As a Greensboro resident I’m fortunate to attend a handful of Greensboro Swarm games every year. In this “Swarm Spotlight” series I’ll be sharing my observations from the games I attended in person. While this is a fairly limited sample size, I saw enough of each player being spotlighted to get a good feel for their strengths and development areas. The subject of this week’s article is forward Arnoldas Kulboka.
Drafted: No. 55 overall (second round) in 2018
Size: 6’10”, 209 pounds
Swarm Stats: 43 games, 27.5 minutes, 14.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Shooting: 45.3% FG, 42.3% 3PT (6.4 attempts per game), 85.7% FT
It’s easy to forget about Kulboka since he was drafted in 2018 and has only played a total of five minutes at the NBA level with the Hornets thus far. The reason he hasn’t been on the radar of many Hornets fans is because after being drafted he played the next three seasons in Europe. Arnoldas played some summer league ball with the Hornets in 2018 and 2019, but for the most part he has been out of sight, out of mind.
But before the start of the 2021-22 season Charlotte signed Kulboka to a two-way contract and he spent the entire season with the Swarm, except for the five minutes he played over two games with the Hornets.
I’m really high on Kulboka. I would put him up right with James Bouknight and Kai Jones as players who could possibly contribute to the Hornets next year.
First, Kulboka is an absolutely deadly 3-point shooter. He has a quick release and his form is flawless. His footwork, elbow bend, balance, release point, and follow through are textbook. He gets arch, touch, and perfect rotation on his shots. I salivate over beautiful shooting form and Kulboka has me drooling. At 6’10” and he can get clean looks from deep against most defenders.
As an assassin from the 3-point line, the Swarm ran multiple sets to get him open looks. He was a high-volume 3-point shooter this year averaging 6.4 attempts per game and he buried 42.3% of his attempts. His outside shot is absolutely NBA ready.
But Kulboka isn’t a one-trick pony who can only spot up for threes and do nothing else. He’s confident with his dribble and can put the ball on the floor to create open mid-range shots. If he gets a smaller player on him he can punish him in the post, though he doesn’t do this often. He’s got excellent footwork, body control, touch, and decisiveness when posting up and he plays with more force down low than his 209 pounds might indicate. He’s a serviceable rebounder, too.
His overall game reminds me a lot of shooting forwards like Harrison Barnes and Bojan Bogdanovic. I think Kulboka can score at the NBA level by drilling open looks within the confines of the Hornets offense. Now that Charlotte’s season ended without a playoff appearance, I wish Arnoldas would have been given at least a few opportunities with the Hornets this last year to play 10-12 minutes, get into a little offensive rhythm, and let a few 3-pointers fly.
Earlier I compared Kulboka to Harrison Barnes and Bojan Bogdanovic, and the same holds true on defense. Arnoldas isn’t a defensive liability, but he’s not a lockdown defender, either. With the Swarm he averaged just 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. While there’s much more to defense than those two basic stats, they provide at least one objective data point.
The good news is Kulboka can progress as a defender. He’s tough and willing to bang. He holds his ground. He’s got the athleticism to where I saw him throw down a couple of nice dunks, but I couldn’t tell about his lateral quickness and speed. If he were playing in the NBA today I’d suspect opposing teams would try to isolate him on defense and go right at him.
While Kulboka is a great shooter - and I mean great - he’s not a player that will regularly create shots for his teammates. He either gets the ball and looks to score, or he just rotates the ball to the next player in the offensive set. He isn’t adept at putting the ball on the floor, forcing the defense to collapse, then threading a pass to an open teammate. He averaged just 1.3 assists per game with the Swarm.
While he can post up smaller G League players, I don’t know how well his post game would translate to bigger, stronger, smarter NBA players. But if Arnoldas is playing in the NBA it’s not going to be for his post game.
Overall, Arnoldas Kulboka exceeded my expectations more than any other Swarm player I watched this year. I expected to see electric things from James Bouknight and Kai Jones, and they delivered. I didn’t expect to see Kulboka flash an NBA-ready offensive game. When he got hot and looked aggressively to score, there would be stretches of games where he was hands down the best player on the floor.
Making it in the NBA doesn’t mean a player has to be good at everything. Few of them are. Players with excellent all-around games aren’t playing in the G League four years after they were drafted like Kulboka is currently doing. Success in the NBA often comes by being a specialist with a unique skill set that’s impactful enough to outweigh other liabilities a player may have. I think Kulboka’s 3-point shooting is good enough to create that pathway to the NBA.
There’s a reason the Hornets signed Arnoldas Kulboka to a two-way contract.
I’m hoping next year that contract swings more toward the Hornets and less toward the Swarm. If you haven’t seen Kulboka in action, just watch this highlight clip from his career-high 35-point game where he shows off his elite range.
Oh, and try not to drool over his shooting form.