Grizzlies Find Diamond in the Rough in Stokes
Jarnell Stokes had mixed emotions on the night of the 2014 NBA Draft.
On one hand, he was disappointed. He had hoped to be a first-round pick, but he slipped into the second round and was ultimately selected 35th overall. Stokes watched as player after player came off of the board before him, many of whom hadn’t experienced the success that the 6’9 forward had at Tennessee. It was frustrating for the 20-year-old, but he remained patient and waited to hear his name.
On the other hand, when he was finally picked, he was thrilled because he landed in a perfect situation. The Utah Jazz drafted Stokes, but traded his rights to the Memphis Grizzlies shortly after. Once he realized that he was landing in Memphis, where he was born and raised, Stokes cheered up. Now, he could stay close to his family and friends and continue to play in Tennessee. He was also excited about the opportunity to play for the Grizzlies, a playoff team in need of a reserve power forward. Suddenly, slipping to the second round didn’t seem so bad, since he was staying home and entering a situation where he could potentially play from day one.
“On draft night I was able to draw interest from a lot of teams, but apparently no team had been sold on me as their primary guy,” Stokes told Basketball Insiders. “But I really feel like I’m in a very good situation by being drafted by the Grizzlies because that’s the team I really wanted to be on in the first place.”
Stokes’ family is thrilled that he’s staying close to home, and he’s looking forward to remaining involved in his siblings’ lives.
“I feel like out of everyone my little sister was the happiest,” Stokes said with a laugh. “The happiest moment for me is just to be able to be here for my little sister and my little brother, Isaiah, who’s also going to be a highly recruited prospect coming up soon. Tomorrow I have a 6 a.m. workout with the Grizzlies, and I want to have him in the NBA environment at all times.”
Stokes is determined to show teams that they made a mistake passing on him, using the fact that he fell to the second round as motivation. Sure, some players were younger or taller, but few produced on his level in college.
Last season at Tennessee, Stokes averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. He was even more dominant during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 18 points and 12.75 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field and leading the Volunteers to Sweet Sixteen. He ranked eighth in the nation in win shares and finished second in double-doubles among all Division I players. He feels like his college success should’ve helped his draft stock more, but now he’s prepared to use the slight as a chip on his shoulder.
“I think I’ll definitely be able to use it as extra motivation because, in college, I feel as I was the best power forwards who entered the draft,” Stokes said. “The fact that guys are able draw interest from these teams off of little 11-and-10 numbers – underwhelming numbers – [and based on potential], it kind of bothers me. I produced in college and I still was overlooked by a bunch of teams. But I feel like the Grizzlies really like me. I’m working out every day with some of the coaches for the Grizzlies, developing a great relationship with them.”
During the Orlando Summer League, Stokes scored in double figures in all five games and averaged 12.2 points and 9.4 rebounds – strong numbers similar to the ones he put up at Tennessee. While he admits that the 24-second shot clock and tougher competition will take getting used to, he believes his transition to the NBA will be smoother. During summer league, he started to learn the Grizzlies’ offensive and defensive concepts and the coaches worked with him on small details like pick-and-roll coverage. Now, back in Memphis, he’s working with the coaching staff every day and becoming more and more comfortable with the team’s system.
“I feel like the coaches are really giving me a lot of feedback and it’s not always positive feedback, but that means they have an interest in you and care for you,” Stokes said. “I think these coaches are really working with me; they aren’t neglecting me or anything. Right now, I’m just fighting for minutes and that’s the biggest thing. I do whatever they say.
“I think the biggest thing right now for a rookie who’s trying to fight for minutes are the small things. I’ve got Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and guys like that who can score, so there’s no need for me to be trying to do too much right now.”
Stokes can’t wait to be around Randolph and Gasol on a daily basis, so he can pick their brains. Most rookies don’t get the chance to learn from one of the best frontcourts in the league. Stokes knows this, and he’s not going to let the opportunity go to waste.
“I’m very excited to learn from them,” Stokes said. “Zach Randolph is a guy who found a way to make it happen [and have success in the league]. He’s not the prototypical power forward that most teams are looking for, yet night in and night out he still finds a way to get a double-double. He’s definitely a guy who I have looked up to. I’m just looking forward to being on the same floor as those guys and just learning. … Randolph was a guy who, similar to me, was doubted throughout this process. Guys said he couldn’t do this and he couldn’t do that, but he just continuously proves guys wrong. There is no such thing as being undersized. Every team I talked to said, ‘You’re not tall enough to play the power forward position.’ I think Zach Randolph is a master at the power forward position. That’s someone I’m looking forward to learning from. I was watching tapes on Zach Randolph and how he gets rebounds without jumping, how he is able use leverage and use his body, it amazes me.”
