In a refreshing change of pace, the Lakers have managed to operate in near-secrecy for the last three weeks. If they’re discussing an Anthony Davis trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, they aren’t leaking the details. If they’re working out options for the fourth pick, they’ve kept most of them behind closed doors, less than two weeks before the draft.
The one player that they have publicly worked out is Jarrett Culver, an impressive two-way wing from Texas Tech whose game still needs some time to mature. Culver is a remarkable ball-handler and passer for a player his size, measuring at 6’6.75” in shoes at the NBA Combine, a rare and coveted combination of skills and physical traits. He’s capable of stringing together moves that are usually reserved for players a few inches shorter than him, and identifying open teammates while taking advantage of the passing angles that his size provides.
He’s mostly a below the rim finisher, which is a little surprising considering the vertical leap that he’s capable of in ideal conditions. The craftiness of his finishing is certainly a positive, though, and if he can learn how to access his jumping ability more frequently in game situations, he’ll be difficult to stop around the rim. The player development program that he goes to will be crucial in determining what kind of player he becomes, and the Lakers haven’t (publicly) filled those positions under Frank Vogel as of yet.
Let’s take a closer look at his game:
Culver’s jumper has several technical flaws, and his ability to address them will do more to determine his offensive ceiling than anything else. His release is hindered by the placement of his guide hand on top of the ball, which alters the ball’s trajectory. His feet are very close together, providing a narrow base that isn’t conducive to being on balance. Sometimes his elbow flares out, sometimes he tucks it in.
Culver did reveal at his interview that he had reconstructed his shot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, which along with a significant role change likely affected the drop in his 3-point percentage.
He exhibits a high motor on defense, despite his high usage rate. Texas Tech was a bit unconventional defensively in that they switched nearly every screen and enforced a “No Middle” rule, funneling ball-handlers toward shot-blockers rather than asking perimeter players like Culver to stay in front of their man, but his tools are still evident. He excels in a free safety type of role, where he can roam freely on the weakside and use his instincts, intelligence, and physical gifts to disrupt passing lanes.
Jarrett Culver has innate gifts and skills but doesn’t know how to best utilize them as of yet, which is pretty standard for a 20-year old. His fit alongside the rest of the Lakers’ young core is a bit clunky though, as he’s yet another perimeter player with questionable outside shooting ability. At some point there are diminishing returns when you have too many players who fit that description playing together, especially alongside LeBron James. But NBA Draft history is littered with mistakes made by teams who couldn’t see beyond the next season, and the Lakers would be wise to take the best player available. There’s a good chance that player is Jarrett Culver.