Player: Jarnell Stokes.
Position: Power forward
Expected Draft Position: Early-mid second round, if not higher.
College career: Jarnell Stokes was the first big get for Cuonzo Martin as the Tennessee basketball program looked to transition into the post-Bruce Pearl era. Pearl, the longtime Vols head coach, was fired amid a series of recruiting violations, and the team's two stars -- Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson -- bolted to the NBA.
There were some big shoes to fill. Pearl had led the Volunteers to six straight NCAA tournament appearances and came within a point away from the Final Four back in 2010.
So the news of the local product signing on was enormous. Stokes was the 11th-ranked high school prospect in the nation, and allowed the Tennessee faithful to rest easy knowing they could build around Stokes and their talented young wing player, Jordan McRae.
But it wasn't so easy after missing out on the tournament two years in a row. Martin was on the hot-seat after stumbling through conference play midway through this past season, while Stokes was putting up big numbers once again, but not helping his team win significantly. Fans weren't so happy and over 11,000 of them signed a petition to bring Bruce Pearl back. Reports soon after surfaced of Marquette wanting to sign Martin to replace Buzz Williams as their new head coach, which were subsequently shot down.
Then, their magical run happened. Tennessee qualified for the tournament for the first time in three years as the No. 11 seed and Stokes was putting up double-doubles like they were nothing. Only Julius Randle had given him a run for his money for the national lead in that category.
The Vols made it to the Sweet 16 and came within a controversial late-game charge call from pulling off the improbable upset of the second-seeded Michigan Wolverines. They fought back from a double-digit halftime deficit, saw Michigan nearly blow the lead themselves with a string of horrendous turnovers, but couldn't get past the charge called on Stokes with Michigan protecting a one-point lead.
You can hardly blame Stokes. The charge call was dubious, and he was coming off two monstrous performances to start the tournament. He put up 26 and 14 against UMass and followed it up with a 17 and 18 game against Mercer. He's now riding that momentum into the NBA Draft, while Martin is starting his next chapter as head coach of the Cal Golden Bears.
Offense: At 6'8" and 263 pounds, Stokes is a bruising back-to-the-basket player. He uses his wide base to pin his defender on his back and has a soft enough touch around the basket to toss in those baby hooks over either shoulder.
And that big body was used in a ton of ways in Martin's offense. He would often set multiple screens on one side of the floor, then would run through the paint and off a cross-screen to get himself going on the low block. If he's working at the high post, he'd leverage whatever position he's gained to screen off his defender to create driving lanes for guards.
But his struggles have come against larger front courts, namely Florida's and Kentucky's. He doesn't have a ton of counters when he posts up other than his up-and-under move, and teams will often neutralize him by fronting the post and having a second defender lurking behind him. Some of his best games have come against smaller defenses that just don't have the means to push him out of his comfort zone.
When he does get thwarted by better defenders, you see a lot of his shortcomings on display. He's patient when he goes to work, but that's more out of necessity than anything else. He doesn't make quick decisions with the ball, and is often slow to spot where double-teams are coming from.
He feasted on getting the ball deep in the post in his first two years, and only as a junior did he begin to face up more. Over 70 percent of his shots came at the rim as a sophomore, per hoop-math, an astronomical number for a power forward. He worked to tone that number down to a healthier 49 percent last year, but again, it only manifested his flaws. To his credit, he converted a strong 69 percent of those attempts, and he has the dexterity to throw in a timely shot fake to create space and draw contact, but you'd like to see him branch out more.
Defense: They key for Stokes is not getting dragged out on the perimeter in pick and roll situations. Teams often targeted him exclusively knowing his poor lateral quickness and inability to properly hedge out on ball handlers would lead to a lot of easy buckets. The pocket pass to the big man was repeatedly there for the taking because Stokes would always cede the little gap between the ball handler and his man. He couldn't recover to his man on time and the Tennessee's back line would often be left on the wrong end of a 2 on 1 situation.
Inside, he can hold his own. He's strong enough to push players off the block, and rarely did you see him getting backed down. He is undersized for his position and isn't terribly athletic, but I think he does a good job of challenging shots in his area even if he's not a true rim protector.
He's a terrific rebounder on both ends. Per DraftExpress, he's the No. 1 ranked offensive rebounder among their top-100 prospects. and sixth in defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. His motor is always running, and he has a knack for tracking down rebounds out of his immediate vicinity. He does an excellent job sealing off his man and establishing position.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: It all comes down to what happens with Trevor Booker in free agency. Stokes could be a very cheap replacement, and would fill the rebounding void. But there is a catch-22. All those years Booker used to hone his jump shot would have gone to waste, and the training staff would have to start completely over with Stokes. And he's not terribly quick coming down the floor, which is problematic for a team that relies heavily on their bigs to get down early to set back-screens for their shooters.
Washington could do a lot worse though. He's a throwback player that I think will carve out a role somewhere in the league. Teams can always use another physical defender and rebounder than can finish around the basket. There's a chance he goes earlier in the second round or quite possibly at the end of the first, so the Wizards would have to move up if they think he's their guy.