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Can Max Christie be an instant contributor for the Lakers this season?

Max Christie’s theoretical upside is intriguing, but for him to succeed on this Lakers team, it’ll boil down to how quickly he can adjust to the professional level.

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2022 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Max Christie.

When the Lakers drafted Max Christie with the 35th pick in this year’s draft, they invested in his potential and development. The Lakers scouting department, which has been one of, if not the best in the league over the past decade, apparently had their eyes on the Michigan State product since as early as 2019.

The 19-year-old’s silky outside stroke, ability to create his own shot off the dribble, and his 6’9 wingspan all signaled to Jesse Buss — the head of the Lakers’ scouting department — that Christie could return elite value for an early second round selection. The 6’5 prospect was, according to Rob Pelinka, the unanimous draft choice by the front office, which speaks volumes to how much they believe in Christie’s potential.

If he can put it all together, Christie projects to evolve into an archetypical two-way wing, arguably the most vital position in this era. His on-ball and pick-and-roll defense also impressed the Lakers brass enough to sign him to a $2.74 million two-year guaranteed contract. So while the image of what Christie could be offers a lot of promise, the biggest question is if he can adjust to the sport’s highest level as quickly as Austin Reaves did last season.

In Christie’s handful of appearances in Summer League this past July, he looked ill-equipped to thrive amongst professional basketball players, particularly in trying to score the ball. The Spartan alumnus showed glimpses of his two-way potential, but not enough yet to justify the Lakers’ sizable investment in him. His rawness and strength deficit in comparison to his peers stood out, and it didn’t help that he only made 20% of his 3.1 3-pointers per game.

Although it’s unfair to write off a rookie based on eight exhibition performances, it’s the full extent of his professional career to date. With a little bit of polish, can he find a role in Darvin Ham’s 4-out 1-in system? Can he become a key contributor for a championship contender?

What is his best-case scenario?

The Lakers may be banking on Christie’s long-term development, but his best chance of contributing this season is by providing a spark of instant energy off the bench. Ultimately, his ability to secure a spot in the rotation will come down to whether or not he can convert his jumpers (especially catch-and-shoot opportunities) and physically keep up with his opponents defensively on the court.

Hopefully, Christie shoots better than he did in Las Vegas where he knocked down just 28.6% of his shots from the field and 22.2% of his 3-point attempts. His smooth floater and crafty ball-handling skills can help him create open looks, but he’ll need to make enough of them to merit serious playing time. The rookie may not have the speed and explosiveness to impose himself physically, but he can impact the game with his length, defensive ability, and grit. Those gifts alone should at the very least, allow him earn a bit of burn.

What is his worst-case scenario?

If Christie never gets comfortable at the NBA level, there’s a chance he goes from “Clamp Christie” (a term coined by Lakers fans because of his impressive defensive performance in the summer) to “Mid Christie.”

Jokes aside, the pressure is on Christie to prove that he is indeed worth a second-round pick. If Christie doesn’t get enough minutes because of his inexperience, he’ll be perceived as a bust especially if the likes of Jaden Hardy or Kendall Brown (prospects drafted after him) perform well for their respective teams.

For the past four years, the Lakers have shown that they’re not going to wait for their young core to develop if that comes at the expense of supplying the team with legitimate role players, especially with a stated organizational goal of maximizing LeBron James’ remaining years in Los Angeles.

The 19-year-old will be competing for minutes on a team that has a surplus of perimeter players. If he looks lost all year, Christie could be used as salary ballast by the time this season’s trade deadline rolls around. Christie needs to prove that his two-way ability deserves to be showcased on the court, otherwise his freshman year won’t be a memorable one.

What is his most likely role this season?

If Christie impresses in training camp and during the preseason, there’s a chance Ham plays him right off the bat at the start of the regular season, albeit in a limited role. Ham, a player-development specialist, did mention in his introductory press conference in June that his goal is to continue with the development of his young players and make them feel comfortable. The best way for Christie to prove his value and at the same time get his feet wet is to play 10 minutes (divided into two shifts) per game off the bench, hopefully providing quality minutes.

The rookie will also be spending a lot of time with the Lakers’ shooting and player development staff to work on his game. On the court, the Lakers would likely love for him to passably provide shooting (especially for this team that badly needs it), defense, fresh legs and energy. And, if he proves his mettle early on, he could become a key contributor for the Lakers now, and solidify his place in the franchise’s future.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.