The Atlanta Hawks were proven right to take Hunter over Culver.
The two athletic wings would get off to similar starts in their first year in the league. Hunter would go on to average 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on 41% shooting, while Culver would average a slightly worse 9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on 40% shooting, albeit in 8 fewer minutes of play. The defensive numbers were quite similar between the two.
Year two is where the cracks would begin to form in Culver’s game.
In his second year, Culver would see a decrease of nearly half in all of his major stats including points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and even minutes. His three-point percentage dropped from a poor 30 percent to an awful 25 percent and his overall efficiency only marginally rose to 41 percent.
He also picked up an ankle injury, which further hampered his playing time and relegated him to the bench, eventually requiring season-ending surgery and leaving him with only seven games started at the end of the year.
Hunter, on the other hand, had a polar opposite second year.
Despite missing 59 games due to a right knee injury, his efficiency from the floor rose from a very modest 41 percent to a shockingly efficient 48 percent. His points per game rose to 15 and his other stats rose marginally in three fewer minutes per game than the year prior. His defensive influence on the Hawks was becoming apparent too, as he and Clint Capela helped the team move from 28th in the league in net defensive rating in 2019-20 to 10th in the league in 2020-21.
By the time last season rolled around, the roles for these two had already been carved out.
Culver, who had been sent over to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Patrick Beverly, didn’t start a single game in the 2021-22 season and only played in 37 of them. His absences were due to both injury and poor play as he put up a measly 3.5 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 0.9 assists on 38 percent from the field.
Hunter, though seeing slight decreases in many of his major stats, had established himself as the starting small forward of the future. He was still shooting 44 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, and offered a tremendous amount defensively even after recovering from early-season wrist surgery. Hunter’s 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 30 minutes over 53 games indicated he was a lineup mainstay.
At this point, it was clear that Hunter was on the track of steady improvement while Culver was just hanging on to remain in the league.