NBA Draft prospects Culver, Hunter still standing in Final Four

Apr 1, 2019, 11:27 AM | Updated: 12:43 pm
Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver and Virginia's De'Andre Hunter. (AP photos)...
Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver and Virginia's De'Andre Hunter. (AP photos)
(AP photos)

Doesn’t this feel fresh? With the exception of Michigan State, the NCAA Tournament Final Four field features new faces. For our purposes, that means putting the microscope on a few NBA Draft prospects who aren’t named Zion.

Among potential top-10 draftees, only Texas Tech swingman Jarrett Culver and Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter remain.

Culver will face a Michigan State squad with a veteran point guard and a bit of size, as usual. Hunter and the Cavaliers face an athletic Auburn team led by their dynamic point guard, Jared Harper, but the Tigers are down their starting power forward, Chuma Okeke.

Here’s a look at how Culver and Hunter got to this point, and how other NBA prospects played in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight before their seasons wrapped.

First up, a look at Duke’s three top draft prospects.

The Dukies

Cam Reddish missed a Friday win over Virginia Tech with a leg injury before playing 37 minutes off the bench in the Blue Devils’ 68-67 loss to Michigan State. He remains the most mysterious of the top prospects heading into draft day.

Zion Williamson is the least mysterious. He went 11-of-14 against Virginia Tech for 23 points in a 75-73 win before facing a tad bit of resistance in the first half against a Spartan team … then he still finished with 24 points, three blocks, three steals and 14 rebounds in a loss.

Don’t bother putting money on anyone else going No. 1 overall.

But the most fascinating story for Duke’s trio of freshmen is R.J. Barrett.

Eighteen points and 11 assists against the Hokies? Great! Twenty-one more and six dimes against MSU? Superb. All good, until you mention the volatile combo guard-slash-wing turned it over 12 times and went 3-for-13 from deep.

Easily, the 6-foot-7, 202-pound Canadian is deserving of the most hot takes in his class.

Sometimes he looks like a blind squirrel, getting tunnel vision and not seeing three defenders waiting for him at the rim. Other times, Barrett will forgo the open lane and make a pass to somebody who’s covered. He is selfless, but his decision-making often doesn’t include important things … like bothering to read what a defense is doing. Still, a blind squirrel around a high volume of nuts is going to find quite a few.

Just look at Twitter, and you’ll see the full spectrum of the R.J. Barrett Experience.

Nobody can agree about R.J. Barrett, but he’s a fascinating prospect and a guy who will make picking second through fourth a complete crap-shoot.

With his unique size and playmaking, there’s a good chance that the extra spacing in the NBA will allow him to do a lot more at the next level as a scorer and playmaker.

F Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

Culver’s most efficient of his last three outings came ironically in the ugliest game of the college basketball season.

Two of the NCAA’s best defensive squads battled it out in the Sweet 16 before the Red Raiders pulled away from Michigan for good in the second half for a 63-44 win, and Culver’s 9-of-19 shooting performance led to 22 points. He added four assists, three steals and four rebounds before posting 19 points in an Elite Eight on Saturday — but that included a 5-of-19 shooting performance.

A lot of Culver’s misses in both games were from three, and for a team that only had the same three players score in double-figures in each game, his itchy trigger-finger was necessary.

Maybe the warning signs come in his struggles against two more athletic teams in the paint. In the NBA, that’s where creativity will have to make up for the lack of explosiveness for the 6-foot-5 sophomore.

Culver’s measurables at 195 pounds with an unknown wingspan also came into play a few times when Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura successfully posted him up, hitting jumpers over the top of the shorter and smaller Red Raider.

Still, there’s a lot to like for a smart team defender who can also read a defense damn well. Culver’s ability to make the easy pass or see a pass that most don’t — and get the ball right where it needs to go — is the most appealing aspect of his game.

F De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is leaning on Hunter a lot, but more minutes in the tournament so far haven’t equated to more numbers. Like his second-round game against Oklahoma, the power forward often fades into the background.

He went 8-of-23 (35 percent) over the weekend against an undersized but athletic Oregon squad and a well-built Purdue team.

Hunter’s jumper (42 percent from three this year) hasn’t been hitting, and he didn’t block a shot and didn’t grab more than five rebounds in either outing. Considering it’s about his defensive potential, well, he didn’t exactly do great against Boilermakers guard Carsen Edwards.

Hunter is not hitting from deep of late and also not getting to the line.

Playing bully-ball will only get you so far in the league.

What is he doing? Playing fine in Bennett’s team-oriented defense. Hunter is unlikely to fall far in this draft, but if he’s a top-six or top-seven pick, it says a lot about this draft class that his production looks so shrug-worthy.

In the Final Four, Hunter won’t be facing Auburn’s Okeke after the Tiger tore his ACL in the Sweet 16. How Hunter’s draft stock fares if he doesn’t put up numbers is a curious storyline, especially if Virginia wins it all.

The Bulldogs

Hachimura couldn’t have done much better in what’s likely his final weekend as a college player.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward shot 6-of-13 against one of the longest teams in the nation, Florida State, en route to an efficient 17 points. He followed it up against a hot defensive squad in Texas Tech by hitting 8-of-19 from the floor, grabbing six boards. Maybe the only red flag down the stretch was his three-point shooting; he hasn’t connected on a three since a March 11 game against Pepperdine six games ago.

Still, Hachimura finished the year averaging 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 59 percent overall and 42 percent from three.

His teammate, Brandon Clarke, was more hot-and-cold in his last two games. After a 36-point outburst in the first weekend against a zone defense, the undersized center struggled against FSU’s rangy defense. Still, he erased five shots, still scored 15 points and grabbed 12 boards.

Clarke followed that with 18 points, 12 boards and two blocks with three assists against Texas Tech — but six turnovers in that one showed that he’s quite raw as a decision-maker and limited as a scorer with the ball in his hands.

Empire of the Suns

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against De'Anthony Melton #8 of the Philadelph...
Kellan Olson

Suns find winning breakthrough vs. 76ers, Devin Booker stays hot

The Phoenix Suns finally found their breakthrough on Saturday to return to winning ways and avoid a collapse in the second half.
1 day ago
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns dribbling the ball get fouled by De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacrament...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns lose cool again, drop 3rd straight vs. Kings

No matter how well they play at the moment, the Phoenix Suns seemingly can't avoid losing control of a game at some point in the second half.
2 days ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns takes a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half ...
Kellan Olson

Suns let another winnable game slip away, lose to Lakers

The Phoenix Suns keep letting winnable games slip away in uncharacteristic ways and have now lost five of their last six.
3 days ago
Devin Booker #1 and Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns look on during the third quarter against the ...
Kellan Olson

What happened to the Phoenix Suns in the clutch this season?

The Phoenix Suns went from a historically good team in the clutch last season to a bad one this year. What happened?
4 days ago
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, right, drives around Phoenix Suns forward Torr...
Kevin Zimmerman

What’s at stake in each of the Suns’ remaining games?

Kevin Durant's potential return from an ankle injury after a reevaluation sits a week out for the Phoenix Suns.
5 days ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket past Luguentz Dort #5 of the Oklahoma City...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns collapse in 4th quarter of road loss to Thunder

The Suns were in control for most of Sunday's game against the Thunder but bad turnovers eventually caught up to them.
7 days ago
NBA Draft prospects Culver, Hunter still standing in Final Four