The Minnesota Timberwolves traded up in the 2019 draft to land Jarrett Culver at No. 6 overall, but his rookie season didn’t entirely go as planned.
Heading into his first offseason at the helm of the Minnesota Timberwolves, new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas had the No. 11 and No. 43 draft picks at his disposal.
Instead of staying put at No. 11 and picking from any number of wings or trading back to take Gonzaga power forward Brandon Clarke, the Wolves were aggressive and traded up in the hours leading into the draft.
Moving into the top six cost the Wolves power forward Dario Saric, who would have been due a significant raise in free agency in the summer of 2020 and was a fair price to move up five spots in the 2019 draft. Rumors swirled that the Wolves were after Darius Garland, who rather unexpectedly went to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5.
The Wolves settled for Jarrett Culver, a solid prospect in his own right. Culver was coming off an amazing sophomore season at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to the National Championship Game while putting up 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game.
Culver profiled as a defense-first player with NBA-caliber length and enough athleticism to make an immediate impact on that end of the floor. While his offensive game was raw, the size, athleticism and overall talent promised that Culver could contribute positively on offense as a dynamic player in the open floor, at the very least.
As it turned out, the transition to the pro game was a bit tougher on Culver than expected, although there were absolutely still a few tantalizing moments.
Culver has indeed shown off his athleticism and the skills that made him a surefire lottery pick last summer, but the issues with his jump shot mechanics have only been underscored on a team that relies heavily on 3-point shooting.
The 40.4 percent from the field and 29.9 percent on 3-point attempts are also concerning, but to make matters worse, his hideous free throw shooting — he’s made just 54 of 117 free throw attempts, 46.2 percent — has only been cause for more concern related to his scoring touch.
That said, Culver was asked to play both wing spots and run the offense as a de facto point guard at various points throughout his rookie year. The overall feel that he’s shown isn’t all that dissimilar to when a 19-year-old Zach LaVine was pressed into duty at point guard as a rookie under Flip Saunders.
While Culver isn’t the shooter or the athlete as LaVine was/is, there is a similar fluidity to his game and a superior passing skill to what LaVine showed both in college and as a pro. LaVine was never a natural point guard, and there are brief moments where it’s looked like Culver could run an NBA offense. He was the primary initiator of the offense at Texas Tech, after all.
2019-20 Season Grade: B-
It’s hard to grade a 20-year-old rookie all too harshly, but it’s fair to say that Culver didn’t quite live up to expectations.
That said, there were plenty of flashes of true, starter-level talent, and there is a lot to look forward to in Culver’s career.
If he can improve his shooting stroke — admittedly not a small task — and continue to build out what remains a wiry frame, he could become a solid NBA contributor in his second season. While a star-type ceiling feels far-fetched, it still isn’t impossible for a talent like Culver.
Then again, on a team with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley, the Wolves need a role player who can pitch in as a distributor and rebounder while occasionally impacting the scoring column.
And that certainly appears to be exactly where Culver is headed as a pro, provided continual gradual improvement.