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NBA Daily: Jarrett Culver Ready For Point Guard Duties

Many instinctively see Jarrett Culver as a forward, maybe a shooting guard, but the Minnesota Timberwolves hope he can be their point guard for years to come.

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When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for the sixth pick on draft night, the immediate assumption was that they were targeting Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. Minnesota rostered one point guard at the time, and Jeff Teague is on an expiring deal. When the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed put at No. 5 and took Garland, many wondered if the Timberwolves had missed their mark in gauging the market.

As the offseason progressed, though, it seemed as if Minnesota may have found its point guard in the draft after all in Jarrett Culver, even though he played primarily at small or power forward when it mattered most for Texas Tech last year.

In the Raiders’ last five games, the crux of their run to the NCAA title game, Culver spent 48 percent of the team’s minutes at power forward and 23 percent at small forward, per kenpom.com. He served as the point guard only 12 percent of the time.

Yet, for the season Culver led Texas Tech in assist rate at 26.1 percent. Even if his draft profile listed Culver as a small forward, distributing and handling the ball was a key part of his skill set.

“I’ve played point guard, shooting guard, going back-and-forth between both all my life,” Culver said two weeks ago at the Timberwolves’ Media Day. “Just being comfortable, having confidence playing those positions, I feel like I’ll do well.”

And Minnesota will need him to. Though Teague may feel revitalized, both in health and through an organizational shift, he cannot carry the ball-handling duties alone. The only other true point guard on the roster is Shabazz Napier and, setting aside the ironic circumstances of his arrival — a pursuit itself arguably set in motion by the Cavaliers grabbing Garland and a transaction necessitated by the Timberwolves’ miss of free agent D’Angelo Russell — Napier is not the point guard of the future that Minnesota needs.

That coming vacuum could be Culver’s to fill, and it may also be his quickest route to consistent playing time. Working anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, he will have to compete for minutes with Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and the like. At point guard, though, there may be no one established standing in Culver’s way beyond this season.

“They for sure want me to handle the ball some and be able to play that position,” Culver said. “I’ll have to take that position and learn from Jeff Teague and some of the other guys in the league and grow into that position, and do what I have to do to be the best point guard and shooting guard I can be.”

Albeit in exhibition games, Culver has already shown glimpses of those point guard abilities. While scoring 17 points against the Golden State Warriors, he added three assists. On Sunday, he notched four assists in a 131-101 victory against Maccabi Haifa, his first action in front of fans in Minneapolis.

Culver growing into a distributor’s role would allow Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders to lean into his preferred switching defensive scheme. At 6-foot-5, Culver might be big for a point guard, but he could unlock a prospective small-ball lineup, with his 6-foot-9 wingspan adding needed length. More traditional point guards might not inherently take away from that thought, although Napier is only 6-foot-1, but Culver’s positional versatility should outright enhance Saunders’ defensive plans.

Those schemes are a piece of a broader approach by the franchise to change nearly everything they do. In doing so, the idea is to get on the same page across the board. Make no mistake about it: The rookie got the memo.

“I feel like the culture is changing a little bit,” Culver said. “I feel like everybody here wants to win, from [president Gersson Rosas] to coach [Saunders] to everybody to all the players putting in the work. I’m ready to get started, I’m very competitive, so I’m excited to get out there and try to win games.”

When Minnesota opens its season in nine days, the hype around Culver will likely view him as a forward, but his future in pushing their culture toward wins may come at point guard, creating not only for others but himself as well.

Contributing writer to Basketball Insiders, based in Minneapolis since 2017 with previous stops in Dallas and Los Angeles. Went 32-of-40 at the backyard free throw line this past Christmas. Twitter: @D_Farmer

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