The careers of Atlanta Hawks forwards Jarrett Culver and De’Andre Hunter have been intertwined, unbeknownst to them, since before they even stepped foot on an NBA court. From facing off against each other in the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game to ending up as teammates in the 2022/23 preseason, it has been a long road filled with innumerable factors for both players.
However, they find themselves in completely different circumstances. If events had played out any other way, the results may have been disastrous for the Hawks.
In 2019, Culver and Hunter were both consensus top-10 picks on almost all NBA draft boards. The Hawks, who possessed six picks in the draft and were rumored to be interested in moving up, had a potentially franchise-altering decision to make. On the back of selecting Luka Doncic and trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and a first-round pick in 2018, the 2019 NBA Draft was to prove crucial in establishing the Hawks’ winning core of the future.
Plenty of fans and pundits were clamoring for the Hawks to move up after the lottery had stuck them with the 8th overall pick – bad luck for a team with the 5th-worst record in basketball the season prior. Many of these voices had one feasible target in mind: Jarrett Culver.
Atlanta Hawks made the correct decision in the 2019 NBA Draft
After winning Big 12 Player of the Year and averaging 18.5 points, 3.7 assists, and 6.4 rebounds per game in his final season at Texas Tech, Culver was considered an offensive juggernaut with freakish athleticism.
Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett were the consensus top three picks, but speculation suggested that Culver could have gone to any team interested after that. If the Hawks were going to move up, they’d have to pay heavily in draft capital.
In a convoluted deal that involved sending Anthony Davis to Los Angeles and the 4th overall pick back to New Orleans, the Hawks eventually shipped their 8th, 17th, and 35th overall picks in the 2019 Draft to New Orleans for the recently acquired 4th overall pick.
Instead of taking Culver, though, they selected Hunter out of Virginia.
Hunter, also a consensus top-10 pick in most mocks, was appealing for a different reason. He averaged 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on his way to earning Virginia the #1 seed in March Madness, but his shining light was always on defense.
Hunter was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and that carried over to the Championship Game where put forth 27 points and 9 rebounds, hit a crucial game-tying shot, and held Culver to 15 points on an abysmal 5-22 shooting.
Virginia would go on to win the title with the difference in Hunter and Culver’s performances likely being the deciding factor for the Hawks. The Championship Game would also seem to become a poetic omen for the careers of both players.
The Minnesota Timberwolves would go on to take a page out of the Hawks’ book and trade up to take Culver with the 6th pick, just two after Hunter.