There are plenty of talented big men in this year’s draft, but few can haul in rebounds like Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes. The 6’9″ forward is coming off of a season in which he averaged 13.7 RPG per 40 minutes and an eye-popping 6.0 offensive boards per 40 minutes. The takeaway from most observers is that Stokes is able to clean the glass thanks to his phenomenal strength. While his ability to push people around definitely helps, the forward says that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Really, it was one thing that happened to me my sophomore year. I didn’t know that people take stats of how many rebounds you don’t go for. So, my mission my junior year was to go for every rebound and once I started doing that, I got better and hungrier. I have a knack for the ball but I also have somewhat of a defensive end type of skill set at making moves to get rebounds,” Stokes told Hoops Rumors.
Stokes, projected to be a late-first round pick by ESPN’s Chad Ford (Insider sub. req’d), put up averages of 15.1 PPG and 10.6 RPG off of 53.1% shooting from the field in 2013/14, helping to lead the Volunteers to the Sweet Sixteen. The forward humbly believes that both his numbers and his play should place him higher in the draft and he’s intent on making that a reality through workouts.
“I think my rebounding numbers set me apart and my numbers period this year set me apart. If you look at my numbers and a lot of guys who are considered lottery types, my numbers are right there, if not better,” Stokes said. “I think in college I was somewhat hurt by having to dominate the paint, so sometimes people don’t exactly understand that I was just doing what my coach instructed me to do.”
For the good of the team, coach Cuonzo Martin positioned Stokes in the post on offense and watched him overpower weaker opponents for easy baskets. Some have criticized Stokes’ lack of a mid-range game, but the 20-year-old says his jumper is just fine. The reason why he hasn’t knocked down many mid-range shots isn’t a matter of ability, but rather a matter of opportunity.
“I definitely feel like I’ve got a solid mid-range game. In fact, if you watch my high school highlights, you’ll see that I was projected to be a small forward. Ultimately, my coaches started putting me at the five and that’s kind of where I focused my game. I don’t mind playing like an undersized center again, but I look at guys like David West and Carlos Boozer and I feel like I can do most of the things that they’re doing,” explained Stokes.
There’s no doubt that his aforementioned strength coupled with his 7’1″ wingspan will help make his transition to the NBA easier. While he doesn’t have a tremendous vertical leap, his reach will help him grab loose balls and help him disrupt shots on defense.
Despite his wingspan, scouts may have concern about his size and how that’ll translate to the next level. At 6’9″, critics argue that larger opponents can get the better of him in the post and quicker players will be able to get around him on the perimeter. For all of his hustle and grit, the biggest knock on Stokes is that his lateral quickness leaves a lot to be desired. As he shows off his 15-footer in workouts, he’ll also look to display his east-to-west speed for scouts.
Even though Stokes turned in a fantastic campaign, a lot of talented underclassmen in similar positions chose to stay in school for another year rather than dive into the ultra-talented 2014 pool. Stokes understands that he has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but he’s also confident that he is ready for the challenge.
“I’ve played against the elite college guys, guys like [Florida’s] Patric Young, I’ve grown up with or played against the best out there. I want to say this as humbly as possible, I can be one of the best bigs in the draft, provided that I can show that certain things can translate.
“I did what my coach needed me to do and what my team needed me to do to win, and I’m glad I did. But there’s much more to my game than what everyone has seen.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.