MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves, under new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, have embarked on a roster revamp to improve their defense and 3-point shooting in an attempt to thrive in the current pace-and-space era in the NBA.
With center Karl-Anthony Towns well established as their go-to guy, the race has begun to accumulate as many versatile perimeter players as possible. Rosas took an aggressive tack toward his first draft with the team, and the Timberwolves wound up with another wing: Jarrett Culver.
“What we were able to do tonight is pretty rare,” Rosas said Thursday. “A lot of times those things don’t come together.”
With the 11th overall selection, the Wolves took North Carolina small forward Cameron Johnson, but with the intent of trading him with power forward Dario Saric to Phoenix in a proposed pre-draft swap that pushed them up five slots for the rights to Culver, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday because the trade cannot become official for salary cap purposes until July 6, when free agent contracts can be signed.
In the second round, with the 43rd overall selection, the Wolves took Washington’s Jaylen Nowell, who can play either guard spot.
“For us to be able to put a group of wings like we’re going to be able to put on the floor at certain points this year gives us a lot of versatility, gives us some shooting, gives us playmaking,” Rosas said. “That’s how we want to play.”
Culver, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, comes with a strong defensive pedigree. He played two seasons at Texas Tech , helping the Red Raiders reach the Final Four for the first time in program history. Culver’s last game was actually in Minnesota when the Red Raiders lost to Virginia in the NCAA championship game . He was the first recruit coach Chris Beard contacted after taking the job, a native of Lubbock, Texas, who stayed in town to play for the hometown school.
Beard transformed Texas Tech into a defensive machine, and Culver was his best offensive player. Though he might not fit the profile of the pure 3-point shooter the Timberwolves have lacked for years, Culver ought to provide another boost to a team that can surely use more lockdown defenders, too, just like last year’s first-round draft pick, Josh Okogie.
“That’s one of the best parts of my game, the defensive side,” Culver said. “I feel like I can make an impact on the defensive side and come in and do that. Also, playing with some great players over there, I feel like I can make an impact on the offensive end and be another threat.”
As a sophomore, Culver’s 3-point percentage fell to 30.2 from 38.4 during his freshman year.
“I’m still confident in my shot, for sure. All the work that I’ve put in, I know it’s going to go in,” Culver said, adding: “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. If you know the numbers, my freshman year, I wasn’t having off-the-dribble shots, and I wasn’t really having the ball. It was more kick-out threes. Then this year, I was really having to take tougher shots.”
Culver said he planned to get in the gym for a late-night workout once the draft festivities were done. The Timberwolves weren’t allowed to formally acknowledge him , because of the moratorium on finalizing the trade, and like some of the other draftees he rather awkwardly donned a Suns hat on stage and received a Suns wristwatch as part of the requisite pomp.
“I’m not keeping that,” Culver said later. “I already gave that back. I’m making sure I got my Minnesota one on.”
Rosas acknowledged the trade in general terms of moving up, but he wasn’t allowed to speak to reporters specifically about Culver.
“We saw a couple of breaks in the draft where we knew we had to get ahead of, and we were fortunate to get into the right territory,” Rosas said.
Saric was acquired last November from Philadelphia in the Jimmy Butler trade, with small forward Robert Covington and point guard Jerryd Bayless. Covington was the centerpiece, but he played in only 22 games for the Wolves because of a knee injury. Saric, thus, wound up with the most visibility. The 6-foot-10 native of Croatia averaged 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 68 games for Minnesota, getting 28 starts.
Rosas, who left the Houston Rockets front office last month to take over the Timberwolves , vowed to use all avenues possible to help the team return to the playoffs. The only untouchable player on the roster would be All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns .
“We want to make sure that we’ve got people in place that can grow and develop with him and peak at the right time,” Rosas said this week. “You win in this league with high-end players, and fortunately on our roster we’ve got a high-end player.”
There’s a lot of work remaining this summer for Rosas. The NBA’s free agency frenzy, of course, is coming fast, with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver all about to become unrestricted free agents and Tyus Jones on track to be a restricted free agent. The rest of the front office and coaching staff have to be filled out, too. The Timberwolves this week announced the addition of David Vanterpool as associate head coach. After spending the last seven seasons as an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers, Vanterpool will essentially be the defensive coordinator for new coach Ryan Saunders.
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