The Tennessee Volunteers have had an up-and-down season thus far. They have big wins over Xavier and Virginia, but they also have big losses to UTEP and Texas A&M, but the one big plus to this season has been the growth of Jarnell Stokes. Entering this season Stokes was considered a possible second-round pick. Many thought he would have come out last season because the NBA Draft class was a little down last year and this season’s class has been touted as one of the best in the past decade. But Stokes decided to stay, and has seen his stock improve this year.
The Vols junior big-man is averaging a career-high 13.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game. Stokes has seen his shooting percentage dip down this year to 46.6 percent, but this season he is taking more face-up jumpshots, and is stepping out further on the court instead of only shooting in the paint. He is attempting to stretch his offensive game out more to the perimeter, and he has seen some success. He has become a more versatile player, and stepping out further makes it harder for teams to double-team him, but when they do double him he has more passing angles, which have led to him having a career-high 1.7 assists per game. Stokes also has the 10th highest offensive rating in the SEC amongst players that use at least 24 percent of their teams possessions, and has improved from a 56.8 percent free throw shooter to a 72.2 percent free throw shooter this season.
As much as Stokes has improved on the offensive end, it is his toughness and rebounding that will be the attributes that get him drafted in June. Stokes has an NBA-ready body right now; he stands 6-foot-8 tall and weighs 260 pounds, he could bang bodies with anyone in the league tomorrow. Rebounding is what sets Stokes apart from other NBA prospects. This season he ranks top-five in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage in the SEC according to KenPom.com, and he would be higher if he wasn’t playing next to fellow rebounding monster Jeronne Maymon.
The hardest thing about analyzing big men in college is that their isn’t always good enough competition that can matchup in size. This season Stokes has gone up against Kentucky‘s Julius Randle and Florida‘s Patric Young. In the two games against these future NBA prospects Stokes has averaged 18 points per game and 12.5 rebound per game, while shooting 12-of-21 from the field. We already knew Stokes had the size, strength and athleticism to be an NBA player, but now we know he has the talent to produce against fellow NBA-caliber players.
It has yet to be determined if Stokes will come out after this season — DraftExpress.com has him listed as a second-round pick this season, and NBADraft.net has him coming out next year — but after watching him the past two weeks, there is no reason why he wouldn’t be a first-round pick this season. The Volunteers have to be ecstatic with the play of Stokes this season, but his great play is a double-edged sword; he is helping them in the present, but his great play eliminates the chance of a future in Tennessee.