Culver finding footing in Atlanta

Jarrett Culver had some familiarity with his new Hawks teammates before he signed his two-way contract in September.

Culver grew up in Lubbock, Texas and stayed in his hometown to attend college at Texas Tech, which is where Rayford Young, Trae's dad, played college basketball.

"I kind of grew up with Trae," Culver said. "His dad is from Lubbock, so we knew each other since high school."

Culver was also familiar with De'Andre Hunter from when his Texas Tech team faced Hunter's University of Virginia squad in the 2019 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Game. 

"We don't talk about that too much. I'm hurt about that one," the 23-year-old said, laughing and grimacing simultaneously. "We talked about it a little bit: we talked about each other's teams, but we didn't talk much about that game. De'Andre is a great guy. I'm glad that I got to meet him. He's a great teammate and a great man."

At shootaround Wednesday prior to a game against the Orlando Magic, Culver had an inkling that he might be playing more soon. The constant message to stay ready had gotten louder.

"(The coaches) were telling me to stay ready more than they have at other shootarounds, so I started getting signs that I might be playing."

When the 23-year-old was needed following injuries to Hunter and John Collins in Orlando, he produced instantly. He came off the bench to help the Hawks with 9 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, an impressive feat for a 6-foot-6 guard/forward.

"I'm making sure that I box out, and I'm making sure that I crash the glass," Culver said. "I'm coming in and trying to get as many rebounds as I can so that we can get out and run. I can dribble, too, so I'm pushing that pace when I get a rebound."

Culver got his first start for the Hawks in Friday's win against the Denver Nuggets at State Farm Arena. 

"I watched him about a month ago in the G League, and I was really impressed with how he played. That was the Jarrett that I remember in The League. I was looking for an opportunity to get him some time out on the floor, and he has played well. To have him step in when we've had so many injuries has really helped us these last two games,” Coach McMillan said. 

Anyone looking for evidence of how Culver played need look no further than the Hawks' first possession of the game. Dejounte Murray swung a pass from one side of the floor to the other, and Culver pounced on a drive before the defense could adjust. In fact, he had his feet moving toward the basket even before the ball hit his hands.

"That is something that we try to teach: play on catch. You pass, shoot or attack. You don't catch and hold and let the defense recover. I thought we played that way (against Denver). We had some really good ball movement in our offense, and the open man was getting the ball,” Coach McMillan said. 

Culver finished the Denver win with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, while giving the Hawks a lot to like on the defensive end, too. The former No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft takes an open-minded attitude to the court.

"(Orlando) was my first game really playing like real minutes, so I was just out there for whatever Coach needed. That's the kind of guy I am, though: 'Whatever you need, Coach, let me go do it. If you want me to rebound, pass, shoot, I'll go do it.' "

When the Hawks get healthier, there is a reasonable chance that Culver will return to a reduced role. But in the time while he remains playing heavier minutes, Culver is giving the team everything that he can – and it has worked thus far. After his media scrum Saturday, someone asked Culver about a purple, wound-looking mark that covered a fairly significant amount of his forearm.

Culver looked down and replied matter-of-factly, "court burn".