GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Once the NBA Draft Lottery secured the third pick for the Knicks there was little drama with common wisdom placing three players on a tier above the rest in the draft class. But Jarrett Culver is trying to shatter that common wisdom.
The grouping at the top — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett — all have been labeled as blue-chip talent. Williamson is a freakish athlete, a 285-pound forward who boasts a vertical leap estimated at 40 inches. Morant, a sophomore point guard from mid-major Murray State, has equally dazzling physical skills but in a slender 6-3 frame. And Barrett is a prototypical NBA wing, 6-7 and a skilled scorer.
But Culver, who conducted an individual workout for the Knicks Wednesday and was headed to dinner with team officials afterward, hopes to break through with a skill almost forgotten in mock drafts awed by offensive skills.
“I can come in and make an impact,” said the 6-6 shooting guard from Texas Tech. “Defense and offense, I feel like I’m an elite two-way player. So just having that, I feel I can come in and make an impact.
“Nowadays, it’s hard to find people who take pride in defense. But I’m one of them. I take pride in defense. Being at Texas Tech taught me a lot, so I feel like on the defensive side I’m elite.”
Culver has been criticized for his shooting — scouts pointing out a slow release and marginal three-point shooting. But he certainly can score, too, averaging 18.5 points per game as a sophomore and leading the Red Raiders to the NCAA finals where they fell to Virginia in overtime. He actually played at Madison Square Garden this season, outscoring Barrett, 25 to 16, in a head-to-head meeting, but Duke came out on top in the game.
“I feel like we’re great players, both of us,” Culver said. “He has a lot of talent, I have a lot of talent. And at the end of the day, it’s not our choice where we go, it’s for everybody else to choose. So we just put in the work. I know he’s working hard, I’m working hard. So it is what it is.”
Barrett is scheduled to work out for the Knicks Monday. Culver has conducted individual workouts for the Knicks and Lakers, who hold the fourth pick, and is scheduled to work out for Phoenix, Cleveland and Chicago. Those three teams hold the next three spots in the draft after the Lakers, but Culver insists he isn’t worried about the number in the draft or what the mock drafts say.
“I try not to look at them,” he said. “I just do what I can do and control what I can control. What other people think and say, that’s not under my control. At the end of the day, I’ll put in the work . . . I’m going to do what I do.”
While Culver was at the Knicks training site Mitchell Robinson was there, too, working out. The two played on the same AAU team while in high school. Robinson went straight from high school to pro ball while Culver spent two seasons in college, something he believes gives him an edge over most players in the lottery.
“For sure, being at Tech for the two years it definitely matured me,” he said. "Just being a leader on that team and being able to help my teammates out, using my experience to help everybody on the team out.”