The 2018-19 Knicks were — like most Knicks teams in recent memory — a very bad basketball team. They amassed a grand total of 17 wins last season, tying the franchise’s low-water mark set in Phil Jackson’s inaugural season at the helm of the franchise in 2014-15.
That year, the Knicks ended up trading OAKAAK Tim Hardaway Jr. for the 19th pick in the draft, which became Jerian Grant. They also drafted some dude named Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick. He’s no longer here, as you may have heard.
Anyway, as it stands, the Knicks have many holes to address. In no particular order they need: shooting, scoring, ball handling, passing, and defense.
Armed with the third pick in this draft, the Knicks are likely to have a bevy of options. One such option, who reportedly has admirers within the Knicks’ front office, is Jarrett Culver. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard out of Texas Tech is a do-it-all wing, capable of stuffing the box score across the board.
Culver was very much a late bloomer as far as basketball was concerned. In fact, his true passion, at least at first, was soccer. He was pretty good at it too.
Did you know Jarrett Culver of @TexasTechMBB is also an incredibly talented soccer player? That his coach said Culver scored best goal he’s ever seen, compares him to Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Story tomorrow @CBSSportsCBB. But here’s a sneak peek: video of that goal. pic.twitter.com/CCDv8AytDS— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) April 4, 2019
In the world of college basketball recruiting, however, Culver flew very much under the radar. He was just the 312th ranked recruit in his high school class, and he didn’t garner interest from any of the country’s blue-blood programs. The Lubbock, TX native did eventually get an offer from his hometown Texas Tech Red Raiders, whom he committed to prior to his senior year.
That turned out to be a good choice for both parties.
Culver contributed in a supporting role his freshman year, but after Zhaire Smith entered the draft and Keenan Evans graduated, he was asked to shoulder far more offensive responsibility as a sophomore. He did so effectively in helping lead the Red Raiders to the Final Four, before bowing out to Virginia in overtime in the national title game.
Culver showed tremendous growth from his freshman year as a scorer, ball handler, and facilitator. Although he doesn’t have the most explosive first step or vertical pop, he proved capable of creating his own offense effectively when called upon. He ranked in the 77th percentile in isolation scoring, averaging 0.95 points per possession (PPP).
Culver doesn’t just blow by guys from a standstill — he uses feints and jabs to get a step on his man. Once he does, it’s generally game over, man. He’s excellent at shielding the ball from the trailing defender with his body and using that and his length to extend and finish at the rim, where he shot an excellent 67.1 percent. Oh, and R.I.P. Cam Reddish.
Culver also flashed promising signs as a mid-post scorer at times this season, both with his back to the basket and when he faced up.
He really struggled with DeAndre Hunter’s size and length at times in Tech’s loss in the title game, but he had his moments as in the clip above (even if he failed to finish the dunk).
The most promising development for Culver offensively, however, was an increasingly diverse pick-and-roll attack. He was adept at creating for himself (63rd percentile, 0.806 PPP) in these situations. Able to drive and finish with either hand, Culver was comfortable using screens on the wing to drive middle and slice his way to the cup. He even flashed some high pick-and-roll ability, although his lack of explosiveness suggests that may not be a strong suit moving forward.
Culver was even more clever about creating for others out of pick-and-roll as a passer (78th percentile, 1.104 PPP). He showed good patience to keep his dribble alive and string out defenders to create passing angles to hit the roll man (79th percentle, 1.20 PPP). He was only slightly less proficient when he kicked to shooters (73rd percentile, 1.043 PPP).
Of course, the jump shot has and still remains the major swing skill for Culver offensively. In terms of spot-up shooting, he finished in the 58th percentile, averaging 0.94 PPP. That’s fine and dandy, but even secondary and tertiary playmakers need to be capable of hitting jump shots off the bounce consistently. That’s an area where Culver struggled tremendously.
His form improved from his freshman year, when the hitch at the top of his shot was far more visible. That’s a positive development, but if the efficacy of the shot doesn’t catch up to its improved aesthetics, it will remain a major hindrance.
Additionally, his lack of burst in isolation situations can be found out by above-average opposing defenders. In particular, when matched up against elite perimeter defenders like De’Andre Hunter and Tre Jones, he struggled to create openings for himself.
So what does Culver project to be at the next level? While he did an admirable job of shouldering the burden for Tech offensively, that isn’t the role I see him fulfilling, at least not in his ideal role on a contending team. Culver has the potential to have star impact, but I see him working best next to a high-usage star or two.
He’s more apt to make the right play situationally than the extraordinary one. You’re very rarely going to watch Culver play and come away wowed by it. Even during his big games, the shit is more surgical than eye-catching. Maybe that’s not your cup of tea? I get it.
If you think R.J. Barrett is capable of being an elite lead option, then even with Culver’s superior defensive aptitude and less individualistic style of play, it makes sense to go with the Dukie. I can’t deny the logic in that.
I myself don’t see R.J. as that caliber of offensive player. And aside from Zion, I’m not particularly enamored with anybody’s star potential in this draft. As far as the Knicks are concerned, assuming the pick will be kept, the primary focus should be adding somebody who can contribute not just with regard to what they can do with the ball, but also without it.
The Knicks, as things stand, have plenty of young guys who can score (at least in theory), and whose primary value stems from that singular focus. What they don’t have are well-rounded players who can contribute at a plus level on both ends of the floor — excluding Mitch, anyway. Whether or not the Knicks are fortunate enough to land stars this summer, they desperately need to start finding players that can contribute and impact games beyond their individual scoring contributions.
New York needs players that will make smart rotations defensively to cover for when their teammates get beat, and get stops or turnovers.
The Knicks need players who are going to do boring things like hit players when they wriggle free on cuts or plop the ball in their shooting pocket right when they come open from three.
If that guy has also shown tremendous progress as a scorer and ball handler two years after entering college as an unheralded recruit at a second tier program? Well, that’s great to have too.
In a normal draft, Culver wouldn’t be anywhere near the top five of my board. This isn’t a normal draft, though. Jarrett Culver isn’t the prospect we deserve, he’s just the one we need right now.