One of the most encouraging sequences of the season for Timberwolves rookie Jarrett Culver happened in the span of 11 seconds during the second quarter of Wednesday’s 129-114 victory over the Spurs.
Culver was guarding Spurs guard Dejounte Murray on the right wing, and Murray put the ball on the floor to head to the rim. As he was going up to shoot, Culver stripped the ball.
Then after getting the ball back from Karl-Anthony Towns, Culver drove down the floor on Bryn Forbes and got a layup.
It’s moments like that when you can see the kind of player Culver can become in the NBA — a consistent two-way threat thanks to his length, intelligence and ballhandling capabilities.
Slowly but surely Culver is trying to piece it together amid the weight that comes with being the No. 6 overall pick. When asked if he was settling into life in the NBA, Culver said, “It for sure feels that way.”
“Coaches watch a lot of film, and they help me a lot,” Culver said. “So just the work I’ve put in, my teammates are helping me out, and the film helps the game slow down.”
The Wolves have been quick to diminish external expectations as they relate to Culver. For a fan base eager to see a star, it can be tempting to want Culver to produce at an All-Star level right away. For the Wolves, Culver is progressing just fine. Wolves forward Robert Covington noted he has seen Culver become more confident and comfortable.
“It’s that way for every rookie,” Covington said. “You just got to get a good feel for it. The NBA game is a lot different than the college game. Him playing in the preseason, everybody was like, ‘Eh, what’s going on? He can’t shoot.’ ”
“It’s just about confidence. Everybody doesn’t come in and sit up here and shoot 45 percent from three and whatnot. It takes time. It’s a transition. He’s going to be fine. He’s put the time in.”
Coach Ryan Saunders said after Wednesday’s game he expects Culver will be a “high-level elite defender.” He said the Wolves have gradually been adding to what they want to do on both ends of the floor, and Culver is keeping up with the curriculum.
“He hasn’t missed a beat,” Saunders said. “He asks the right questions, too. I’ve been fortunate to be around a number of high-draft-pick rookies, and the common trait of all of them who have become very good All-Star players in this league is they ask the right questions. He’s one of those guys.”
He has also been learning how to scout opponents in the fast-paced world of the NBA.
“You’ve got back-to-back games, and you play one day at a time,” Culver said. “So you’ve just got to pick up the tendencies of guys real fast the day of or the night of. A lot of film work with that.”
Culver, who is averaging 7.8 points, said the Wolves have been allowing him to play through his mistakes — and his minutes reflect that. In his first four games, Culver didn’t top 16 minutes. Since then he hasn’t been under 22 minutes.
“[Assistant] coach [David Vanterpool], he always tells me, ‘You’re a rookie; you’re going to make mistakes, but just play hard,’ ” Culver said. “I try to understand everything.”
Eventually, the Wolves hope Culver will be able to synthesize everything instinctually. There are moments where it looks like it’s happening, and that’s enough for now.
“When you put the time in, it speaks for itself and you’re going to be rewarded,” Covington said. “And that’s exactly what’s starting to happen for him.”