NBA Rookie Watch: Jarrett Culver Is Coming On Strong

After 41 appearances in the NBA, Jarrett Culver’s traditional statistics appear to be uninspiring. The No. 6 overall pick is averaging 9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game and, from an efficiency standpoint, Culver has struggled to a 40 percent clip from the floor and an ugly 27 percent performance from beyond the three-point arc. However, a closer look should inspire fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves about the rookie’s performance for the future.

In the last 11 games, Culver’s numbers have violently improved, and that coincides with an uptick in minutes. The former Texas Tech star is playing 32 minutes per game during that stretch, and Culver is averaging 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest. In addition to the raw numbers, Culver’s efficiency has taken a positive turn, with 46 percent shooting and an improved 32.1 percent mark from three-point distance. Of course, that marksmanship isn’t overly impressive in a vacuum, but with Culver’s biggest question entering the NBA being his jump shot, strides are noteworthy.

To make things even better, Culver’s defense appears to be right on schedule, and that was a central part of his draft appeal. The rangy wing is treated as an above-average defender by advanced metrics and Minnesota’s defense has been notably better when Culver is on the floor. In fact, the Wolves are 2.2 points per 100 possessions better overall when Culver plays, which certainly isn’t the norm when compared to a typical rookie.

It will be interesting to see if Culver continues to perform at his recent level and, if he does, some of his early struggles will fade from statistical view. If nothing else, the investment in Culver with the No. 6 overall pick appears to be appropriate (even with small sample size caveats) and there are plenty of signs that he is turning the corner toward fulfilling his projected destiny as a two-way contributor at a high level.

Where does Culver stack up this week against his fellow rookies? Let’s explore.

Honorable Mentions

  • Sekou Doumbouya – There are times when it is clear that Doumbouya has a long way to go, and an example came in his struggles against the Hawks on Saturday. He’s been both efficient and productive since joining Detroit’s rotation full-time, though, and he joins Luke Kennard as a central piece of the future.
  • Jaxson Hayes – Hayes is averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 77.5 percent from the field in the last six contests. He’s filling a role and doing it well.
  • Cam Reddish – Reddish scored twenty points or more twice in the last week and he’s bringing it on defense every night. The offensive struggles are well documented, but he’s flashing plenty.
  • Zion Williamson – Zion’s debut is coming this week and it will be on national television. We made it, everyone.

10) R.J. Barrett

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Barrett had an intriguingly solid six-game stretch before succumbing to an ankle injury. He missed New York’s last game and might be out for a week or more. We’ll see if he can recapture that positive mojo upon return.

9) Jarrett Culver

With Jeff Teague out of the picture, Culver’s minutes might remain in the 30’s and that would be good news for his development curve. It certainly can’t hurt.

8) Michael Porter Jr.

Porter fever cooled off a bit in early January but it might be returning. The former top prospect has reached double figures (with strong efficiency) on a regular basis when deployed for consistent minutes and, when it’s going well, it really goes well for Porter. The talent just jumps off the screen.

7) Darius Garland

Going back to December, Garland has scored in double figures in 12 straight games. That isn’t everything (especially with an arbitrary baseline) but he’s scoring on solid efficiency, shooting 45 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three in that sample. Garland’s equity arrives as a lead guard with high upside offensively, and he’s showing signs of that promise.

6) Tyler Herro

It was a lost week for Herro, who missed two games and only appeared on the floor for nine minutes in Miami’s loss to San Antonio on Sunday. Fortunately, he can lean on his season-long numbers to justify this position.

5) P.J. Washington

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It isn’t always loud, but Washington is just cruising along with solid overall numbers. He is averaging 12.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with 58 percent true shooting. Even with defensive foibles at times, you can’t ignore that kind of production.

4) Eric Paschall

Paschall often gets ignored in the national consciousness. That comes with the territory when discussing a second-round pick on a bad team but, after a lull in December, Paschall is back contributing at a high level. He’s scored in double figures in five straight games and the former Villanova forward is shooting 54 percent in that small sample.

3) Brandon Clarke

With more than half of the season in the books, Clarke still leads all rookies in the majority of advanced metrics and, in some of them, the lead is comfortable. That’s what happens when a rookie is posting 68 percent true shooting and playing quality defense on a team that is impressing.

2) Kendrick Nunn

Admittedly, there is a sizable gap between No. 2 and No. 1, but that isn’t the fault of Nunn. In the last four games, he’s made quite an impression, shooting 61 percent and averaging almost 23 points per contest. Nunn is also the No. 2 scorer in this rookie class, and he’s doing it on reasonable efficiency (55% TS) and on a good basketball team.

1) Ja Morant

This is currently a one-man race. That is how good Morant has been. Sure, there is path for someone like Zion Williamson to get into the mix with obscene stats, but with how the Grizzlies are playing Morant’s individual performance is even more magnified. He is averaging 19.8 points and 8.8 assists per game in January and, with impressive efficiency numbers for the full season, Morant has been even better in shooting 59 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three.