LAS VEGAS – Jarrett Culver won’t be playing in the Las Vegas Summer League this year. After being officially acquired from the Phoenix Suns 16 days after the trade was agreed upon, the Wolves were finally allowed to have contact with their pick, let him practice, and sign his contract.
He hasn’t played in a competitive five-on-five setting since playing in the NCAA Championship at U.S. Bank Stadium back in April when Texas Tech lost to Virginia. Throwing him back into that environment without the benefit of a team minicamp wasn’t something that the Wolves were comfortable doing.
“Honestly, we get him yesterday, so it’s hard to evaluate. I think we’ve got to have a meeting with the performance [people] and see where he’s at physically and see if we can build up,” coach Pablo Prigioni said after the team’s game on Sunday. “It’s a little risky, to me, thinking of his health. But maybe we can build up him for future games.”
It’s a risk the Wolves aren’t going to take. There’s no reason to put a potential franchise cornerstone in an uncomfortable situation, especially when the results are essentially meaningless.
“We’d love for him to play here but realistically he’s too important to us,” President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said. “The way things are, not having had a chance to do the full training camp with our team, not having played 5-on-5 in such a long time. He’s too important. He’s here doing practices and individual work. But for him and for us, we decided the best thing was not to have him participate.
“They don’t play 5-on-5 and it’s a long process, right? They spend a portion of it preparing for draft workouts and then they go through draft workouts, go through the draft and they’re already carrying a full year’s load from having played the whole season. Jarrett played up to the championship game, so for us, we want to keep him healthy. We’ll build him up through the rest of the summer, but he’s too important not to have him play right now.”
With all that said, Culver being around the Wolves for the first time is a breath of fresh air. The offseason has been an exciting one for the team so far, but the results haven’t all been positive. Culver has drawn rave reviews so far in his short tenure with the team.
“When his season started last year, I was watching them. I was really locked-in, watching him his whole season. For him to be drafted here is actually kinda ironic, you know?” Josh Okogie said of Culver. “I actually watched him and came to his game when he played in Minnesota. So, I think he’s a terrific player, real versatile on offense and defense. And he’s definitely gonna compliment not only me but the whole team and what we bring.”
There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about what Culver will be able to do on the floor when the time comes for the Wolves. Past that, the Wolves are excited about how he’s going to get to that point. When asked about the rookie, one of the first things consistently out of the mouth of whoever is speaking is about the work ethic Culver possesses.
“I’ve only been around him for a day, but he’s been a joy just to be around,” head coach Ryan Saunders said. “In this workout today, he’s so eager to learn, and he’s so serious about learning that it’s really refreshing to see a guy be that coachable. I had to tell him, ‘hey, you’re in the NBA now, you’ve gotta enjoy a little bit, too, and have fun with it.’ He’s such a good, high-character person.”
The drive that Culver has is partly why the Wolves will think he’ll be successful. He has many of the physical tools to get the job done – no one gets to this point without that – but that doesn’t ensure success at the NBA level. Wolves fans certainly can attest to that.
He should be able to fit in on the wing, as well. Whether that means he’s a starter from day one or has to work his way into the rotation, he should be too good to not play this season. There are always defensive things to learn for rookies – it’s typically more of a challenge on that end for younger guys – and the worry at the offensive end of the floor is his shooting. After a 38% mark from beyond the arc his freshman year at Texas Tech, that dipped to 30%. On the surface that should be concerning.
“I thought he shot the ball very well this morning,” Saunders said after Culver’s first workout with the team. “Hey, it’s one day, but it’s something that doesn’t concern me. I feel we have a great staff, I feel he’s going to put the work in. Guys that work that hard and have that type of commitment to the game, they’ll find a way to be successful and get better.”
That seems to be an organizational feeling. Saunders isn’t the only one that thinks that way.
“Historically, all players, for the most part, improve,” Rosas said. “We feel good about his shooting potential. We feel that in a normal NBA floor, with more efficient shot selection, and being a complimentary of playing with other good and great players like Karl, I think he’s going to get better shots. With more work and effort, he’s going to shoot at a higher level. We feel confident about his ability to improve and to take steps forward there.”
One of the constants thrown around by the franchise since Rosas was hired has been working to change the culture. Things haven’t always been great in Minnesota, and that’s no secret. They’re building to be better and to fix a once broken culture. Culver fits into that mold not only with his work ethic, but also with his winning pedigree.
“I for sure got a sense of the culture,” Culver said before pausing. “It’s just, they want to win. They want to win and I feel like me coming in is a part of the plan of winning. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Winning takes time in the NBA, unless a star is acquired in the offseason. Maybe Culver will be that guy, but it’s unlikely he blossoms into a star right away. His background is worth something to the franchise. It’s one of the non-basketball reasons he was high on their board during the draft process.
“It does matter, when you have a guy like that who has that winning component to him, you know he’s going to do what it takes to help the team, and he’s going to give himself up for the team,” Saunders said. “He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ person. I’ve only been around him for a day, but he’s been a joy just to be around.”
The Wolves are excited about him, as any team would be. It’s just going to be a lengthy wait until the rest of the world has the chance to see him in action again.
“I wish you guys could see the individual workouts and the practices,” Rosas said. “But a guy that size, that talent, that ability, his instincts and basketball IQ is something we’re excited to add to the team.”