Wolves Lead

After Slow Start, Culver Blossoming as Quality Rookie for T-Wolves


The Minnesota Timberwolves have a special player in rookie swingman Jarrett Culver. He started his rookie campaign very slowly with a collection of different issues including confusing decisions on offense, lack of shot-making, and questionable defense. His statistics still might not look appealing, but anyone who has watched a Wolves game in the last month can see that he is becoming a big-time impact player.

Rough Start

We’ll start at the genesis of his career– October 2019. If you just look at the first four games he played, he averaged just 3.0 points (26% FG, 11% 3PT, 20% FT), 1.0 rebound and 0.8 assists per game. Being that those were only his first four games, not everyone adjusts immediately as soon as they walk on the floor and that is understandable, but still slightly alarming.

The alarms got a bit louder and more apparent in November. A poor start to the season had everyone wondering if he was the real deal. Culver had some obvious jitters and it seemed like he didn’t really understand what he was really doing on the court. His confidence was completely shot and he didn’t look like he trusted himself. Culver’s points jumped up to 10 per game, but it was clear he was still lost offensively. He deferred to teammates far too often when he could’ve attacked off a screen and drove to the rim in certain situations.

He was also struggling to communicate on defense for the most part, which is a surprise because it was something that he was so good at in college. To see the poor defensive play so consistently was unsettling. He would give up easy drives to the rim, he wouldn’t switch off of screens that he should have, and he gave opposing teams open shots. His team defense was off to a very bad start. It reminded all Wolves fans of the lackadaisical play of his teammate Andrew Wiggins.

Culver was quiet, seemingly unmotivated, and nothing seemed like it was going to change much like Wiggins’ 2018 season. Both were confusing because of their obvious talent but displayed a severe lack of production. This was true until the injuries.

Opportunity Knocked

In mid-December, Karl-Anthony Towns sprained his knee and Andrew Wiggins hurt his thumb at about the same time, and it was time for some of the younger, less-experienced Timberwolves players to step up and go for it every night… Oddly enough, this may have jumpstarted Jarrett Culver. A few games after Towns goes down, the Wolves start Jarrett Culver at point guard. Culver hadn’t ever truly been the lead guard on a team, even in college. This gave him a new perspective on the offense and allowed him to see the floor from the point guard’s point of view, so he could improve at his role when he returned to playing small forward.

Once Andrew Wiggins returned from his thumb injury, they split point guard duties and it was very effective for both players. Culver became more vocal, more emotional, more passionate on the court which was good to see because previously he looked silent and scared.

Culver’s shooting splits were still not pretty for the month of December in the slightest. He was at 36% FG, 19% 3P, and 41.7% FT for the whole month, but you could tell things were improving for him on both offense and defense.

Suddenly, as the decade turned over, something clicked.

January hits and Jarrett Culver looked like a completely changed player. Making more smart decisions with the ball in his hands, and if they weren’t good decisions, they were at least aggressive. For example, the Timberwolves were in a tight game with the Milwaukee Bucks and Culver took the ball up the floor from out of bounds, runs off a screen from Naz Reid and absolutely detonates on Robin Lopez. That was a smart AND aggressive decision. Conversely, the not-smart, yet aggressive decision, was him yelling “I’M LIKE THAT” in Lopez’s face, getting T’d up with Lopez chasing him down to the other end of the court. But even with the technical foul, Ryan Saunders spoke for the entirety of the Timberwolves fanbase when talking about it post-game saying, “I love it.” while giving off a feeling of proud confidence.

Culver Shaping to be Quality Piece for T-Wolves

Culver in January has been a supreme upgrade from his former self. Besides the nice dunks and flashy plays, he has been a very competent and capable defender. Every time you watch him, he’s flying all around on defense, usually being forced to play against the opposing team’s best or second-best player night in and night out. That’s a lot to ask of a rookie, but he has been up for the challenge and is doing well.

He seems to get at least one steal-to-transition play per game and is converting himself or making the right pass to a teammate which is a necessary skill to learn when handling the ball. Culver is aware and is making a conscious effort to convert more at the charity stripe and from the field in general. In January, he has improved to 47% FG, 32% 3P, and a modest 62.5% FT. Still not fantastic, but a clear improvement from the beginning of the year.

Culver’s rise has been fun to watch and follow. Many Wolves fans thought “Oh here we go again. It’s Wiggins 2.0” in this age of overreaction, but Culver has turned it around with some confidence, some swagger, and a better understanding of the game.

Follow us on Twitter @TWolvesLead for the latest Timberwolves news and insight.


About Cameron Johnson

I’m a small town kid from a very rural are of Minnesota. I’ve been with TLSM since 2018. I manage @TWolvesLead on Twitter and I make up one third of the Stretch Three Podcast. Go Wolves!

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