Culver & Hunter: Stock Rising Role Players
6’6.75”, 194-pounds, 6’9.5” wingspan, unknown max vertical, turned 20 in February:
Not many players made a bigger leap in 2019 than Jarrett Culver. With the departures of Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith, Culver became the defensive anchor and the offensive focal point of a gritty Texas Tech team that was within seconds of winning a national championship. His run towards a title came with some individual struggles as he finished the final 3 games of the tournament shooting 13-53 (24%), with individual matchups against top-level prospects and lottery picks, Brandon Clarke (5-19) and De'Andre Hunter (5-22).
The 2018-2019 Red Raiders played a grind it out style, averaging 69.2 possessions per game, which ranked in the bottom 100 in the NCAA. Obviously the college and pro game are different, but for comparison purposes the Cavs, last year, had the lowest possessions per game with 100.0. Texas Tech often waited too long to get into their offensive actions and milked the shot clock until the final seconds, leaving Culver to bail them out.
As a result, he saw his 3P% dip from 38% (in 2017-18) to 30% this year with relatively the same amount of attempts per game. With the rise in usage, Culver also saw an improvement in assist numbers, averaging almost 4-per-game. But with that usage his assist to turnover ratio was 4:3, not ideal for a playmaker at the next level.
As a playmaker, Culver is capable of making the right play, reading and reacting to the situation. But with his lack of wiggle and burst off the dribble, he isn’t capable of creating for others on a consistent basis. The lack of this burst was evident in the NCAA championship game when he was guarded by Virginia's Hunter (6-8 with a 7-2 wingspan). Culver struggled all game to create separation with his hang dribble and was unable to take advantage in the post, usually an advantage for a guard of his size at the college level. These struggles resulted in a 5-22 (0-6 3FG) performance, but Culver did look more comfortable being guarded by an NBA-caliber defender as the game went along and was able to breakdown Hunter off the bounce with a game-tying bucket the final 12 seconds.
Defensively, Culver makes the right reads. Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard coaches them up on defense and this experience should make him a valuable team defender at the next level. On the ball, he makes the offensive player work each possession, he’s not taking any plays off, none, zero. He has good size, but his lack of length will really hinder how many shots he can contest at the next level as we saw Hunter shoot over him with relative ease in the championship game. I think he could project as a defender similar to Klay Thompson (6-7, 6-9 wingspan), who I personally think is a little overrated as an NBA defender, but is constantly in the right position on and off the ball.
Offensively, I think the increased pace at the NBA level should help Culver. He’s a read and react player, usually making the correct play on offense. The increased skill level around him should also benefit as he’s a patient player with the bounce, often surveying the court before making his initial read, similar to Andre Iguodala or Jimmy Butler. His post game looks very similar to a DeMar DeRozan-type player, relying on a combination of spins and fade-aways, though he’ll need to play with more physicality if he wants to incorporate that skillset into his game at the next level. His 3-point shot is a work in progress, but as an unheralded 3-star HS recruit, I think he’ll keep working until it becomes serviceable at the NBA level.
Culver is a high level role player that should be able to contribute to a winning team right away. If he keeps developing, he could be fringe all-star but will ultimately be best suited off the ball in most situations.
6’8”, 220-pounds, 7'2” wingspan, unknown max vertical, turns 22 in December:
Another player that saw a sizable increase in their draft stock along with team success was De’Andre Hunter. After a promising redshirt freshman season in 2017-18, a broken wrist sidelined him for the NCAA Tournament, resulting in Virginia’s epic loss to the #16 seeded Retrievers of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, yeah that happened. During this season's National Championship run, Hunter played a pivotal role, culminating in a 27-point performance in the title game.
Playing on the slowest-paced team in the nation, 62.6 possessions per game (oof), Hunter was rarely required to make quick decisions on the offensive end. Often the benefactor of great guard play, specifically Ty Jerome (I’m a fan), spot up jumpers accounted for 30% of Hunter’s offense in 2018-2019.
He made the most of these catch-and-shoot opportunities as he ranked in the 90th percentile and raised his 3P% from 38% (1.7 3PA) to 44% (2.8 3PA) during his sophomore season.
On the defensive end, Hunter was routinely tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, regardless of position. During Virginia’s title run, the task was no different. He guarded Carsen Edwards, which yielded mixed results, but to be fair Edwards was on one that night and most college players would have been barbecue chicken. In the championship game he faired much better, as he held Jarrett Culver (B12 Player of the Year) to 5-22 shooting.
Defense is where Hunter’s bread is buttered, where he makes hay, or however the fuck you want to say it. His combination of mobility, size, length and strength should allow him to guard multiple positions at the next level. He often uses his strength, squaring his chest to ballhanders, making it challenging for them to disengage. I do have some concerns though. Even with all these physical tools, he only averaged .6 STL and .6 BLK on the season. Some of that could be contributed to Virginia’s pack line defense and the team needing him to guard more perimeter players, but you’d think he could run into a few more blocks than his stats show. Everyone wants to compare Hunter to OG Anunoby, but even Anunoby averaged 1.3 STL and 1.3 BLK during his final college season, which has only translated to .7 STL and .3 BLK at the next level. Anunoby is a plus defender at the NBA level, but he’s far from making an All-Defensive team anytime soon, though he has time to develop.
Offensively, there’s a lot to be desired. He has the passing vision of Kawhi Leonard sometimes, failing to see the open man or swinging the ball after the defense has already rotated. I do think there will be a learning curve catching up with the NBA pace after playing at Virginia for the last two years. It might not take more than the Summer League for him to catch up, but with an already limited offensive skillset, it’s just another thing added to the list. While his shooting numbers were great on spot ups and catch-and-shoots, his release is one of the slower ones in recent memory. The window to get your shot off at the next level is a lot smaller (just ask Lonzo Ball) and Hunter will have to work on his pre-catch mechanics to really speed up his delivery. With the ball in his hands, he often resorts to robotic jab steps like Harrison Barnes, and with a limited handle he’ll have a tough time generating much off the dribble.
While he does play physical in the paint, there are times when he struggles to get his shot off with defenders around him, as was the case against Jarrett Culver a few times in the championship game. His physical profile suggests he should be a better rebounder than his 5.1 rebounds-per-game and maybe we can blame that on Virginia’s pace too, I don't know. But if the Anunoby comp holds true, OG's rebounding has yet to develop in the NBA (5.4 REB in college vs. 2.9 REB in the NBA).
Projecting De’Andre Hunter as OG Annonby at the next level isn’t the worst thing in the world, just not sure I’d love that player profile if I’m selecting him at 7th as our Big Board suggests. But such is life in this year’s role player-filled NBA draft. In order for Hunter to maximize his value, he'll need to reach his fullest potential on the defensive end, maxing out close to an All-NBA level defender.