The Timberwolves and President Gersson Rosas were trying to move up from No. 11 in this year’s draft — and they finally did.
About an hour before the draft was set to take place, the Wolves traded with the Suns to grab the No. 6 pick in the draft to take Texas Tech small forward Jarrett Culver. The price? Dario Saric. Saric will head to Phoenix as the Wolves moved up five spots to grab Culver, the Big 12 Player of the Year.
Culver helped lead the Red Raiders to the national championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium where Texas Tech lost to Virginia. Culver, who is known for having a high work ethic, took a leap in scoring during his second season with Texas Tech, increasing his output from 11.2 points per game as a freshman to 18.5 as a sophomore.
But he’s also known as a strong defender, something that helped the Red Raiders build one of the best defenses in the country. Culver posted 57 steals and 21 blocks in 38 games last season as the Red Raiders finished 31-7.
“When I was [in Minneapolis] it was great out there. I loved it out there,” Culver said. “Not only the basketball part, but just the city and just the people in it. … I didn’t have the best game in March Madness in Minnesota but I’m glad to be able to get back and be able to play there and eventually call that home.”
The Wolves also selected Washington’s Jaylen Nowell, a 6-foot-4 guard, with the 43rd overall pick.
ESPN reported the Wolves were considering moving out of the No. 6 pick, but they kept Culver. Because of salary-cap technicalities involving the Suns, the trade won’t become official until July, so the Wolves could not officially announce the pick nor comment on it. Culver mentioned he met with the Wolves at the scouting combine and when he was training in Phoenix and was going to work out again after the draft Thursday. He said the Wolves were excited when they called to inform him of the pick.
“Their energy was amazing. That says a lot,” Culver said. “That gives me confidence, that makes me happy. That’s somewhere I want to be, where someone wants me.”
Culver enters while Saric exits. Saric came to the Wolves in the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia in November and less than a season later he’s gone. After coming off the bench under Tom Thibodeau, Saric eventually became a starter when Ryan Saunders became the coach. He averaged 10.5 points in 68 games with the Wolves.
Saric had one year remaining on his rookie deal, which was due to pay him around $3.5 million this season before he could become a restricted free agent next year. The Wolves likely would’ve had to pay him a significantly higher salary once he hit restricted free agency, and since they’re already up against the cap this season, it might’ve been difficult to keep Saric long term.
The Wolves created about $1 million in cap space with the moves but now have a glut of wings in Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Okogie and Culver.
Rosas had been trying to move up in the draft all Thursday, sources said, and finally found a dance partner. The Wolves had been trying to move up to No. 4, where New Orleans had acquired the Lakers pick in the Anthony Davis trade, but Atlanta struck a deal with the Pelicans for that pick.
The Wolves trade indicated they were targeting Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, but he went to Cleveland at No. 5.
Culver said he looks forward to being the type of player who will guard the opposing team’s best player. His scoring may have increased last season but his three-point slipped from 38 percent to 30.
“I’m still confident in my shot, for sure,” Culver said. “All the work that I’ve put in, I know it’s going to go in. I’m very confident in it. Just having that, I know it’s going to get better. And I feel like a big reason why it dropped is just because I had the ball in my hands more. I was guarded different by a lot of teams.”
Luckily for Culver, and the Wolves, he’ll have Karl-Anthony Towns to help take on some of the attention.