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NBA AM: Give Jarnell Stokes a Chance

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All Jarnell Stokes needs is a chance.

Since being selected by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, Stokes has seen himself bounced around the league, playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat and, most recently, the Denver Nuggets. Now, Stokes finds himself playing on the Indiana Pacers Summer League squad, just looking for an opportunity.

“I like the coaches, I like the environment, I feel like I’m really embraced here as far as the type player I am,” Stokes said to Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler in Orlando, Florida. “When you’re able to go somewhere and be yourself, that’s a very, very big deal.”

Stokes, a power forward who averaged 13 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in three seasons at the University of Tennessee, hasn’t had much of a chance to contribute since coming into the league. With a total of 28 career games played under his belt, inconsistency, injuries and a lack of playing time have seemingly held Stokes back. However, he believes that he’s really improved his game.

“I’ve really worked on the little things; conditioning; talking; playmaking,” Stokes said. “Just those small things, I feel like I’ve really worked on them and it’s showing.”

Stokes, to his credit, has had some impressive games so far in Orlando. Currently, he is averaging 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in five games — with two four-block games — numbers any team would be happy to have coming off their bench. Stokes has proven his worth in the D-League (now G-League) as well, taking home D-League Most Valuable Player two seasons ago for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, citing his own personal growth as the reason for his success.

“I’ve grown so much,” Stokes said. “Physically, I’ve lost 10 pounds, but one of the biggest ways I’ve grown is mentally. Just being able to be mentally tough, being strong when times get hard. I’m able to compose myself and I don’t let things rush me.”

While he isn’t much of a shooter, Stokes is not afraid to take chances outside the restricted area. What he lacks in scoring he makes up for with his strength, length, rebounding and defensive numbers. At the very least, he’s a capable role player who just hasn’t been given the opportunity. If placed in the right environment, Stokes could make a great energy guy and or rebounder off the bench. While most hope to play a bigger role in the NBA, Stokes knows that every player has their own niche and is comfortable with filling a lesser one if it means making an NBA roster.

“One of my issues was forcing [the ball],” Stokes said. “I always feel like I’m the hardest worker on any team I go to… and, sometimes, that can backfire when you’re trying to do too much. I’m playing pretty well within my role and doing the things Indiana wants me to do.”

While his NBA numbers look ugly — 2.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and .02 blocks per game for his career — Stokes looks more appealing through the lens of per-36 minutes: 16 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. And while 28 games may be a small sample size, it shows that Stokes could contribute if given the opportunity. The Pacers, who he’s currently playing with in the Summer League, the Celtics, the Pelicans and a litany of other teams could use a cheap, rebounding big coming off the bench. With his performance so far, Stokes should get plenty of looks as the season inches closer.

“I’ve already put in the work, I’ve already done the hard part,” Stokes said. “Now, it’s just about letting it come to me, letting the toughness and letting the rebounding and playmaking [speak for itself].”

Jarnell Stokes can be an NBA player. All he needs is a chance to prove it.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Shane Rhodes

Shane Rhodes