After a prolonged wait, Timberwolves lottery pick Jarrett Culver, along with fellow rookies Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid, were finally officially introduced to the fans and media on Thursday. After answering some questions and endearing himself to the city, Culver spent his afternoon at the Minnesota Twins game, throwing the ceremonial opening pitch to top off his initiation.
When his debut season rolls around, Culver won’t be throwing pitches, he’ll be throwing passes to his new NBA teammates. Instead of catching practice pitches, he will, hopefully, be catching the eye of the wider NBA community.
As a 6-foot-6 wing, Culver will be expected to score and defend at a high level as he matures into his potential. However, with the Timberwolves experiencing a dearth at the point guard position, there has been chatter about his ability to handle those duties as well.
When head coach Ryan Saunders was asked about the prospect of point-Culver during the presser, he gave those hopeful fans some more ammo.
“He’s a playmaker. He’s able to make reads,” he said. “You can never have too many good decision makers on the court, so we do look at him as someone who can be in that [point guard] mold in the future.”
President of basketball operations Gersson Rosas added more fuel to the fire.
“We want to be hard to guard and we want to be dynamic, by that it means guys get multiple opportunities to make plays,” he said. “We want to give guys like Jarrett and Jaylen [Nowell] an opportunity to grow and develop and see if they can be that guy for us,”
With the coach and POBO backing him, combined with Jeff Teague’s shaky injury history and Shabazz Napier’s inconsistent career, it looks like Culver will have the chance to flash his talents as a lead guard in some capacity.
Throughout his two-year career at Texas Tech, Culver developed his passing, ball handling abilities, and game management skills astronomically. By the end of his sophomore year, the 19-year-old held a gargantuan 32.2 percent usage rate, and also increased his assist per game numbers from 1.8 in his freshman season to 3.7 in his second year. All while being the first, second, and third scoring option for a Red Raiders team that made it all the way to the championship game.
One of the most essential skills that the front man of an NBA offense needs is the ability to score and make smart reads out of the pick-and-roll. It is even more vital when the offense is built around a high-scoring big man and elite rim runner like Karl-Anthony Towns. Culver ticks both of those boxes.
He is already adept at slithering his way to the rim and putting pressure on bigs. Whether it is contorting his body to avoid traffic or using his long arms and broad shoulders to fight through contact, Culver has the makings of a special finisher going downhill.
When he isn’t looking to score himself, Culver has shown, albeit in small samples, that he can provide his rolling bigs with the ball on a platter. If he can pilot passes over the defenders to his streaking teammate like he does in the play below, the Big 12 Player of the Year should waltz into the big leagues as an effective pick-and-roll player.
In this instance the roller isn’t open immediately, forcing Culver to show some patience before sliding the dime over to him. It doesn’t faze him though, he still succeeds in navigating the ball around defensive stalwart Brandon Clarke and serving up the pinpoint helper.
Much like the bulk of Culver’s game, developing a reliable 3-point shot will be the key to his pick-and-roll potential. If he can learn to punish defenders for ducking under screens by nailing a pull-up triple, he will have a dangerous arsenal in screen plays.
He has the tools to master the most important part of being a point guard, but Culver has shown flashes of his capability in other floor general areas. He is a smooth mover in transition, capable of attacking the cup, pulling up for a jumper, or firing passes to flanking teammates.
He has a really solid hesitation and spin move in transition. Having go-to moves is essential for all positions, but if he is going to be the first point of reference for rebounders looking to find a fast break starter, those talents become even more magnified.
Perhaps more importantly, the former Red Raider has shown he can collapse a defense and kick passes out to open shooters. In an NBA landscape where 3-point shooting is so crucial, especially for a team like the Timberwolves who have consistently struggled to live up to the modern standard, reading and reacting to a hounding defense and finding his shooters is a prerequisite for handling point guard duties.
You can see in the clip below how quick he is to find the open man in the corner, waiting for his man to zone off him before throwing the pass.
Even with all these signs that he can one day become a point guard, expecting it to happen from day dot is probably digging a hole without a ladder to get out. Culver showed plenty of promise at Texas Tech, but the NBA is a whole lot different to college ball. Rookie point guards tend to struggle to take the next step immediately, especially if they were never really a point guard to begin with.
Culver’s game is still tailor-made for an NBA wing. His ability to get to the cup will increase tenfold if he can attack closeouts and catch defenders off-balance — that won’t happen if the ball starts in his hands every set.
This will also open up his long-range shooting game. Instead of being forced into isolation triples, he will be able to shoot more catch-and-shoot jumpers with less pressure around him. In his freshman year, Culver shot 38.2 percent from deep, he attributed that to playing off-ball more often.
Ball handling isn’t necessarily a weak point in Culver’s game, but forcing him into heavy responsibilities against rabid NBA defenders might still be too much for the youngster. In his media availability after his New York Knicks pre-draft workout, Culver spoke about his need to improve this facet of the game.
“I need to improve on my ball handling for sure at the next level,” he said. “Being able to come off screens and getting my shot off, that has a lot to do with ball handling,”
In spite of the question marks that surround both Teague and Napier, they will still be doing a ton of the point guard work for Minnesota. With those two available, it makes sense that Culver will be a secondary playmaker and at times a pseudo-point when the need arises.
Perhaps in the future he can develop into more of a lead guard. For now, getting him accustomed to NBA life in his natural wing spot and trickling some secondary or tertiary point guard duties into his game is probably the way to go.