#9 on the PB Big Board
G – Texas Tech
Sophomore, 6’6, 195 pounds
What he does well:
That’s a vague term for what Culver did at Texas Tech this season. The Red Raiders were one of college basketball’s best defensive teams but there was not a dearth of offensive talent around Culver. His teammates had more one-dimensional games, leaving the sophomore guard as the main scoring and creating option.
After playing as a complementary piece last year, Culver thrived in the role of go-to-guy. He scored 18.5 points per game, for a team that played slower than the national average. Culver put up 33.7 points and 6.8 assists per 100 possessions, while leading the Big XII in usage rate.
His long, thin frame gave him an advantage when operating with the ball in his hands. He could see open passes over smaller defenders or rise up for mid-range jump shots. Culver was particularly aggressive driving to the rim this season, finishing 3rd in the Big XII in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Year over year, he raised his free throw attempts per game from just 2.9 to 5.5 this year. Culver plays a downhill style of basketball, valuing buckets at the rim over jump shots.
Texas Tech’s defense was not just good this season. It was one of the best defensive units in the last decade in college basketball.
Much of the credit for that goes to Chris Beard, a smart coach who can clearly scheme up a defense.
Many of Culver’s teammates were solid defenders as well, of course. Yet Culver had the highest defensive ceiling. He was often given the toughest test on that end of the floor and answered the call nearly every time.
His wiry frame makes him able to contest shots, jump into passing lanes, and bother ball-handlers. Culver plays fast defensively, with the oiliness to avoid screens and stick by his man.
I worry that he needs to add weight quickly in his first several seasons to be able to be an impact defender, but down the road there’s no question Culver can be relied on defensively.
Where he struggles:
Good but not great shooting
Teams that have pegged Culver as a classic 3-and-D guy to play off the ball may be a little optimistic about his shooting.
In two college seasons, Culver shot 34 percent from outside the arc on 305 total attempts. This past season, while shooting more than four long balls per game, Culver hit just 30 percent of those looks. That won’t make him a floor spacer at the next level.
His stroke is solid and works just fine in the mid-range, where he excelled this season. His free throw numbers, however, hint at possible issues. Culver shot under 70 percent at the line in college.
How his game translates to the NBA:
The 3-and-D role will continue to get tossed around when discussing Culver, mostly due to his physical profile. He’s a long wing with the ability to guard multiple positions. At face value, he seems like a 3-and-D guy.
I think that term overvalues his shooting potential and undervalues his ability to create offense.
As a streaky shooter, Culver will have chances at catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, but will need to improve on his college mechanics to reliably knock down those shots. Even if he makes shots, Culver isn’t the kind of shooter than will affect the gravity of the defense and radically affect how the defense is rotating and closing out.
On the other hand, Culver’s offense is worth much more than sticking him in a corner. He handles the ball well for his size and has a knack for finding his way past defenders into a good look at the rim. Culver doesn’t have the bounce to constantly play above the rim, but he is smart about attacking contacting and earning trips to the free throw line. Plus, he’s a positive passer and finds open teammates when the defense collapses.
I hope the team that drafts Culver sees those skills in him and gives him more opportunities to create, instead of expecting a tertiary scorer than doesn’t deserve a chance to handle the offense at times. This makes him a better fit for teams in the lottery like Cleveland, Phoenix, and Charlotte, rather than teams looking for a plug-in role player like the Knicks, Lakers, or Celtics.
- Paul George
- Andre Iguodala
- Brandon Ingram
- Sean Livingston with a better jumper
Next up: #10 Bol Bol
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.