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.
#12 – Miles Bridges – Los Angeles Clippers –
After acquiring the 12th pick in a mid-season trade with the Detroit Pistons, the Los Angeles Clippers drafted Michigan State Power Forward Miles Bridges with the 12th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. While Bridges was selected by the Clippers, he is being traded to the Charlotte Hornets, according to reports.
Bridges is a 6-foot-7 forward that can be slotted in either position. Bridges is certainly undersized at the four but has the overall game and rebounding ability to be effective down low. Bridges is also a deadly shooter and projects as a solid floor spacer for Charlotte. He also can take the ball off the dribble and finish at the rim with either hand. While he is not an elite playmaker at this point, he has the skill set to improve in this area, which could make him an impact player sooner rather than later.
Bridges may not have the upside of some other players who were still on the board but there is little doubt that he could become a very effective player. Last season Bridges averaged 17.1 points per game, seven rebounds per game while shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range.
#10 – Mikal Bridges – Philadelphia 76ers
With the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Villanova forward Mikal Bridges.
After winning 52 games last season, Philadelphia will add the upperclassman to a rotation that already includes budding stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
On the heels of being named a third-team All-American, Bridges won his second national championship under Jay Wright as a Wildcat. Where Bridges seamlessly slides in with the Sixers is his ability to step in immediately and contribute. Last season, Bridges shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc, and was lauded as Villanova’s defensive specialist. Standing 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Bridges possesses the ability to switch across multiple positions on the defensive end.
Going into next season, the Sixers will feature a 6-foot-10 Simmons, a 7-foot-2 Embiid, and a rangy Bridges as the core of the team’s defense. After struggling in the second round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics and their versatile wing players, bringing Bridges into the fold addresses some of those concerns.
While the fit on the court for Bridges and the Sixers seems too good to be true, his off the court connection is even better. Bridges grew up in Malvern, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia, rooted for the Sixers as a kid, attended Villanova where he played at the Sixers’ Wells Fargo Center, and to top it all off: his mom works in the team’s human resources office.
Bridges being selected by the Sixers is as close to a storybook ending as the NBA is going to produce.
#9 – Kevin Knox – New York Knicks
With the ninth selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Kevin Knox.
The Knick entered the draft needing to walk away with a prospect who, at the very least, would be a solid rotational player. With Knox, they got exactly that.
During the predraft process, Knox saw his stock rise pretty dramatically. The Knicks selected Knox with their pick despite the fact that Michael Porter, Jr. was on the board. Knicks fans in attendance were chanting for Porter to be the team’s selection, but the franchise opted to pin its hopes on the one-year man from Kentucky.
In his lone season playing for John Calipari, Knox, who is listed at 6-foot-9, averaged 15.6 points per contest along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He shot 34.1 percent from behind the three-point line and brings a fair amount of offensive versatility playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
In hindsight, Knox probably had an idea that he was headed to New York. During his availability session the day before the draft, he spoke glowingly about Madison Square Garden and said he’d welcome the challenge of performing under the bright lights.
He’ll now have the chance to prove it.
Heading into the draft, there was a fair amount of discussion pertaining to the Knicks and the fact that, of all teams, they seem to have the most on the line in this year’s draft. While that may seem a bit dramatic, the truth of the matter is that Porzingis is on record as having let the team know that he is willing to forgo signing a rookie extension and instead wants to see the franchise make immediate moves to turn their fortunes around.
With the 2018 draft, newly installed general manager Scott Perry made his first selection as the head honcho in New York, and with his track record littered with examples of his fingerprints being on high value picks, Knox will now have the opportunity to be a positive entry on Perry’s resume.