Most of the players projected to be in the top-10 of this year’s NBA Draft have a pretty fair idea of where they will probably end up. But there’s one player that may make a big jump and move into the top-3.
Yes, that’s what I said.
I believe when it comes to the discussion of who goes after Zion Williamson and Ja Morant at 1 and 2 respectively, that the next name off the board should be Jarrett Culver.
That isn’t to say that RJ Barrett isn’t worthy of being the Knicks pick at 3, should Zion and Ja go 1 and 2. Barrett is a dynamic player that should have a pretty good career in the NBA. The big difference is where RJ compares to Culver right now.
Culver is listed as a shooting guard, but he acted as the primary ball handler on offense at Texas Tech. He accounted for around 35% of Texas Tech’s offense averaging 18.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Culver’s versatility though has made him climb on draft boards all over the place. Jarrett facilitates for his teammates like a point guard, shoots well off screens like a shooting guard, and rebounds and defends like a small forward.
Perhaps the strongest positive is Culver’s basketball IQ. As the primary man on Tech’s offense, Culver showed skills at identifying defenses and adjusting on the fly. The game almost looks like it’s slowed down for him at times. He uses his court vision, combined with his athleticism, to find his teammates wherever they are on the court.
Speaking of athleticism, Culver may not have the overall explosiveness of several other lottery picks, but makes up for it in other ways. Another player that has the same “problem” was last season’s standout rookie, Luka Doncic. Neither Culver or Doncic explode out of the gate but are able to change pace as they move to elude and deceive defenders, both with and without the ball. When Culver drives, he’s able to bend and twist to make plays in the lane while not being elusive.
Defensively, Culver is more of a finished package than some projected lottery picks. Again, he isn’t the fastest guy on the court, but he makes the most out of what he has. Culver has shown the ability to move well laterally and stick with defenders of all sizes. His basketball IQ makes up for a lot of his deficiencies physically.
The last big strength Culver brings is his prowess come crunch time. During Tech’s National Semifinal game against Michigan State in the Final Four, the Twitter account @DribbleHandoff pointed out how well Culver had done in crunch time when it mattered most for Texas Tech:
Jarrett Culver is CLUTCH. 6 big points late & hit the dagger.— Dribble Handoff (@dribblehandoff) April 7, 2019
Since the start of conference play, Culver has shot 56% from the field in clutch time (2 possession game and under 5 mins).
Accounts for 25% of Texas Tech’s points, yet 47% (!) of Texas Tech’s points in clutch time.
Culver isn’t going to be able to blow past a lot of people. IQ can make up for it, but sometimes he’s going to just get beat off the dribble and get outworked by more physical players. That can be overcome as Jarrett will have time to add some more muscle and weight to his slender frame.
Some other hitches in his game revolve around his shot and shot selection. Jarrett was known early in the season to occasionally take shots too quickly on offense and not letting the play fully develop. Some of this also came from defenses forcing the somewhat slower Culver into dire situations on offense.
Culver tweaked his shot mechanics to correct something in his shooting motion, but that tweak also slowed his shot down. Part of that translated to his percentages from three, as Culver only averaged 30.4% down 8% from his freshman year. His shot isn’t broken though as he improved his all-around shooting percentage from 45.5% to 46.1%. However, Culver appears to be a smart player, so adjusting these things can be done at the next level.
If Zion and Morant weren’t in this draft class, you could argue for making Culver the number 1 pick. Culver as-is could be one of the better prospects right out of the box, as his game translates well to the NBA. While he lacks the sizzle of guys like Morant, Williamson, and Barrett, Culver has all the building blocks to become a very high level player at the next level.
If all reports on who Memphis and New Orleans are taking are true, the Knicks have a tough decision. Barrett is a more dynamic offensive player but tends to just not play defense. I’m not exaggerating.
That’s a whole thread of RJ apparently deciding to take the LeBron James self preservation route and just not play defense at times. Add in that RJ doesn’t always seem to be sure what he’s doing with the ball when he’s trying to facilitate and you may start leaning towards Culver being the more ready right now, with Barrett maybe being the better player long term.