Jarrett Culver is a prospect the Hawks should rightfully have way up there on their draft board. The 6’5″ wing out of Texas Tech helped lead the Red Raiders to the National Championship Game this past season, doing a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Culver is long and athletic enough to guard either wing position with ease. He averaged 1.5 steals on an aggressive Texas Tech defense that loved to get in their opponents face and wreak havoc. Culver can provide outstanding rim protection and rebound for a player his size, averaging 6.4 boards and 0.6 blocks as a sophomore. He will be a plus defender with the potential to be elite in the NBA.
That’s necessary when playing next to an offensive juggernaut like Trae Young. The Hawks need someone who can reliably guard the opponents best player in the backcourt, so Young cannot only avoid exposure defensively but also use more of his energy to thrive on the offensive side. Having Culver in the backcourt with Young might be the best fit in this draft for the Hawks schematically.
On offense, Culver can be that second ball-handler the Hawks need when Young is either off the court or perhaps not having his best game. From his freshman to sophomore year, he became the primary ball carrier and distributor for Texas Tech’s offense, putting up 3.6 assists per game. That might not sound like much, but on a Red Raider team that really struggled to score at times, Culver was relied on to generate over a third of the offense nightly.
Part of that had to do with the massive strides he took in his second year of college as a scorer. His footwork is pristine, and his mid-range game is where he thrives. That is no longer the ideal shot in today’s NBA, but when you’re making them look as smooth as Culver can, the new-school mindset goes out the window – especially in the playoffs – where the defense ratchets up, and the buckets are more challenging to come by (just look at C.J. McCollum in Game 7 against the Nuggets).
NBA Draft Guru, Rashad Phillips (who I highly suggest all of you should follow), compares Culver to future NBA Hall-of-Famer – Paul Pierce. Now, Pierce might have some of the worst pro-retirement takes we have ever seen, but he was a killer on the court. Like Pierce, Culver doesn’t possess jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism that a lot of teams are looking for, but he’s a polished baller that knows how to get buckets after two years in college. Now, the Texas Tech star is virtually a guarantee to go in the top ten (maybe other college athletes shouldn’t be in such a hurry to get to the NBA, just a thought).
His high arching jump shot along with his long arms make it difficult for anyone guarding him to block his shots. That’s even more apparent because of how deliberate he is with his moves. Culver is going to be a tremendous all-around NBA player, but there are some things he will have to improve upon to unlock his full potential.
His frame is far too slender as things stand now. Being less than 200-pounds in the NBA when you’re 6’5″ doesn’t help anyone. Nothing is stopping him; he just needs to hit the weight room. His long-range shooting is also skeptical to this point. It’s the only area of his game that did not see significant improvement in his sophomore year, dipping to 30.4% after shooting over 38% as a freshman. However, I believe most of his faults can be fixed by time in the gym. He has all the tools; now it is about the work. Judging by how much better he got at Texas Tech, Culver should blossom into an All-Star caliber piece on an NBA team.
Unfortunately, that is not the only answer the Hawks need for him to end up in Atlanta. Culver has to fall all the way down to eight. While that is possible, I find it unlikely. Culver might be the best wing in this class, and at the very least, he’s viewed as a top-three option at his position. There are a lot of teams reportedly high on him; which means the Hawks will likely have to trade up to snag him. As I’ve also written today, that is not going to happen (unless it’s just a spot or two, and Atlanta can move up without giving up another lottery pick). I’m a fan of Culver’s game and would love him in Atlanta, but it’s challenging to imagine that happening after the lottery results.