This is the start of a new series here on Empire Sports Media, where I’ll look at sixteen potential New York Knicks draftees, both in the first and second rounds, ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20th. Next up is Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.
Texas Tech basketball experienced a renaissance this year. While the program had been trending up under the leadership of Chris Beard, the man who had been extolled by the conglomerate of basketball writers, it had yet to break through. It was a program built on grit, toughness, and the will to win.
So it seemed fitting that the player who led the charge in 2018-19 embodied the said characteristics. That player was Jarrett Culver, the crafty wing who emerged as a star this season. Under the tutelage of Beard, Culver became the Big 12 Player of the Year, averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 boards, and 3.7 assists per game, on .461/.304/.707 shooting.
After a nationally televised game against Duke (played in Madison Square Garden) in which Culver went for 25, six, and four, and made five of 12 threes, he took off as a prospect. The media took notice, and in a draft that is devoid of great options behind Zion Williamson, he became entrenched in the top five conversation.
New York Knicks — Taking a look at the pros and cons for Jarrett Culver:
Culver is an excellent finisher. He lacks an explosive first step or elite leaping ability at the rim, but he extremely nuanced in his second and third steps, and he has mastered the different angles he has to take to put the ball in the basket. I love how smart he is and how he never forces the issue. Whereas a Ja Morant or RJ Barrett are occasionally out of control around the rim, Culver is almost always composed.
While Culver didn’t shoot a high percentage from deep, his mechanics are solid and he displayed an above-average mid-range jumper. He consistently knocked down clutch shots throughout Texas Tech’s tournament run, and he is smooth in transition as well. As a scorer, he could definitely be a 15-20 a game kind of guy.
Though he is a solid scorer, the two things I love most about Culver are his defense and his passing. He was a high-level defender at Tech, defending the opponent’s best scorer on a regular basis. He uses his 6-7 frame to make things difficult for bigger players, and I was surprised at how easily he was able to stay with smaller, quicker guards.
His instincts as a passer are tremendous. While he only averaged 3.7 assists per game, he projects as a secondary ball handler who is fully capable of setting up an offense. He’s effective as a drive and kick player as well, oftentimes hitting the open shooter rather than forcing up a contested layup.
I’m worried about Culver’s ability to create his own shot at the next level. Sure, he scored his points, but he lacks the athleticism needed to beat the defender off the dribble, and he is unable to get his shot up quick enough to have an effective step-back jumper.
In the NCAA Tournament, Tech’s offense would sometimes devolve into Culver isolations, and he was unable to get himself a good shot. He’ll need to master a go-to move and become more explosive in the NBA.
Part of the reason why he was unable to get a good shot off is because he has a loose handle. This is not uncommon for a player his size who is only just becoming the number one option (he was just a three-star recruit in high school, after all), and I do think it will improve.
That said, there are too many times where he loses control and has to regroup. Additionally, he is not creative with his handle, trying to get by defenders with smarts and craftiness. While this strategy worked fine in the Big 12, the NBA is a different beast.
This past season, Kevin Knox struggled in large part because his handle was not yet up to speed for what the NBA requires. It is essential as a guard or wing in the NBA to have at least a capable handle because the defenders are simply too quick and too smart.
Culver is a proven leader, and I love the way he stepped up for a Red Raider squad in need of an alpha dog. Watching his games, it is easy to see him communicating at a high level, and it is easy to see the respect his teammates have for him.
As just a three-star recruit who chose Tech because he is from Lubbock, Texas, Culver has a chip on his shoulder, and he plays like it. He may not be the highest upside play, but I have a hard time seeing Jarrett Culver be anything other than a plus contributor who could develop into a second or third option on a good team. I have him second on my Knicks board, ahead of both RJ Barrett and Darius Garland (who are third and fourth, respectively).