The Atlanta Hawks signed Jarrett Culver to a Two-Way contract in mid-September effectively dropping him into the roster spot previously held by Chaundee Brown Jr. The fourth-year wing will provide a modest amount of experience as Atlanta looks to operate with reduced depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions as compared to previous seasons.
Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish have each been moved at different points during the 2022 calendar year and haven’t been replaced in any serious way. The Hawks drafted AJ Griffin in the middle of the first round of the draft this summer. As a one-and-done player from Duke who is barely 19 years old, Griffin shouldn’t be expected to play as a normal part of the rotation early in the 2022-2023 NBA season. As such Atlanta will need to be able to rely on some form of functional bench depth as the rookie works to get settled and adjusted to playing at the NBA level.
Culver entered the league vying with the likes of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish for consideration as the top wing on 2019 NBA draft boards. By all reports, teams seemed intrigued by the emerging set of ball handling and shot creation skills he displayed during his second and final NCAA season at Texas Tech. In combination with defensive prowess, he climbed mock drafts as the pre-draft season progressed.
The offensive abilities never translated at the NBA level, at least not yet. Culver is still just 23 years old. But he’s a former No. 6 overall pick landing on a two-way deal while a number of his draft classmates are getting rich extensions.
In the final hours ahead of the 2019 draft the Hawks and Timberwolves were seemingly putting forward competing bids to move up and take their desired wing prospect. Travis Schlenk decided to pay quite richly to get to the fourth spot as to secure Hunter leaving Minnesota needing a plan B. A deal with the Suns moved Minnesota to the sixth spot where they were able to select Culver.
It’s hard to evaluate fully what Culver offers defensively even after three years in the league. His offensive play has been so rough that he’s not had consistent minutes of any kind since his rookie season. There is no firm reason he can’t provide adequate defensive play especially if first- and second-year players are the alternative early in the season.
He has ample length and a type of functional athleticism that tends to work better on defense than offense in an NBA context. He’s resourceful and generally smart on defense when, and this is an important caveat, he is playing with confidence.
As a bit of a comparison, Kevin Knox, who played for the Hawks last season after arriving via the Cam Reddish trade, struggled to stick in the Knicks rotation early in his career with issues seeming to predominantly manifest from a lack of confidence.
The issues are significantly more glaring on offense for Culver. Even at his best in NCAA play, Culver was always a bit methodical and deliberate as a creator and decision maker. As can sometimes be the case, the pace and rhythm worked well in an offensive system built around lineups that featured defense-first players. He was productive enough at the collegiate level to generate conversation about the possibility of him functioning as a point guard at the NBA level.
But landing in a secondary offensive role in an NBA system that sometimes asks wings to really simplify their offensive work (true of many teams) seems to have stymied his offensive development.
Maybe Culver was simply over-projected as an offensive prospect and that had an impact on his approach and sense of confidence. Maybe the offensive skillset is still too narrow. Maybe he needs to be reintegrated as a pure 3-and-D player in a new setting.
Regardless, it would seem both Griffin and fellow rookie Tyrese Martin would have to show Hawks head coach Nate McMillan, a coach who normally operates with a preference for players with some amount of experience, as to get serious playing time in roughly the first half of the Hawks season. And that could open the door for Culvert to get some opportunity early in the season.