Jarrett Culver’s first minute as an NBA player could not have gone much worse.
Culver checked into the Timberwolves’ preseason game against Phoenix on Tuesday night with 5 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Five seconds into his first possession, he traveled.
The next time down the floor, he airballed a three-pointer.
After another turnover a few minutes later, thing went substantially better for Culver, who finally eased into the game when he got a steal on defense and a dunk going the other way.
“That’s how you really start your offense, it starts with your defense,” Culver said. “That’s how I really got going.”
Culver’s early mistakes certainly didn’t cause him to shy away from trying to do a lot in his first NBA action. Over the Wolves’ first two games, nobody took more shots than Culver, who was 11-for-26 from the floor, including 4-for-10 from three-point range.
It was the first two steps in Culver’s acclimation to the league, one similar to how other rookies get acclimated, coach Ryan Saunders said. Culver’s third exhibition will come when the Wolves take on Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli league Sunday at Target Center.
“It is a different system offensively and defensively,” Saunders said. “And it’s just natural that the offensive system is going to be ahead of the defensive system, especially when they’re new. So, with that, he’ll get comfortable with it, but just might take a little time.”
Culver said he is still trying to master terminology on defense and realizing that he has to talk more on that end of the floor than he did in college at Texas Tech.
“They have a lot of actions they’re doing, the other team. It’s a lot more communication I have to do …” Culver said. “It’s a lot faster on the defensive end. People make faster cuts. There’s a lot of smart players in the league so they always make the right read. If you mess up once, they get you.”
Offensively, Culver has played off the ball but has also shared in point guard duties, something he did when he was at Texas Tech. Saunders is in the experimental stage with a lot of personnel in the preseason, but Culver appeared fine when the ball is in his hands in the new-look, high-tempo Wolves offense.
“It’s about decisionmaking when you’re playing fast,” Culver said.
Added Saunders: “We see that he can handle the ball. He’s a good decisionmaker. He has work to do, like all of us do. But I think there’s a lot of promise there.”
It’s an adjustment period for Culver and the rest of the team when it comes to the offense, which has committed 46 turnovers in two games.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of turnovers,” point guard Jeff Teague said. “Playing fast with a new pace. A lot of new guys trying to get used to one another, seeing what guys like to do. I guess it comes with it.”
Teague compared the freedom the Wolves have in the offense to “pickup basketball” and hinted it doesn’t matter much who the assigned point guard is; everyone is going to be handling the ball at one point or another as the Wolves try to push the ball and shoot early in the shot clock.
“Everybody has the ball now,” Teague said. “I really don’t bring the ball up as much as you think anymore. It’s cool, it’s whatever.”
So when Culver is the nominal point guard, he won’t always be handling the ball, but his versatility makes him a fit to play on or off the ball in a system that requires it.
“I think he was comfortable in both scenarios,” Saunders said.