On Friday afternoon Jarnell Stokes confirmed what most believed he would do upon the completion of Tennessee’s basketball season, and declared for the 2014 NBA Draft.
Stokes will depart from the Vols after his most successful season in his three year, technically two-and-a-half year, career with Tennessee, after averaging nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds this season.
The 6-foot-8 big man out of Memphis, Tenn. was a driving force for the Vols’ success throughout the season, especially with the way he completely dominated the boards. In some games Stokes put up a double-double before reaching halftime, and finished the season with 22 double-doubles, tying him for the school record for most in a single season.
As it stands at the moment Stokes’ is projected as possibly a late second round pick, but the reality is he is right now at the peak of his game. At 6-foot-8 he does everything well that a big man should be able to do in the NBA. The only areas he could still use improvement in are knocking down more mid-range shots around the elbow, perimeter defense, and simply dribbling the basketball when attempting to drive through the lane.
The most notable part of his game that he improved this season was his ability to handle double-teams. Stokes said that midway through the season he began watching more and more film on current NBA all-star Kevin Love, and the way he handled double-teams and tried to improve on them himself.
Stokes also showed his ability to be a facilitator for the offense when drawing double-teams towards him.
Although most may think Stokes leaving early is a mistake, here’s the reality of the situation. He’s in his prime at the moment, and chances are coming back to college one more season will not improve his game much and could, if anything, diminish his draft stock.
It’s a much smarter choice for Stokes to chance playing in the NBA D-League to improve his game and impress teams there, which is worst case scenario, than improve it in the college game against what some may consider amateur talent at best, and risk an injury and ruining his chances at a pro career altogether.
With the departure of Stokes, Cuonzo Martin is left with two open scholarships to fill the team’s roster. He will undoubtedly seek a signature big man to replace Stokes, and compliment Rawane Ndiaye in the lineup. However, the Vols may be forced to rely on their guard play next season, and play a little more up-tempo to allow them to do so and have success on the offensive end.
Two names to keep in mind next season are Josh Richardson and Armani Moore. Richardson exploded late in the season for the Vols, and led them in scoring in the majority of their NCAA tournament games. He will undoubtedly be a leader for the team come 2014-2015.
Moore, on the other hand, is a player that really asserted himself into the lineup more often late in the season, and brought a lot of energy onto the court with him. His defense is superb, and with an entire offseason to improve offensively he could be a significant part of the Vols come next season.