During the 2015-16 season, Jarnell Stokes was a promising big man on the rise. Despite being traded by the Miami Heat midway through the campaign, he remained at the top of his game. He often joined the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the G League via assignment, so when the Pelicans waived him, it was a seamless choice to finish the year off in Sioux Falls. Averaging 20.6 points on an eye-popping 67% from the field and 44% from deep, to go along with 9.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals, the 2014 second round NBA Draft pick was an easy choice for G League M.V.P., especially after leading the Skyforce to the minor league title.
It was quite the banner year for Stokes. One might think that such success would be enough for a prospect to have carved out a steady place for himself in the NBA. Fast-forward to 2018, and the big man has had no such luck.
Alas, it hasn’t been due to a lack of offers. Instead, NBA teams have failed to commit. For a player with Stokes’ body of work to date, cashing in (quite literally) on his success is important, as he’s continued to win through various extended looks from big league executives.
“After winning two Summer League championships — one in Orlando and one in Las Vegas, I came to understand the importance of winning and the necessary toughness. I had an important decision to make in the days that followed NBA Summer League last season,” Stokes told RidiculousUpside.com. “China offered me a lot of money and at that point, I had already won accolades in the G League. NBA teams were offering me two-way deals. Others said they were interested in giving me a guaranteed deal, but could not tell me right away. China was, so I took advantage of that opportunity.”
Last season, he averaged 25 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1 block in 28 games for Zhejiang Chouzhou of the CBA. China provided him with the financial security he felt he earned, but the NBA is still calling Stokes’ name.
“I’d like to put all my eggs in one basket. It seems like I’ve dominated every league outside of the NBA. I would kill myself if I finished my career without being an NBA player. I want that, when I put my head to the pillow and go to sleep,” he said.
Two-way contracts offer NBA teams with more flexibility and respective options to explore adding talent to its rosters. But for an established player like Stokes, it just might not be enough to bridge the gap, especially when more lucrative offers are coming in. He’s a former NBA draftee, who at still just 24 years old, has accomplished plenty at various levels. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, he’s an unique talent who can put the ball on the floor and shoot efficiently along the perimeter. Given his skillset and past accolades, accepting a two-way contract may be somewhat of a gamble. Nevertheless, it’s a risk he may need to take to find his ultimate landing spot in The Association. Such a path requires an extra step, but it’s proven successful for some.
“I look at guys like Quinn Cook and Alex Poythress. The Pacers, Grizzlies, and Suns offered me a two-way contract last season. There were about fifteen teams that did,” Stokes revealed. “I look at these guys who took two-way offers and parlayed that into an NBA roster spot. Here I am at Summer League. I’m looking for a guaranteed deal. I know I deserve it.”
Playing the waiting game for a guaranteed contract or increased salaries is something Stokes has chosen to do, but doesn’t have much control over. While playing for the Bulls in Las Vegas, he hoped to prove that his defense had improved. Everyone knows he can score the ball, but becoming a more capable defender could be the key to inching his way back into the NBA once and for all.
“I’ve continued to expand my game. At Summer League this year, I’ve proven that I can guard, defend, and switch off. A number of coaches have told me that I’m a hell of a player and can do a lot with the ball,” he pointed out. “If you can’t defend, they can’t keep you on the floor. That was the story of my rookie and sophomore years.”