Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 75 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This report centers on Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver.
Jarrett Culver wasn’t supposed to be a top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. In fact, the 20-year-old from Lubbock, Texas wasn’t supposed to be a top-five pick in any NBA Draft.
Culver arrived at Texas Tech as a member of the 2017 recruiting class and, before he arrived, he was ranked as the No. 312 recruit in the country. Beyond that, Culver was listed at 6’4 and 170 pounds, classifying as a “combo guard” and projecting as potentially a solid, uninspiring role player on a middling Big 12 team. Two years later, Culver is an unquestioned top-10 pick and, for many, he ranks as a top-five player in the 2019 draft class.
With that as the backdrop, it has been a wild climb for Culver and that coincides with the development of his physical traits. There were full-fledged investigations of his rumored height growth during his sophomore season and, by the time the NBA Draft Combine arrived, Culver measured at 6’6.75 with a 6’9.5 wingspan. That was a pleasant surprise, at least when compared to his listed college measurements, and Culver brings legitimate size as a versatile wing at the NBA level.
From a production standpoint, he was the sun, moon and stars for Texas Tech this season, serving as a key cog in the nation’s best defense and the unquestioned centerpiece of the program’s offensive strategy. Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists despite Texas Tech’s slow pace and, from a more advanced standpoint, he posted a 25.1 PER with an intriguing assist rate (26.1 percent) and a noteworthy 32.2 percent usage.
In some respects, the Red Raiders did not provide the best evaluation environment for Culver, simply because he will never have 32.2 percent usage (or anything close) at the NBA level. There simply wasn’t much in the way of high-end talent around him at the college level and, in translating that to the NBA, it is wise to keep that reality in mind.
Offensively, there is a lot to like with Culver, even if the package isn’t perfect by any means. He flashed high-end passing acumen at Texas Tech, functioning as a quality pick-and-roll operator even in less than optimal circumstances. He has a strong legs that allow him to maneuver well on the floor and, while Culver is not a great athlete by NBA standards, he is a solid, functional one.
Culver does not profile as a primary initiator in the NBA but, as a secondary ball-handler, his pick-and-roll acumen and vision are intriguing. He can create, both for himself and others, and Culver displayed craft around the rim to pair with his physicality.
The big question, both on the offensive end and overall, with Culver’s game is his jump shot. As a freshman in a reduced role, he converted 38.2 percent of his three-point attempts. As a sophomore star, that number dipped to a concerning 30.4 percent and the struggles included a downturn in conference play. His mechanics have improved during his college career but, at the moment, Culver is not consistent with his shooting form, which creates myriad issues.
By all accounts, Culver is a gym rat that brings no character concerns and, if anything, he is seen as an elite worker. That could lead to development in his jump shot but, more skeptically, he must refine his release point as a shooter and it would be (very) aggressive to project Culver as anything more than a solid eventual shooter, instead of anything approaching an elite one.
In short, Culver will need to be respectable behind the three-point arc to allow the rest of his offensive game to unlock and, if scouts believe that will not happen, he must be docked as such. Because he isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t bring a ton of traditional “wiggle” as a ball-handler, Culver is certainly a secondary offensive option and, in a draft with more star power, he would likely profile as a mid-to-late lottery pick, rather than a top-five player.
Still, that is not the reality of a class with very few elite options (arguably only one) and Culver’s package of two-way ability is wildly intriguing as a result. Defensively, he doesn’t bring the same raw size and strength of Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter but his ability on that end of the floor is a real strength.
Culver is physical, works hard and knows how to execute a scheme. It would be bold to project him as a full-blown “stopper” in the NBA, but that isn’t out of the question and he was notably better as a freshman when he was asked to do less on the other end. That could be an analog for his NBA role and, if his defensive ceiling unlocks, that provides more leeway on the offensive end. He can be disruptive when he wants to be, contests well at all levels, and generally cares defensively, all of which are strong traits with regard to his professional floor.
Through the lens of the Atlanta Hawks, Culver is quite interesting. Rumblings exist that the Hawks could be eyeing Culver in a trade-up scenario and, if Travis Schlenk and company view him as a significant step up from the available talent pool at No. 8 overall, that investment could make sense. With Trae Young as the primary offensive engine in Atlanta, Culver could slide into a secondary role that would highlight his traits on both ends, and he is quality fit alongside both Young and Kevin Huerter.
It should be noted that Culver doesn’t bring the same size and length of players like Hunter, Duke’s Cameron Reddish or North Carolina’s Nassir Little, which could lead the Hawks in a different direction if that profile is what they are seeking. In Culver, NBA teams would be acquiring a “pure” wing, rather than a hybrid forward with the ability to flash to the 4, and he is the most established ball-handler and creator among the wings/forwards in his projected tier.
All told, Culver would be an interesting fit in Atlanta, with the infrastructure to allow his weaknesses (i.e. shooting) to improve and his strengths (i.e. defense, play-making) to really shine. The Hawks may not execute a trade to jump into the top five and, if they don’t, Culver isn’t likely to be available when the team makes its first selection at No. 8 overall. Still, it isn’t difficult to see why Atlanta might want to add a player with his skill set and there will be plenty of attention paid to this potential marriage before June 20.