Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins grabbed all the headlines from the Portland Trail Blazers’ foray into NBA Summer League, 2017. The first-round picks came into the tournament with shiny résumés, guaranteed contracts, and high expectations. But Summer League is full of surprises. When Collins went down with a leg injury and Swanigan needed a frontcourt running partner, journeyman Jarnell Stokes stepped to the fore. His performance in Las Vegas set wheels spinning in the minds of Blazers fans. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Jarnell Stokes had an impressive summer league run. He also commented that he and Caleb Swanigan have become friends. What would be the chances of Portland picking him up? Also the chances of him being good in the NBA?
You’re right. Stokes performed well. Without his 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 67% shooting off of stellar interior play, the Blazers wouldn’t have made the tournament finals. Stokes’ presence made up for the loss of Collins in obvious ways. More subtly, he provided a large target for Swanigan’s passes, allowing Big Swan to get off the low block without robbing Portland of a post game and rebounding chances.
While I share your sentiment about his attractive play, Stokes is unlikely to join the Blazers, at least as they’re currently constructed. His characteristics and style come into play, as does the state of the team.
Stokes looked good in Summer League because he was able to use his body and weight, both of which were near-unique in that environment. (For comparison, he performed well in the D-League—now G-League—for the same reason after being released by the Memphis Grizzlies.) He’s a specimen at 6’7” and 250 lbs, but plenty of NBA teams field guys that bulky. He won’t be able to push around opposing bigs at the next level. That’ll make him look less special.
Nowadays 250 lb NBA power forwards come 6’10”, quick, and equipped with a bankable face-up shot. The slower, shorter Stokes would be asked to guard those guys not just inside, but on the perimeter. Even in Summer League, his lateral rotations came late...the kiss of death for any defense. The problem would only get worse at the next level
Even if we assume that Stokes’ deficiencies wouldn’t weigh as much as his positive contributions, where would he play for the Blazers? Jusuf Nurkic has dibs on the paint in Portland’s offensive scheme. Stokes can’t be hanging around down there, drawing extra defenders into Nurk’s post moves. But Stokes is a lane-based player, lacking Swanigan’s perimeter passing and confidence. He and Nurk wouldn’t be a burger and fries, rather steak fries and waffle fries on the same plate.
Even if we ignore all that too, look at Portland’s roster right now. If they’re looking for power forward candidates, they can choose from the following:
- Noah Vonleh
- Al-Farouq Aminu
- Meyers Leonard
- Ed Davis
- Zach Collins
- Caleb Swanigan
- Technically Moe Harkless and Jake Layman have played power forward minutes too
Two things typify that list:
- Not one of them is a proven big-minutes player.
- All of them have flaws, rendering them two-dimensional.
Reading down that lineup, it’s clear that one or two players have to go. The Blazers don’t need more of them. Taking on another unproven power forward with holes in his game would be like adding a ninth car to your 1982 Mazda Hatchback collection. We get that you like them, but seriously, you’re half a step away from appearing on Hoarders.
No matter how much Stokes impressed in Summer League, these factors conspire against him donning a Blazers uniform. If you want him in Portland, the best bet is hoping the Blazers move players in trade, opening up a low-risk, low-roster slot for him to fill.
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