With Ed Davis leaving the Grizzlies to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, Stokes may be in the rotation backing up Randolph right away. He hasn’t talked about his role with Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger yet, but he’s hopeful he can prove himself and earn minutes.
“I hope I can contribute right away,” Stokes said. “Honestly, I feel like I’m good enough, but until I’m able to prove myself to Joerger and his coaching staff, I can’t say. It’s too early. I know right now my job is to rebound, set hard screens, run the floor and just work to get in the best shape of my life. I just have to show that I’m not an offensive liability and continue to improve within those areas. I think in time, I’ll be ready.”
Stokes couldn’t be happier in Memphis and his first impression of the Grizzlies organization has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone has welcomed him with open arms, from the players to the coaches to the executives.
“I’ve talked to the GM [Chris Wallace] here a couple times,” Stokes said. “It’s been great, I feel like he’s been really helpful as I go through this process. He’s taking steps that most GMs wouldn’t do; he’s almost like a friend to me right now. He really cares about his draft prospects, as I’m learning. As far as Coach Joerger, he told me he would like to see me just compete and be an energy guy and work my way up from the bottom, along with Jordan [Adams]. He said we’ll both have to work our way up from the bottom. I think those guys just want to win; they’ll put out the best available players on the court.”
While draft night didn’t go as Stokes planned, he’s just happy that the pre-draft process is over and he can finally focus on his NBA career.
“It feels good; I’m happy I don’t have to live out of a suitcase anymore, I don’t have to be stuck on middle-row seats on airplane rides across the country,” Stokes said with a laugh. “I’m able to find a home and get to know the GM and get to know the coaches. As long as they like me, that’s what matters right now. I’m not really thinking about the draft right now. I’m just trying to get in good with the guys I’m going to be around for the next couple years.”
Bulls Excited to Bring Mirotic Into Fold
Ever since the Chicago Bulls selected Nikola Mirotic with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, fans have been anxiously awaiting his arrival in the United States.
He was widely regarded as one of the best players competing overseas and it was hard for people in Chicago to temper their excitement while Mirotic was winning multiple championships in Spain and filling his trophy case with honors like Euroleague Rising Star (twice), 2013 MVP of the Spanish League and 2014 MVP of the Spanish King’s Cup.
Now, Mirotic is finally on the Bulls’ roster after paying his buyout to Real Madrid and inking a three-year, $16.6 million contract with the team that drafted him. Mirotic will finally be able to play against the best players in the world, and be a part of one the NBA’s best frontcourts playing alongside Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson.
“What we feel we’re getting in Nikola is a guy that’s a real fit,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman told SLAM. “He’s a big that’s really skilled. He’s a spacing four that shoots the three very well. He’s versatile and can play inside and outside. He’s got a high basketball IQ. He’s got a motor. He’s got the type of makeup and character that we look for in players.”
“I’m excited to be here, to be part of this great historical team,” Mirotic told SLAM. “Finally I’m here. This is my first time to be in Chicago so to see every paper journalist here for me is a great feeling. I’m happy to be here and I want to start the preseason to do my job and my job is to play and work hard. … I think it’s a perfect time and moment to do one step is this year. I think that I can improve more things here in Chicago. I did a lot of things in Madrid. I won five titles so now I think it’s the moment to do the great job in Chicago. I think it’s a perfect group for me to improve and learn a lot of things, so I’m excited to be here.”
Mirotic is looking forward to playing with stars like Derrick Rose, Noah and Gasol in his rookie season.
“For me it’s a big pleasure to play with [Rose], Noah, and somebody with experience like Pau Gasol,” Mirotic said. “I think I can adapt good on the team. I think I can help them to play better and to open the court. I’m young so I know I have a lot of things to improve, especially my body. So I think we can do a great season, just we need to start good. I’m happy and I want to meet my new teammates. I’m in a great city, so I’m happy. … I like to create for the team. I like to put the ball on the floor. I like to run the court. I like to play pick-and-pop to the three-point line. This is the strongest thing in my game. Sure, I know that Chicago is a great defensive team so I need to help them in the defense. I need to improve so I think that I can help them a lot.”
One thing that Mirotic will have to get used to is a reduced role. He has been a star and focal point overseas, but that won’t be the case in Chicago, especially considering the Bulls have a loaded frontcourt. When asked if he’s prepared to come off of the bench, Mirotic seems hesitant to accept the role, before saying the right things.
“I don’t know,” Mirotic said. “It depends. It depends how coach wants to use me. I’m ready to accept my role on the team. In Madrid I’m always starter. For sure this is different. This is NBA. I don’t care if I start or don’t start. I have to do my job and I play, so that’s it.”
Everyone within the organization is excited about Mirotic’s arrival, as are the fans who have been tracking him since draft night in 2011. Now, the 23-year-old will finally don a Bulls jersey and show what he can do on basketball’s biggest stage.