By: Brendan Hedtke
Everybody grows and learns at a different pace in their life. Some babies walk much earlier than others. Some take longer to accomplish this feat. Yes, it may be frustrating to witness the pains of failure that occur. However, it is encouraging to see babies try again and again. They never lose confidence in their ability to walk.
In many ways, Jarrett Culver is like a baby that is struggling to learn to walk. I know, I know, Culver is 6 foot 6, weighs 195 pounds, and clearly has been walking for years. That’s not the point. The similarities lie in his struggles to adjust to the NBA. He has had many ups and downs throughout the first 19 games of his young career, but he has kept the same mentality as the baby who is trying to walk. Persistence and confidence.
Culver has not given up on himself nor shied away from playing his style of basketball. The stats do not show that he is doing great things on the court, but Wolves fans can find solace in his confidence and demeanor on the court. We see him slashing to the basket and going hard at the rim. We see him pull the trigger on the perimeter. Although he is converting only 28 percent of his 3-point attempts, he still is confident enough to take 3.9 threes per game in under 24 minutes a night.
The age-old question of all slow starts is, “Will it get better, or is this what we will get?” My answer is that it will get better. Maybe not this year, but it will get better. If you look at the evidence that Culver has given us, all signs point to improvement coming. During his freshman year at Texas Tech, Culver averaged 11.2 PTS, 4.8 REB, and 1.8 AST per game. Those numbers do not strike anyone as the stats of the No. 6 overall pick in the NBA Draft. One year later, during his sophomore season for the Red Raiders, Culver improved in all of those statistical categories. His points per game jumped to 18.5, he nabbed over 1.5 more rebounds per game and assisted on 1.9 more shots per game.
Along with his improvement in traditional stat categories, Culver’s defensive rating went from 93.4 during his freshman season, to 86.7 his second season. His improvement defensively showed up in the national ranks as he was not in the top ten for defensive rating or defensive win shares his freshman year. During his sophomore year, Culver ranked 6th in defensive rating and led the country in defensive win-shares, with 3.5 according to Sports Reference – College Basketball.
Some NBA players burst onto the scene their rookie year and take the league by storm. Recently we have seen this done by Luka Doncic and Trae Young. If we go further back, we see fast starts from players like Blake Griffin and LeBron James. Unless things turn around quick, I don’t foresee Culver’s name being mentioned alongside these players when we discuss great rookie seasons.
With that being said, many players have had slow starts to their careers and turned out to be quality NBA players. Kemba Walker, Paul Millsap, J.J. Reddick, and Kyle Lowry all had underwhelming starts to their careers. Another player who had a slow start is Khris Middleton. Middelton only averaged 6.1 PPG his rookie season and shot 31.1 percent from three, he is currently a career 38.8 percent three-point shooter, which is a respectable clip. His per 36-minute stats during his rookie campaign were 12.5 PTS, 3.8 REB, and 2.1 ASTS. Compare those numbers to Culver’s per 36 stats of 13.9 PTS, 4.9 REB, and 3.4 ASTS. Culver statistically is having a better rookie season than Middleton. Last season, Middleton was the second-best player for a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 60 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is proof that players can and do improve immensely after their rookie season.
I’m not saying Culver will for sure turn into Khris Middleton. Middleton is a much better shooter than Culver will likely become. The comparison was less of a player comparison and more of a look into a player with similar rookie stats. It is worth taking a look at these stats and coming to the realization that maybe Culver isn’t the fastest learner and that’s okay. We saw how it took a season for him to adjust to the college game at Texas Tech and maybe it is going to take him a season to adjust to the NBA game. Many rookies require time to adjust to the NBA. Not everyone will turn into Luka Doncic.
Now what everyone wants to know, how does Culver stack up against the other rookies? I pulled stats for four players that have a connection to the Wolves or Culver and wanted to see how their numbers compared to Culver’s 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 28% three-point percentage and 37.2% from the field in 23.7 minutes per game. DeAndre Hunter, Darius Garland, Coby White, and Cameron Johnson were the four players that were chosen.
Hunter and Culver squared off in Minneapolis during the Final Four for the NCAA National Championship in April. Hunter was the 4th overall selection in the 2019 NBA draft and is a key rotational piece for Atlanta, averaging 31.7 minutes per game and contributing 11.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 36.6 percent from three and 39.4 percent from the field. The only stat that stands out is the three-point percentage.
Darius Garland was a coveted prospect by Wolves fans and there was hope that trading to the 6th pick would allow us to take him. Due to the surprise of many, Cleveland took Garland 5th overall, even though they have a second-year point guard in Collin Sexton. Some think Minnesota swung and missed on Garland and were forced to take Culver, but I believe they knew Culver was a realistic option and were comfortable with taking him at No. 6. Garland has played in 19 games with the Cavs, averaging 10.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 38.1 percent from three and 38 percent from the field in 28.2 minutes per game. Again, these numbers do not stand out, aside from the three-point shooting percentage. Also to note, Culver plays much better defense than Garland does, which is worth something.
Once Garland was taken, Wolves fans were praying that Rosas and co. would decide to draft Coby White from UNC. This was not the case and White ended up in Chicago, playing 25.4 minutes per night with averages of 13 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 32.5 percent from three and 36.7 percent from the field. White averages nearly four more points per game than Culver, but their rebounding and assist stats are similar. White is a better shooter than Culver, but again Culver is the better defender of the two.
Lastly, I want to compare Jarrett with the player he was traded for on draft night, Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns. Johnson has appeared in 16 games for the Suns and plays 19.2 minutes per night. During his time on the court, he has scored 8.9 points, nabbed 2.9 rebounds, and assisted on 1.6 shots per game while shooting an efficient 40 percent from three and 42.5 percent from the field. Johnson is a much better shooter than Culver, but his play outside of that is nothing to call home about.
The common theme when comparing these rookies to Culver is the increased shooting percentage from three. Culver has had his struggles thus far this season, but things should continue to improve for him as he becomes more comfortable in the NBA and gets used to the added distance for the three-point arc. While Jarrett lacks an efficient offensive game right now, he has shown many flashes of quality defense that should set him up to be a good defender in the NBA. His start is slow, but it isn’t astronomically bad. Wolves fans should not be overly concerned by Culver’s play thus far. It’s been less than a quarter of a season, give him some more time. Jarrett’s performance in the first 19 games of his NBA career will not define him as an NBA player when it is all said and done. Many signs point to Culver improving and becoming who we all thought he would be coming out of the draft
*Stats provided by Basketball Reference and are updated through 12/2/201