Grizzlies bypass big names for Adams, keep Stokes at home

Memphis native Jarnell Stokes dropped to the second round despite averaging a double-double at Tennessee last season. 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jordan Adams drew crickets. Jarnell Stokes stoked a fan base.

The Memphis Grizzlies took UCLA sophomore Adams with their No. 22 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, a pick questionable to some, but maybe not as questionable to those who look at his strengths — and analytics — that look like a good fit for Memphis’ needs.

Stokes stays home thanks a second-round trade with Utah at No. 35.

Stokes fits, or can fit, the Grizzlies grit and grind. He certainly knows grit and grind. He played high school ball at Memphis Southwind and sat in the FedExForum nosebleeds before taking off for college at Tennessee.

The 6-foot-9, 263-pound forward averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game as a junior last season. At his pre-draft workout here, Stokes openly lobbied for the team to draft him. He actually said he felt like they would.

"We were very high on Jarnell," said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace. "We were splitting hairs in our final group between Jordan Adams, a couple other players and Jarnell. He could have been the pick there if things had broken differently."

When he was still on the board after the first round, the Grizzlies gave Utah a 2016 second-round pick to select Stokes and ship him — or allow him to stay — home.

Stokes was admittedly shocked to not hear his name in the first round, but playing at home more than made up for it.

"They had a guy who they really, really liked, apparently more than me and I feel like I have a lot to prove," said Stokes. "But I couldn’t be in a better situation … I exploded. I almost caught tears in my eyes because I couldn’t imagine a better scenario."

Stokes will join center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, if Randolph returns, to form a trio of brick walls on the blocks. Wallace says his rebounding ability and intelligence are already ready for the NBA.

That could spell the end of Ed Davis, a move that makes even more sense when doling out second-round money to Stokes, a projected first round pick.

"Over the years, we’ve had trouble with that kind of player," said Wallace. "And we’ve never had a tough guy, rebounder like Jarnell to bring off the bench. And I think he’s got more talent than that. He’s got tremendous upside."

Stokes is a young junior, only 20 years old because he graduated high school early. The Grizzlies were chasing him through the first round before finally getting the bite from Utah.

No pins dropped at the media draft get-together when Adam Silver announced Adams as the 22nd pick.

It would have been easy to hear it hit — the carpet. The room was quiet. But Adams can quietly be just right for Memphis.

Shabazz Napier was there. Rodney Hood was there. Kyle Anderson was there. Cleanthony Early was there. But Wallace made no bones that Adams was the guy.

Memphis did need scoring and the Adams can do that. He averaged a team-high 17.4 points, team-second 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season as a sophomore. He has 3-point range.

"That was a team that I really saw myself fitting in well with the organization," said Adams.

Bad with the good, though. The 6-5, 220-pound guard isn’t super stable as a wing defender, though he did have 95 steals in 36 games, a plus Wallace labored on. So, bad, is probably a bad term.

"He’s a guy that just makes winning plays on both ends of the floor," said Wallace.

But it just seemed like the rich were getting richer. San Antonio drafted Anderson, Adams’ teammate, with the final pick of the first round. Anderson is what the Grizzlies needed, a scorer (14.6) and a rebounder (8.8). He led the Pac-12 with 16 double-doubles, the Memphis way. San Antonio could make Memphis regret that for the next decade.

Miami got richer. Napier ended up there via trade with Charlotte. Both are guys that seemed hard to pass up. The Grizzlies didn’t find it difficult.

It didn’t energize Memphis fans, but it may pack Courtney Lee’s bags, the Grizzlies replacing Lee with a guy who can do the same things, only millions cheaper.

Both picks scream Grizzlies VP of Operations and stat guy John Hollinger, one of several in the Grizzlies war room that included coach Dave Joerger and majority owner Robert Pera. They handled the night after the May front office shakeup. Adams led the Pac-12 with a 28.3 in Hollinger’s player efficiency rating. Stokes’ 27.6 PER led the SEC. Advanced stats put him above fourth pick Aaron Gordon, seventh pick Julius Randle and 15th pick Adreian Payne.

"I think we got talent and potentially these guys could serve some needs," said Wallace. "You can never have too many guys that can shoot the basketball and score and obviously rebounding is a very important commodity in the NBA.

"We didn’t really look at it from a need perspective. I’ve found over the years one of the easiest ways to make mistakes in this business is to gear your selection to need. A need has a funny way of working itself out. Lack of quality never does."

Adams may not be the sexy pick, but he does things Memphis needs and the front office thinks he does them better than other guys on the board at the time. Stokes raved about Adams, his AAU Atlanta Celtics teammate.

"Jordan Adams is a very good shooter," said Stokes. "I think his bread and butter would be shooting, but he also has instincts a guy his size normally wouldn’t be able to do."

Wallace was convincing that Adams was the undisputed pick at No. 22. Stokes pleased fans, and if his NBA rebounding and WWE-style game translates, he may be the perfect fit — a hometown fit — to keep the grit-and-grind going for years to come.