The growth of Kevin McCullar was arguably the biggest player-specific storyline down the stretch of last year. After not playing serious basketball in over a year due to injury, McCullar was extremely rusty to start the year but gradually got more minutes as the season went on. He ended the season with six consecutive starts and was probably the most well-rounded player for the team in that stretch. Despite that, there were still aspects of McCullar’s game from before college that has not reached the court at Texas Tech quite yet.
One of the biggest debates when McCullar first committed to Tech was whether he had the ball-handling consistency to be a lead guard, and the general consensus was that he had the ability to play point guard. Unfortunately, his guard skills were not on display for most of the year. His TO% of 22% was absurdly high for someone with a comparatively low assist rate, and there was a stretch of games right before conference play where McCullar had 12 straight turnovers in between assists (over nine games). This stretch was the worst part of McCullar’s season, as he looked for a brief moment like he was going to fall out of the rotation. He played only 11 minutes combined in the first two conference games and was generally an offensive liability.
An injury to Terrence Shannon gave McCullar more opportunities and slotting him in as a wing seemed to do wonders for his offensive efficiency. In the games that followed the Shannon injury, McCullar had begun to turn the corner. Then, he suffered a concussion versus Kentucky, which kept him out of the following games against West Virginia and Kansas. He came back from that absence a better player, as he rattled off ten straight positive BPM games to close out the season. In fact, McCullar’s BPM over the last ten games was 8th among D1 freshman, which is remarkable considering how inconsistent he was at the beginning of the year. Beyond the advanced stats it was clear how much McCullar improved.
For starters- McCullar was pretty easily the most versatile defender on the roster in the stretch run of last season. He guarded 4’s such as Derek Culver, while also drawing Devon Dotson and Jared Butler at various points. His positional defense is extremely impressive for someone his age, and yet he still was able to get a lot of steals. McCullar had a steal in 12 straight games (From West Virginia to Texas), and yet it was his consistency to stay in front of defenders and not get beat that was most impressive In my article about Clarence Nadolny I mentioned the stylistic differences in defenders, and McCullar is very much the opposite to Nadolny from a footwork perspective. McCullar is a reactive defender, but his quick instincts, solid positioning, and good timing are what allows him to get steals. He’s not the harassing Patrick Beverly style of defender that Nadolny is, but in a way, McCullar’s style is much more conducive to being versatile than Nadolny, or even Terrence Shannon who is a free safety-style instinctive player.
Offensively, McCullar still has to improve his ball-handling and jump shot. He shot slightly better down the stretch, but the bulk of his points in his six starts still came from assisted shots at the rim, where he shot 64% over the course of the season. That being said, his off-ball movement is already a tangible benefit, he provides good offensive rebounding potential for someone his size, and his awareness clearly developed as the season progressed. Improved ball handling is all that is left for him to become a serious positive offensively.
Defensively, he is already a clear positive. As already stated his positioning is elite, and he also had a pretty high block rate for someone his size. That versatility is important, as it is likely that Terrence Shannon, Joel Ntambwe, Micah Peavy, and Chibuzo Agbo are all likely to offer somewhat similar defensive skill sets. Having the additional positional skill set will prove to be essential in balancing the wing-heavy rotation.
Ultimately, the value of McCullar very much hinges on versatility, and with more ball-handling development it is feasible to envision him playing every spot 1-4 at various points in the season. With a roster that is seemingly low on lead guards (pending the McClung waiver), that development may allow Chris Beard to bring on another wing, whether that be Jonathan Kuminga or a grad transfer such as L.J. Figueroa. McCullar is already one of the most positionally versatile defensive players in America, but the potential is there for him to be a swiss army knife on both ends of the court.