Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
When former Tennessee men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin arrived on campus, he immediately began preaching about his team being a tougher breed. To accomplish this philosophy, Martin needed to recruit players that fit the bill of being both mentally and physically tough. Enter Jarnell Stokes. Memphis born and bred, Stokes is as tough as they come. He stepped onto Tennessee's campus with a large, wide frame ready to contribute from the word go, and the same can be said for the leap he is about to make to the NBA.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference
Stokes improved in most major statistical categories over the course of his college career. He became a better offensive player, improving in the following statistical categories year over year: field goal percentage, assists per game, free throw attempts, free throw percentage, and points per game. If a player has been in college for three seasons without making the jump to the NBA, it's at least promising to see their statistics improve every single year for the sake of potential.
Offensively, Stokes is all power and no finesse. He's never going to be a stretch four because his range doesn't extend anywhere near the three-point line, and he struggled with mid-range jumpers at Tennessee. However, all indications from workouts are that he shot the ball surprisingly well. It's tough to tell how surprising his shooting the ball well actually is when you factor in his role in Martin's offense at Tennessee. Standing at 6'8, 263 pounds, Stokes was naturally told by Martin not to venture far away from the rim, as that's where he was most advantageous for the team. A good team player that allows himself to be coached, he obliged, only shooting 37 total mid-range shots over the course of his junior season.
It would help him quiet doubters about his shooting if he possessed good shot mechanics. Often, he short-arms the shot, causing him to push the ball up to the rim with no arc. Despite his questionable mechanics, he does possess great touch for a big man. He exhibits said touch at the free throw line, where he has improved leaps and bounds from since his first season for the Vols. A 57% shooter from the charity stripe in 2012-13, Stokes vastly improved in 2013-14 to shoot 70% from the line.
Being able to convert free throws is important for a big guy likes Stokes, because he finds himself at the free throw line often. He uses his strength and big body to absorb contact, as he beastfully demonstrated last season when he got to the line more than 6 times a game.
With his wide frame, he is naturally more inclined to put the ball on the floor and head to the rim rather than play out on the perimeter. Fault him for a lack of a jumper if you want, but give him credit for knowing where his strengths lie and playing to those. W ith the ball in his hands, he makes sure there are no misconceptions about what he is going to do, which is head right into the chest of his defender. When Stokes puts his shoulder into a defender, it's like Incredible Hulk meets movable object. Things usually don't end well for the guy defending him.
One of the strongest, if not the strongest, guys in this draft class, Stokes has always been able to shrug defenders off with a simple brush of his broad shoulders, creating space for himself to get a shot off when there is no room for him to work. When Stokes brushed off his man in college, he was almost unstoppable, finishing 65% of his attempts at the rim. He likes to catch entry passes and turn to face his defender before making his move, but he can also play with his back to the basket. He uses his wide backside well, often sealing his man deep under the basket. That makes things simple for Stokes once he catches the pass. All he has to do is lay the ball in from that point.
When Stokes doesn't get deep position on the low block, he can still be dangerous. He lacks refined footwork and advanced double moves to beat his defender, but he does have several go to moves that work for him in the running hook shot and a smooth up and under.
The biggest question about Stokes' finishing ability is simple. Will he be able to sustain that level of success around the rim against much bigger and stronger players. At 6'8, he will be undersized at the power forward position, and length has bothered him in the past.
A great team player, Stokes can get his teammates open looks when he has the ball in the post. Since most defenders struggle to contain him solo, a help defender usually has to slide over. Stokes has improved at recognizing the trap and being patient enough to wait until an open pass presents itself. He will never be a passing big like Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah, but he won't kill his team with turnovers either. In his three seasons at Tennessee, his assists per game improved every year, while his number of turnovers never increased.
The best way for Stokes to help an NBA team might be by rebounding. The best rebounder statistically in this year's draft, he relies on his size and nonstop motor to box out guys out and push them around to get to the spot where he wants to be on the floor. He sees the ball well off the rim, and is usually the first to react to where it's headed. Despite being undersized for his position in the height category, he possesses monstrous hands and long arms. His 7'1.25 wingspan helps him crush the offensive boards and create a ton of second chance opportunities. He will never be outworked on the glass, which is extremely valuable for any NBA team.
Defensively, Stokes is a mixed bag. He's not a great one-on-one defender, because he lacks the lateral quickness and athleticism to stay in front of power forwards, and he lacks the size to contain centers. That problem will be only amplified at the next level. However, as with every other part of his game, Stokes is able to get the most out of his massive body. Even the strongest guys struggle to back him down. It's tough to say he won't be exposed on that end of the floor against the best basketball players in the world, but maybe his body size and uncanny effort will make up for his deficiencies.
A lack of elite height, athleticism, and bounce make Stokes less than an ideal rim protector, but he is a decent shot blocker because of his great timing. Off the ball, he can be lazy and help way too late on a driving ball-handler. He struggles to contain pick-and-rolls at times, which could really hurt him in the pick & roll heavy NBA.
All in all, Stokes is an intriguing prospect for a team at the end of the first round. He doesn't necessarily project as a starter in the Association, but his motor, size, and rebounding ability could make him a really good role player. The teams picking near the end of the first round, including the Grizzlies, are in a position to win now, which makes drafting a guy like Jarnell Stokes a savvy thing to do. Not only could he be a contributor on any NBA team for a long time down the road, but he is also ready to contribute right now because of his NBA-ready body and mental fortitude. His upside lies in the fact that he is young for a junior, just 20 years old, and he improved every season at Tennessee in large part because of his strong work ethic. Whoever drafts him will have both a good short and long term investment.