New Year, Improved Culver

The start of a new year often brings wishful thinking for a planned, better lifestyle that only amounts to unfulfilled resolutions. Those who fall short on meeting their goals are sometimes left giving up on the new year before it’s even a week old.

That hasn’t been the case for Wolves rookie Jarrett Culver who’s 2020 has been anything but disappointing. Culver’s devotion to his goals has never been under question, and we’re beginning to see his dedication to his craft pay off in the new year.

In the last four Wolves games (one of which came before the new year), Culver is averaging 13.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.3 steals per game and has tallied up a whopping plus-minus rating of plus-41. Not to mention, the Wolves are 3-1 during that time. Those statistics support the argument that Culver has had the best four-game stretch of any member of the 2019 draft class.

Culver’s 13.8 points per game are third-best among rookies, his 5.3 rebounds per game are sixth-best, 3.0 assists seventh-best, 2.3 steals tops all other rookie averages, and his 1.0 block per game puts him in a four-way tie for second (along with teammate Kelan Martin). No other rookie has had a top-10 average in all five major statistical categories over their last four games.

Culver’s new year stats stand their ground when compared to those of his more experienced teammates, too. Culver’s defensive rating of 94.3 is fourth-best among Wolves players who averaged at least eight minutes per game during their last four games, and his offensive rating of 109.3 only trails that of Robert Covington (110.4) and Shabazz Napier (109.9) when compared to the ratings of Wolves players who’ve played in all four of the last four games. He’s also only accounted for 7.4% of the Wolves’ turnovers in their last four games, which is third-lowest on the team for players who played in all four of the last four games.

With Karl-Anthony Towns missing 10 straight games and Andrew Wiggins missing the Wolves’ four games before their win in Cleveland, Culver has used the shorthanded lineup as a means to assert himself as a go-to player for the Wolves. Culver’s usage rate has risen from 19.3% to 21.2% in the last four games, and he’s averaged a team-high 15 field goal attempts per game, which is a significant increase from his 9.2 FGAs season average. His shooting still needs to improve, but based on the above-mentioned statistics, Culver is finding multiple ways to positively impact his team even when his shot isn’t dropping. Not all veteran players recognize the importance of being reliable on both ends of the court, so the fact that Culver prioritizes both offense and defense as a rookie says something about his maturity.

Speaking of his maturity, I don’t think Culver has played with an ounce of timidity in this most recent four-game stretch. He’s touching the sky with his highlight-reel dunks (no matter who’s trying to defend him),

throwing the no-fear, alley-oop passes

and making the game-changing hustle plays without gambling away his superb, defensive instincts.

In the first 35 games of his NBA career, we've already seen Culver embrace constructive criticism professionally without allowing it to limit the aggression he plays with in every aspect of his game. The first stretch of the new year has been promising for Culver, but knowing the determined rookie, this isn't where he wants to peak in 2020. He's just getting started.