*Note: Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be posting grades for many of the Wolves decisions made this offseason, one by one. Previously we’ve covered Tyus Jones leaving for Memphis and today we’re focusing on the draft night trade to acquire Jarrett Culver*
When President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas held his pre-draft press conference in June there was no question that his plans included the Wolves being very active on draft night. That came true when the Wolves pulled the trigger on a deal prior to the draft that saw them moving up from the No. 11 selection to the No. 6 selection in exchange for Dario Saric.
There’s a lot to like about this move for the Wolves and very little to dislike. There are people in the NBA world that think Culver has the chance to go down as the second-best player in the 2019 NBA Draft – behind Zion Williamson. Culver could be the sidekick that the Wolves have been trying to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s something that might change the trajectory of this franchise.
The cost of moving up wasn’t too great, either. Dario Saric is what it cost to move from 11th overall to the No. 6 pick. Saric is entering the last year of his rookie contract. While he’s certainly an NBA starter, he’s going to potentially become much more expensive than Culver will over the next couple of years. A player of Saric’s caliber isn’t a small price, but it isn’t exactly a big deal either. Risking Saric in order to move up for a guy the caliber of Culver is something that is well worth it.
Financially, this move doesn’t save the Wolves money in the present, but could save them a significant amount over the life of Culver’s rookie deal. In the final year of his rookie deal, should the Wolves pick up both team options, Culver will be making $8.1 million. Saric is a restricted free agent next summer, and will likely be in line for a pretty significant pay increase should he perform well. This year he’s making just $3.4 million, but it’s not crazy to think that could rise to $10 million or more per season starting with the 2020-21 season. That’s where the financial savings could come into play.
As for the on the court stuff, it’s far more likely that Culver turns into a star than Saric or whomever the Wolves would have selected at No. 11 would have. That’s the swing they’re taking here. It’s certainly a risk worth taking, seeing as one of the only avenues available to acquiring a star was to actually draft one. It also appeared to be one of the easiest ones.
Culver can potentially give the Wolves a two-way force depending on how well he develops under Ryan Saunders and company. He needs to continue to work on his outside shot, but the Wolves do love his work ethic and that he comes from a winning program at Texas Tech. Defense mattered to that program and to Culver, and it’s going to matter more in the NBA, the Wolves like that aspect of his game. They also like his ability as a playmaker, even if he’s probably best suited doing that secondarily.
If Culver doesn’t pan out, it could be easy to say that this was the wrong move and that the Wolves wasted an asset in moving up to draft him. That being said, this was a risk very much so worth taking. Saric was a fair price, and this looks like a medium-risk, high-reward type of move.