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NBA PM: Jarnell Stokes Looking to Find Perfect Fit in NBA

With strong workouts and a D-League MVP award, Jarnell Stokes is proving he deserves another shot in the NBA.

Cody Taylor

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Jarnell Stokes had just walked off of the court after a free-agent workout in front of about 20 NBA teams and was immediately swarmed. He was greeted by friends, trainers and other players who just watched him go through a number of different drills. Those watching his pro-day performance were left in disbelief that such a talented 22-year-old still isn’t on an NBA roster.

Since being drafted with the No. 35 pick in the second-round of the 2014 NBA Draft, Stokes’ professional career has been a roller coaster. The Utah Jazz traded Stokes on draft night to his hometown Memphis Grizzlies. The thought of playing for the team he watched growing up was so surreal that falling out of the first round didn’t even matter that much.

But playing time for Stokes with the Grizzlies was spotty at best. After all, he was on the depth chart behind some established big men like Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and Jeff Green. Stokes would appear in just 19 games for the Grizzlies as a rookie and spent the majority of that year in the D-League with the Iowa Energy.

Stokes was traded at the beginning of this season to the Miami HEAT in exchange for Mario Chalmers and James Ennis. He spent the majority of his time with the HEAT, playing for their D-League affiliate in Sioux Falls. He was acquired by the New Orleans Pelicans at the trade deadline in a salary dump by the HEAT, and was waived shortly after. He’s just two years into his NBA career, but he has already seen how the business side of the league can play itself out.

“I realized that the NBA is very honest,” Stokes told Basketball Insiders. “They believe what they see. It is a business because you have a team like Miami, who was very interested in me and they really liked me. I felt like I could bring some things to the Miami HEAT roster this year that I wasn’t able to showcase and I didn’t really get the opportunity.

“[I was traded and then] cut at the trade deadline. They traded [Chris Andersen] and traded another guy and got Joe Johnson; just right then and there you see the business. I have to wake up, 23 years old, and I’m looking at no offers and I have to go play in the D-League. I had offers overseas and things like that, but I was looking at a very good D-League run and that’s where [I had] to grow up because my game really had to mature to get back to this level and you see my perseverance showcased.”

It could have been very easy for Stokes to be down on himself and lose focus of his dream to be a significant contributor in the NBA. Instead, Stokes used his time in the D-League to improve his game and become a better player. In two seasons since being drafted, Stokes has appeared in 42 games in the D-League and, by all accounts, has dominated the competition.

Stokes made headlines in the D-League this past season, winning the 2015-16 D-League Most Valuable Player award. In 28 games for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Stokes averaged 20.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. In addition to being named the season’s MVP, he was also named to the All D-League First Team and was the D-League Finals’ MVP after leading the Skyforce to the 2015-16 D-League championship.

Watching Stokes play, it was clear that he was one of the best players in the D-League (if not the best). He recorded his best game of the regular season on March 13 against the Austin Spurs, contributing 29 points and 12 rebounds. Players often talk about how the D-League can help improve their skill set and allow them to reach the next level in their development. In the D-League, Stokes was able to work on a number of different things to be even more prepared.

“It was a very, very humbling experience because I had to change my game in numerous ways,” Stokes said. “Teams double-teamed me [and then] teams went away from doubling me. I changed my game rebounding at one point and then I would change my game knocking down jumpers. I changed my game just being a play-maker out of pick-and-roll situations. Things like that were things that I wouldn’t do while I was at Memphis and things that I wasn’t able to do when I got to Miami. I was able to translate that from watching film.”

Many executives were impressed with Stokes after watching his workout yesterday at the Relativity Sports Pro Day at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. Between his MVP season in the D-League and his great showing during workouts, Stokes has put his best basketball in front of teams. This, of course, leads to one of the most asked questions regarding Stokes: “Why isn’t he in the NBA?”

Stokes’ case is the perfect example of a player who hasn’t been able to land in the right situation. The Grizzlies were filled with seasoned veterans and the team was competing for a championship, so they didn’t have a lot of minutes for a player in his rookie season. The HEAT viewed themselves as a team that was one key player away from making a serious run in the playoffs, and needed a roster spot to sign Joe Johnson.

Landing in the right situation for Stokes will be key to sticking in the NBA. His next step will be participating in the Summer League next month and earning his way onto a roster. We’ve seen over the years how the Summer League can be a great starting point for a player to land with a team. Stokes still has much to improve upon, but it’s clear that he’s not giving up on his dream.

Stokes is an NBA player; he just hasn’t found the perfect team yet.

“I’m ready to take the next step. I’m not going to shy away from saying that I feel like I’m an NBA-ready guy and I’m going to get on the floor with the physical mindset that I have,” Stokes said. “I’m a rebounder at heart and that will be one of the things that I’ll be really looking forward to showcasing in the Summer League.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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