Jarrett Culver and De’Andre Hunter are both popular options for the Cleveland Cavaliers to use the fifth overall pick on the 2019 NBA Draft on. The same argument can be made for both, and it’s a pretty logical one. Two-way wings are one of the most scarce resources in the NBA, and you need multiple to be successful. The Cavs have exactly one wing player with NBA talent on their roster, which seems bad because most teams start at least two. The Cavs are in desperate need for this type of player, and there are likely to be two to pick from at pick five.
But which player is better? This has been a tough question for some to answer, because of the overlap between both players. Both are sophomores, with Culver clocking in slightly younger at 20 than the redshirted, 21-year old Hunter. They both were among the best defensive wings in college basketball this year, and their value in the NBA is built on the expectation that they will be solid defenders at the very least. They make good reads and decisions on the offensive end, and there’s potential increased value for them through some avenue — Hunter by shooting off the catch, and Culver through on ball driving. They also both have some clear hurdles between them and being the same type of potential initiator that R.J. Barrett looks to be.
That all makes it difficult to sort out who the Cavs’ premier target should be. Culver seems to have the higher upside, but Hunter might be safer. And we have the empirical data point of Hunter outplaying Culver in the national championship game to sway some people towards his side. To sort this out, let’s go skill by skill and look at who is better, and where.
Finishing and driving
This looks like a push on the surface of things, as it’s a huge strength for both. Hunter finished at a 68.6 percent clip this year, per Hoop Math, while Culver finished at 67 percent at the rim. These are both strong wings with good frames and excellent touch around the rim, and it’s reasonable to project both to be solid finishers at the NBA level, especially as off-ball finishers. But when you add in the ability to finish on drives, you see an added layer that demonstrates why Culver might have creation upside. Hunter is a solid but unspectacular driver, best at using his size to leverage positioning and dribble out of getting smothered. This makes him a quality face-up threat:
But in the open floor, Hunter is a more limited ball-handler. He doesn’t have great shake off the dribble, and he struggles out of the pick and roll to explode to the rim against contact. He’s not a fluid dribbler, and settles for mid-range jumpers at times when he should have the strength to overpower defenders.
Compare that to Culver, who isn’t an ideal ball-handler, certainly, but accelerates far more efficiently headed towards the rim. He also shows excellent body control to change shot angles at the rim:
Hunter’s strength is good, and he projects to be a very good NBA finisher. But Culver’s body control makes him a more functional finisher when you project the ability to create your own shot. That adds a dimension to his game that Hunter doesn’t have.
The other major selling point for Culver is as a passer. Again, Hunter’s capable, posting a 13% assist rate and making sound decisions and feeding the open man when he gets hung up on a drive. But Hunter doesn’t have this type of play in his repertoire:
Culver’s passing is one of the most underrated skills in this draft class. He significantly improved his assist rate this year, averaging 3.7 assists per game up from 1.8 per game as a freshman, and his ability to zip passes into tight spaces and find open cutters and roll men should make him a very valuable ball mover. This also will help promote his creation upside, as improvement as a ball handler will assuredly create more opportunities for Culver to apply this point of attack court vision. Most of Culver’s upside hinges on his finishing, but his passing is going to be just as valuable at the next level.
Culver shot 34.1% on three-pointers on 305 attempts over two seasons; Hunter hit 41.9% on 160 attempts. While Hunter had far fewer attempts, he is the much more established spot-up threat, with good mechanics off the catch and legitimately threatening relocation skill on the perimeter:
Hunter’s quick, high release is optimal for his type of shot selection on the perimeter, and his ability to replicate his upper body mechanics with varying levels of footwork is an interesting potential wrinkle.
Culver, meanwhile, didn’t hit a high percentage on threes this year. But his spot up footwork is pretty solid, and he has much better form off the catch than off the dribble:
Both should be able to become useful spot-up shooters at the NBA level, but Culver’s is probably more of a projection. The hitch at the top of his shot is an issue, and he just doesn’t look as functional as Hunter does at the NBA level.
This probably one of the weaker areas for both. Culver gets a lot of scrutiny for his struggles with shooting off the dribble, primarily because of the hitch in his mechanics in combination with his dribbling limitations. This is a huge swing skill for Culver, given how important pull-up shooting is to being a primary initiator. But when comparing these two, Hunter’s far behind given he barely took any pull-up mid-range shots, much less pull-up threes. Culver somehow has the more pressing need to become a good pull-up shooter and is significantly ahead of Hunter in this category as well.
Hunter’s rebounding rate splits: 5.6/13.4/9.8
Culver’s rebounding rate splits: 5.6/17.3/11.8
We’re getting into Hunter’s weird advanced stats flaccidness, but Culver was a significantly better rebounder last year in part because he’s better at using his length and his more explosive leaping benefits him, and in part due to scheme and roster fit. Hunter will be fine as a rebounder, but I like Culver’s value as a defensive rebounder a little better given he’s more likely to be matched up with wings where he can leverage his instincts on the glass better.
The ability to force turnovers at the college level is an important precursor to NBA success, which makes Culver and Hunter extremely weird. Neither has exceptional steal or block rates, with Culver at 2.7 and 2.2, and Hunter at 1.7 and 2.4. Culver is better at playing the passing lanes and anticipating one pass away, while Hunter is better at rotating over for help at the rim and trailing in transition. Hunter’s steal rate was problematic. But his block rate was probably actually suppressed by Virginia’s defensive system, and Hunter’s a better shot blocker than he gets credit for. I think this is basically a push, because each is pretty good at what they’ll be asked to do at the NBA level.
Culver is a phenomenal screen setter for his role. Hunter sets picks well, but isn’t great at throwing his body into the opponent, which is what you need to do at the NBA level to have effect. Throw in Culver’s potential ball-handling ability and there’s a ton of utility to Culver being used as a screener to generate mismatches.
Hunter might be the best one-on-one defender in the draft class. His technique mirroring on the perimeter is incredible, and he’s very disciplined, rarely getting bothered by pump fakes and keeping his center of gravity low against quicker guards. He denies the lane well, and he is very good at feeding drivers into help.
Culver also is a pretty fundamentally sound individual defender, and he has better hands than Hunter. But Hunter is longer and seems to be a better fit to defend in the post against mismatches and in transition. Culver does pretty much everything well, but Hunter has lockdown potential.
Hunter’s off-ball defense is solid, but Culver’s is brilliant. He’s an excellent communicator, directing traffic and calling out offensive tendencies on the defensive end. He also anticipates well one pass away, and is a very good defender against attempted backdoor cuts. Culver projects well to an NBA scheme, especially because Texas Tech’s scheme is very similar to an NBA help defense. Hunter is a solid closeout tactician, breaking down at an elite level and creating bad decisions for spot-up shooters, but he struggles at times to read when he should help, missing post rotations and struggling with weakside rim protection decisions:
Culver’s lateral agility and strength combination makes him more switchable, and he is more consistently a good decision maker off ball.
Hunter and Culver are similar, but Culver has a more functional skill set for the NBA level. He’s a more flexible and fluid athlete, which does matter for on-ball performance and defensive switching. Hunter’s pluses will likely make him an immediate success — solid on-ball defense and three-point shooting is a good recipe for earning early minutes.
But Culver has much more upside because of the areas where he has an edge. For the Cavs, Hunter is definitely the safer option between the two, as he’s likely to be a strong sixth or seventh man at worst. But Culver has much more room for development, and should be considered to have much better upside because of it.