The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to make a splash on the night of the 2019 NBA Draft, and they did just that by trading up to select Jarrett Culver at No. 6 overall out of Texas Tech. The team traded up for Culver with the intention of grabbing a dynamic, game-changing athlete on both ends of the floor. For the move to be proven as worth it, he’ll have high expectations to reach.
Culver was a two-year standout at Texas Tech that helped to lead the Red Raiders to the 2019 NCAA Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium. While there are plenty of on-court things that make it easy to be excited about Culver, the Wolves routinely bring up the fact that he was part of a successful program at Texas Tech. In his two years with the school, the team went a combined 58-17. Culver’s freshman year they lost in the Regional Final to eventual NCAA Tournament Champion Villanova. During his sophomore season the Red Raiders made it to the title game before falling to Virginia in overtime. While those certainly could have been better outcomes, it’s still a pretty significant amount of collegiate success.
In terms of actual basketball things, Culver is a player worth getting excited about. He has the ability to be a creator and a finisher on the offensive end of the floor. While he probably won’t be that right away, he won’t have to. Most times when a player of Culver’s caliber is selected with a pick as high up in the lottery as Culver was, they’re expected to be big contributors right from the start. There’s typically a pressure to be a significant ingredient in the team’s recipe from day one. Most lottery picks don’t get selected by a team that already has an All-NBA caliber center, an All-Defensive wing, and a high-usage, former No. 1 overall pick as well. The Wolves have all those things, and that formula eases the expectation on Culver.
He’ll need to do somethings better in the pros than he did in college. Culver has taken too many bad shots in college in terms of long 2-pointers. If he can condition himself to turn those into 3-pointers while making them at a decent enough clip, he’s going to be terrific on that end. While it’s tough to draw much from his college shooting numbers, especially considering his role change from year one to year two. His shooting percentage as a whole slightly rose, but his efficiency from deep dropped from 38% to 30%, which he attributed to having to take more of those shots as a creator, rather than in catch-and-shoot situations.
Defensively, Culver will be able to guard multiple positions from day one. He’s got solid size at 6-foot-6 and just under 200 pounds. Guarding elite-level lead guards right away will likely be a challenge for him, but other than that, he should fit in very well with the Wolves. Especially considering the amount of time that he could find himself sharing the floor with either Robert Covington or Josh Okogie.
Culver was the No. 6 overall pick, despite the usual pressure of a No. 6 overall pick not necessarily existing. That sometimes can get lose because of where the Wolves are currently at as a franchise. He’s not being viewed as the savior for the Wolves. But, in his best-case scenario, Culver impresses from the moment the basketballs start bouncing during training camp.
Doing that could potentially lead to him joining the starting lineup on opening night, which would be a terrific sign for the Wolves. While winning the NBA Rookie of the Year might be a bit of a stretch solely on the opportunity that he’ll likely be afforded, making the All-Rookie team certainly wouldn’t be. If he can play defense at the level the Wolves expect him to and shoot the ball better than he did as a sophomore at Texas Tech, the Wolves could plug him into the starting lineup and keep him there for the next handful of seasons.
Culver coming in and struggling to find his shot wouldn’t be a nightmare – tons of young guys need time to adjust offensively in the NBA – but if he can neither do that or stay on the floor defensively, things could be rough for the lottery pick. This could potentially lead to him not finding a significant spot in Ryan Saunders’ rotation, and maybe even some time in the G League to work on things.
It certainly feels like there are four guys locked in the starting lineup – Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague – at the moment. The fifth and final spot could go to a number of different players, with Culver being one potential option. It could make sense for the Wolves to ease him into NBA action off the bench and still give him a significant chunk of minutes. His shooting will get better as things go along, and it’s conceivable to think that he’s in the starting five before the season ends.