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Sophomore Swingman from Texas Tech Can Do It All on Both Ends
When a team rolls into the National Championship game and the front of the jersey doesn’t say “Duke,” “North Carolina” or “Michigan State,” odds are that an individual player has willed his squad through the Tournament.
That was exactly the case for the upstart Texas Tech Red Raiders, who knocked off Michigan, Michigan State and Gonzaga before falling in the title game to another defensive-minded team on a mission – Virginia. And at the center of Texas Tech’s ascendance was versatile sophomore swingman, Jarrett Culver.
The youngest of three brothers and son of a Baptist minister (who led pregame prayers in the locker room during Culver’s time at Tech), Culver didn’t have to travel far from home to star in college – growing up in Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech.
(If that city sounds familiar to old-school Cavs fans, it’s where Craig - hails from – thus the legendary Joe Tait call of his 1991 buzzer-beater against Utah: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus – and he comes from Lubbock, Texas!”)
Culver was solid during his freshman campaign with Texas Tech – averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 boards per, starting 20 of the squad’s 37 games – but minutes and opportunities were sparse behind Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans. As a sophomore, Culver bumped those numbers up to 18.5 points, 6.4 boards and 3.7 assists per game – often as the point man in Chris Beard’s offense.
The school’s first Big 12 Player of the Year, Culver led the Red Raiders in points and rebounds and became the first player in team history to pile up more than 1,000 points during his first two seasons.
Culver’s big season put Texas Tech on the college basketball map this season – leading the Red Raiders to a Big 12 regular season title, snapping a 14-year run by Kansas. And he was even more impressive in the big dance.
He nearly notched a triple-double (29 points, eight boards, seven assists) in Tech’s Tournament opener against Northern Kentucky and doubled-up in the following round against 6=sixth-seeded Buffalo – adding five assists, three steals and a pair of blocks. He dropped 22 points on John Beilein’s second-seeded Wolverines in the Sweet 16 and led Tech with 19 points in their upset over top-seeded Gonzaga before struggling against Michigan State in the Final Four.
Culver finished with 15 points in the title game against Virginia and fellow future Lottery pick De’Andre Hunter, but was just 5-of-22 in the overtime classic.
The lithe 6-6 two-way doesn’t jump out of the gym and he’s not a physical presence. He’s not the most athletic swingman in the Draft and he’ll need to improve his outside shooting at the next level.
What Culver does bring is possibly the most versatile player in the Lottery – he can handle the ball, help run an offense, score in a variety of ways and, perhaps most importantly, can defend multiple positions at a high level. Experts aren’t sure if he’ll develop into a pro team’s first option, but believe he can be an outstanding 3-and-D guy in the right system.
STRENGTHS There’s a lot to love about Jarrett Culver – but what’s most impressive is his offensive versatility and defensive tenacity.
With the ideal build for an NBA wing (once he matures and gains a few pounds), Culver is both a solid scorer and playmaker on the offensive end. Despite not being a high-flyer or having an explosive first step, Culver uses his high IQ and overall craftiness to create opportunities. He’s not a great ballhandler, but knows how to find his spots and has an excellent mid-range game and was one of the best finishers at the rim in the country last year.
Offensively, he accounted for over 25 percent of his Tech’s production last year. His high-arching shot is tough to defend, although he’ll likely have his mechanics tweaked at the next level. Scouts love his footwork, and he’s already got a pro-ready hesitation move.
Culver’s pliability will allow him to play both the 2 and 3 spots as a pro. He makes up for his lack of top-shelf athleticism with long arms and non-stop motor – traits he utilizes well on both ends.
As a defender, Culver showed his wares in the NCAA Tourney – helping his squad hold Michigan to 44 points in the Sweet 16 and shutting down Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke in the Elite Eight.
The top defender on the top defensive team in the country, Culver is an instinctual defender, showing toughness and quick hands. He’s an above-average rebounder for his size and is fantastic leading the break after crashing the glass.
Overall, Culver projects as an elite defender at the NBA level.
WEAKNESSES Maybe it’s unfair how often players are judged by pure athletic ability, but if that’s the case here, Culver isn’t your typical high-flying, uber-athletic dynamic wing player. And some feel his versatility is somewhat of a weakness in a ‘jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none’-type way.
Some of those athletic concerns are legitimate. Culver struggles to separate off the dribble and can be harassed out of his game by a stronger defender, something he’ll have to deal with on a nightly basis as a pro. Of course, some time in the weight room can change much of this.
Offensively, Culver is an inconsistent shooter and has, at times, struggled from the stripe. He’s not a prototypical three-point threat and will need to sharpen that skill to keep NBA defenders honest. Culver struggled to shoot the ball as consistently as the level of defenders improved as Tech advanced through the Tourney.
Depending upon how (and where) he’ll be asked to play at the next level – and despite doing much of the playmaking with Texas Tech – Culver will need to work on his ballhandling skills.
MEASURABLES: Body Fat: 5 percent | Hand Length: 8.25 inches | Hand Width: 8.5 inches | Height without Shoes: 6 feet 5.25 inches | Height with Shoes: 6 feet 6.75 inches | Standing Reach: 8 feet 4.5 inches | Weight: 194.2 pounds | Wingspan: 6 feet 9.5 inches
HOW HE'D FIT Every NBA team can use versatile players – especially when that player is equally skilled on both ends of the floor.
The Wine & Gold have had their share of struggles on the defensive end for some time now, and an elite stopper like Jarrett Culver could be the lynchpin for fixing that issue.
Near the end of last year, the Cavaliers went with Brandon Knight and Collin Sexton in the starting backcourt. Cleveland would love to add some size to that situation, and even having Culver – a solid ballhandler and playmaker – part-time in that scenario would be an overall improvement.
Aside from a strong collection of big men and a prized young point guard, Cleveland would love to upgrade on the wing. And Culver would certainly be that.
New head coach John Beilein has seen him up-close and personal this past spring. Maybe he’ll have the 6-6 swingman on his side this time.