When Memphis native and University of Tennessee basketball alumnus Jarnell Stokes was drafted following a trade with the Utah Jazz last season, the expectations were high for the baby bull of Beale Street. Following the draft of Jordan Adams, there was a certain unease amongst Grizzlies fans. My first thought upon the Adams draft was… "Well…they have to be trading this guy." I was wrong, and the draft of Stokes brought back some credibility and confidence in the Grizzlies FO after a weird start to the summer.
The Grizzlies had found a tough, strong, grit-n-grind power forward who could easily be molded into the spitting image of a shorter, less talented but just as tough Zach Randolph. Stokes was the sign that the Grizzlies would not be bringing Ed Davis back to the team, who couldn’t get on the floor in a game seven against the Thunder when ZBo was suspended.
Janrell brought a buzz from Memphis in general, with most fans saying they liked the second round pick better than the first round pick of Adams. The excitement even spread outside of the city limits. I know a guy at work who is a huge University of Tennessee fan, and he and I had a conversation about Jarnell for fifteen minutes. It represents the longest conversation I have had about Grizzlies in the four years I have been here. This guy told me that Jarnell was NBA ready and could start for most teams in the league. (In fairness…this guy knows very little about the NBA…just UT basketball).
Jarnell was really good in summer league, and showed some promise in training camp. But with a crowded front court rotation with former and current All-Stars, a bargain back up center in Kosta Koufus, and an all-star in most of Memphis’ mind, Jon Leuer, time would be short. Last fall, Austin Reynolds wrote about the possible expectations for Jarnell this season.
2014-15 Season Ceiling
Stokes makes the most of any playing time he's given at the start of the season and emerges as the team's fourth big man behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. He sees roughly 10-12 minutes of playing time off the bench each night, serving as a spark plug to bring in energy and rebounding. Offensively, he gets most of his points by cleaning the glass and sticking back easy opportunities. He averages something like six points and four rebounds and his energy and motor make him a fan favorite.
2014-15 Season Floor
Stokes gets a slow start out of the gates and spends some time in the D-League. Meanwhile, Jon Leuer becomes a staple of the Grizzlies rotation, making it difficult for Stokes to get any meaningful NBA minutes in his rookie season. He ends up spending a significant portion of the season in the D-League, and his NBA playing time is limited to garbage time in blowouts.
Somewhere in between those two, but closer to the ceiling. Stokes might spend a stretch or two in the D-League, but he's mostly in Memphis fighting for minutes with Leuer. Dave Joerger decides to deploy Leuer in lineups with Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, or Nick Calathes to make up for lost spacing, while Stokes sees minutes when there's more shooting on the floor. Stokes gets his fair share of DNP - Coach's Decisions, but overall he's seen as a promising player that comes up huge off the bench on a couple of occasions.
More ceiling than floor...
Stokes would play 121 minutes in nineteen games for the Grizzlies this season, averaging three points and almost two rebounds a game. He would play less than four minutes in ten of those nineteen games. He would start two games in the place of an injured Zach Randolph, but would get the quick hook in each. His best games would be in a blowout against the Rockets (12 points, 3 rebs, and 2 blocks), a blowout against the Wizards in March (12 points and 8 boards), and in the near San Francisco Miracle/The Russ Smith Game against Golden State in April (Not much on the stat line, but lots of heart and hustle from the bench guys that night).
He would spend most of his season in the D-League with the Iowa Energy, playing thirty-two plus minutes per game, averaging 15.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and almost a block a game in twenty-three games. Good numbers, but when you peel back the numbers like an onion, the results are not as encouraging as one would hope. Just check out his shot distribution chart:
That’s right…200 of his 227 shots in the d-league were from less than eight feet from the basket. This seems less than ideal for a guy who is undersized as a power forward. Are these stats extrapolapable to the NBA (Thanks Joe Witherwax for this word…just money)? This was a less than decent start to a NBA career.
Jarnell is young, and he will get better with time…or at least we hope. He did not get top play much at all, as is the common refrain amongst Grizzlies writers and fans about young players. We will get to see how serious he is about his craft during summer league and will hope for the best. Very little about this season gives any objective evidence that he is ready to be a role player in this league…but time will tell.