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.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.