that there’s range on his jump shot.
Ennis, who’d made 32 percent of his 3-point attempts in 75 NBA games before signing with New Orleans, is shooting 41.9 percent from long range for the Pelicans, making 13 of 31 from beyond the arc.
“I’ve put in a lot of work on my 3-point shooting,” Ennis said. “I (was) really focused on it when I went to Memphis. I started shooting a lot before and after practice. When I was in the D-League, I was shooting a lot of 3’s, too. It’s been showing. The work I’ve been putting in is paying off.”
Ennis’ hope is that the ultimate payoff is an NBA future, whether in New Orleans or somewhere else. The Pelicans have presented his best opportunity yet to prove he belongs, but he took a long road to get it.
After a college career that included three stops — Oxnard College, Ventura College and Long Beach State — Ennis was a second-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks in the 2013 NBA draft. He was traded on draft night to the Heat, and he played for Miami’s Summer League team before signing with the Perth Wildcats in Australia.
Ennis played a season in Australia and one in Puerto Rico before signing with Miami in 2014, playing in 62 games for the Heat. This season, he spent three games with Miami before he was traded to Memphis, which assigned him to the D-League.
He appeared in 10 games for the Grizzlies before they waived him on March 2. The Pelicans signed him to a 10-day contract 28 days later, and he’s made a good impression in a limited time.
“I think he plays with a certain energy,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s been able to make some shots. He’s all about just trying to be a team, and I think that’s important.”
He’s also about trying to make a team, and Ennis is hoping that his brief stay with New Orleans has increased his odds of doing just that.
He’s scored in double figures six times in seven games with the Pelicans, including a career-high 18 points in Saturday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns.
“My thought process has been that anything can happen, so just continue to do the best I can when I step on the court,” Ennis said. “You’re not just showing your skills to one team. You’re showing your skills to the whole NBA.”