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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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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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Headlines

#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Steve Kyler

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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