The unknown is something ominous. It’s a word that conjures shadows, doubt and has no limitations. In sports, specifically in the case of prospect evaluation, the unknown can trigger similar emotions, but in addition, represent opportunity.
On Thursday night, the Lakers stepped into the unknown with the thirty fifth pick on this 12 months’s draft by choosing Michigan State freshman Max Christie, a move that would pay major dividends for the team, or leave them the victim of their very own hubris.
It isn’t difficult to see why the 19-year-old, rail-thin Christie — even for rookie standards — has already been stamped him with the dubious “project” label following his selection.
“Christie is a project, pure and straightforward,” Sam Vecenie of the Athletic stated in his post-draft evaluation of the Lakers’ pick. “A team’s evaluation of him comes all the way down to where it’s organizationally with its roster spots and the way confidently it feels about developing his frame over the subsequent two years. He won’t be effective as a rookie.”
The support-system and patient development cycle that the majority young players needs is something the Lakers could offer Christie, but for now, his growth could have to take a backseat to their current priorities.
By virtue of LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ rostering, the Lakers are still very much in win-now mode. The inclusion of a still teenager into that pressure-cooker of a basketball environment appears like a dicey try to serve each present and future ends — a slippery slope few have mastered.
The team’s bucking of conventional wisdom isn’t only a blip, nonetheless, but quite, the most recent example of the organization swinging for the fences. Examples of the team’s history of chancy moves include betting on one other teenage project in Talen Horton-Tucker, reshaping the roster a season after winning a championship, and rolling the dice with Russell Westbrook last summer. Moves which have garnered mixed results at best, to date. The team also recently hired Darvin Ham, a preferred move that gives the team upside, but is ultimately depending on how well a first-time head coach can navigate choppy waters.
To ensure that the Christie selection to pan out, he might want to prove he also can swim where others have sunk. Fortunately, there are enough signs to feel optimistic about his prospects.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
“I feel the improper thing to do within the draft is to only say, ‘We want to get this guy who can play for us without delay.’ That’s when you’ll be able to make big mistakes,” Rob Pelinka told reporters Thursday night. “We desired to take the player that we thought could help our team in the present, present time but really grow to be something special. And we expect Max Christie has that DNA.”
Although the Lakers’ choice of Christie was seen as a surprise to many, Pelinka and the team’s proven scouting department usually are not alone in being fans of the previous five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American.
Beyond his aforementioned pedigree, the Chicago native also has flashed the very skills and athletic tools which have turn into immensely useful in the present basketball landscape.
At 6’6,” and in possession of a near 6’9” wingspan, Christie’s anthropometric blueprint portends that of a prototypical modern wing — the precise player-type the Lakers noticeably lacked this past season.
On the league’s pre-draft mix, Christie also posted the fastest three-quarter sprint time, the sixth-best standing vertical leap, and finished tenth within the lane agility test amongst all prospects who participated.
If you mix Christie’s smooth offensive game that hints at a capability to attain in any respect three-levels with a versatility on defense that saw him often guarding the opposing team’s best player, Christie’s ability to eventually find success at the subsequent level as a much coveted 3-and-D wing looks like a worthwhile risk.
The query stays as to how quickly the longer term “project” can turn into a gift contributor.
He can speed up towards the latter possibility if his defense can translate immediately, a rarity in young players but a useful key find a spot within the rotation because the likes of Austin Reaves and Alex Caruso did before him. Those that have worked closely with him suggest he could also be on target to achieve this.
“He’s really, really impressed me defensively,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo told the Athletic about his freshman wing.
“He’s loads higher player defensively than he was, I feel, in highschool, and he’s gotten loads stronger. I feel he’s taken a very good game and made it even higher — or a fantastic game and made it even higher. He’s exciting because he’s just a fantastic kid, great student, he’s got all of the intangibles.”
Relating to “3” element of Christie’s game, it’s a skill that will ultimately be what swings whether the Lakers got the home-run talent they sought out.
In 123 college attempts with the Spartans, Christie converted just 31.7% of his 3-point probabilities. While the number could also be disappointing on its face for Lakers’ fans in search of improved perimeter shooting this upcoming season, there may be credence to it being a bit misleading.
His smooth shooting mechanics — highlighted by his Mt. Everest-scaling release point —together with a big sample of impressive shooting as an amateur suggest that improved spacing and conditioning could help Christie could find his stroke once more.
Max Christie’s 3PT% was solid most of this past season for MSU. Then February got here and he hit a wall.
NOV, DEC, JAN, MAR: 35/98, 35.7%
FEB: 4/25, 16%
67% of his misses in February were short. Usually it gave the look of he ran out of juice. March saw a lower MPG & higher %.
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) June 24, 2022
“A number of his success will depend on his shot coming back around,” Zach Milner told Silver Screen and Roll. For Milner, whose public work has been seen in The Stepien and most recently in a personal role, Christie — and his jumper — have been of interest.
“In response to the Cerebro Sports database, Christie shot 39.6% (42-106) from three over 20 games in 2019 that included UAA and FIBA U16s, if that does occur again, I feel his game translates well to the subsequent level. I actually thought Christie deserved top 20 consideration this 12 months, and felt confident he must be a primary round pick, so grabbing him at number 35 is nice value.”
Despite the restrictions that naturally include a being a rookie, and one whose body will likely need time to develop before he can effectively contribute at the subsequent level, it’s comprehensible why the Lakers were entranced by Christie’s skills and physical tools, especially when given their limited resources to acquire a player with either, let alone each.
Two-way wings simply don’t grow on trees. With their scarce supply and increasing demand sending their value skywards in recent times, this leaves a team just like the Lakers — who’re strapped for cap-space and trade assets — limited of their options to amass one.
The hope is the Christie pick sets them on their road to acquiring what they may have difficulty doing otherwise. And it might just repay in the event that they have the patience to see it to the tip.
“We actually think he’s a man that if he would’ve chosen to return to highschool, you’re talking a couple of guy that would’ve easily been in the highest 20, top 15 of next 12 months’s draft,” Pelinka expressed following the draft. “So to have the ability to get a player like that and develop him with the thirty fifth pick is rare, and we’re really proud.”
And not using a minute played yet on the skilled level, Christie will proceed to be the mystery box the Lakers plunged into the unknown after. Until that seal is broken, the probabilities for each windfalls and downfalls are infinite.
Rewards are typically reserved for those willing to simply accept some risk; those that not only embrace the unknown, but seek it out. There have been likely safer picks than Christie when the Lakers found themselves on the clock, but they’ve proven to be gamblers. That’s their creed they’ve chosen to follow.
Boom or bust be damned.