Second-year players are held to different standards in Summer League. Unlike rookies, whose jitters extrude from their bodies like freshmen on the first day of high school, the sophomore class must play with confidence, show off their experience and prove they are prepared for the adulthood that is the professional ranks.
Through his first five games of the summer, Max Christie has exhibited these exact attributes.
He knows where the water fountain that has the coldest stream is on campus, which teachers to avoid, and how to open a locker with a single backhanded fist like Fonzie. He’s demonstrated that he has graduated from this environment, and is now ready for the real thing.
Christie’s impressive play in Sacramento and most recently in Las Vegas, stems from improvements in two key areas: his jumper and aggression.
When he was first drafted, the 20-year-old’s shooting mechanics looked slow and rose concerns on how they would fare against length and fast closeouts in the NBA. It didn't take long for him to put those worries to rest, as Christie swiftly fine-tuned his form and shot surprisingly well in his opportunities with the Lakers during his rookie campaign.
According to the league’s tracking data, Christie drilled 40.7% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from behind the arc and 41.9% of his 3-point chances overall.
While the shooting numbers on the surface were a positive, the Lakers will need to see that efficiency over a larger sample if he hopes to crack the rotation.
Christie has taken his fist step in doing just that this summer. He has not only shown signs that his rookie numbers weren't a fluke, but has even made strides with his perimeter stroke.
Although the off-ball role he likely will fill will confine and require him to make his catch-and-shoot looks, Christie has revealed there’s more to his game than just standing in the corner.
As the team’s primary scoring option in the half court, Christie has been tasked with creating with the ball in his hands. Because of this, he’s been given the freedom to showcase the pull-up and off-the-dribble components to his perimeter game, two facets that he thus far been stellar in leveraging against the defense.
Whether it has come out of the pick-and-roll or in isolation, Christie’s confidence in his shooting has been apparent. In his five Summer League games played, Christie has put up otherworldly 49.2/55/96.8 shooting splits.
That rookie with the shaky jumper seems like a distant memory every time the nylon rips.
Beyond his hot shooting, the other big development for Christie has been the noticeable difference in his body.
After entering the league at around 189 points, Christie’s slim physique was another limitation he would have to address in order to hold up against the physicality of the league’s wings and forwards on a nightly basis.
It’s not just the definition in his arms that will matter however, it’s how he will leverage his bolstered frame to accomplish the things he wasn't able to as a rookie.
While his 3-point shooting numbers were excellent in his initial 41 games, Christie struggled mightily from everywhere within as a result of his thin frame.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Christie converted on just 47.4% of his 2-point attempts last season. A number that ranked him in the mere 22nd percentile among other wings.
Christie’s new and improved frame has already yielded benefits and shown flashes of fixing those weaknesses. There has yet to be a game this summer where the wing hasn't taken it hard to the rack, and in several cases, try to serve up a poster on the opposition once there.
No longer avoiding contact, Christie has actively sought it out when he’s gotten downhill. He has carved out space through the boom of his lowered shoulder, and finished in and around a crowd with his 6’9” wingspan.
Even with the natural growing pains that come with being a rookie in the NBA, confidence was never something Christie lacked. But now, that confidence is starting to be backed up thanks to his body catching up with it.
The added weight should also bode well for Christie’s already strong defensive presence. Between his prototypical height and length for a wing, the introduction of more strength could catapult Christie’s defensive prowess to a new level this upcoming season. And in the process, also create some difficult rotation choices for Darvin Ham.
Even with their deep playoff run, the Lakers lacked size, shooting and defensive flexibility on the perimeter.
It’s likely that Christie will not individually help shore up those still present holes, but his improvements should at the very least put him in consideration despite a crowded and more experienced depth-chart.
“I just want to be in the rotation and play as much as possible,” Christie recently told The Athletic. “I just want to play as much basketball as I can. Last year was motivation to get to that spot. That’s really all it is. That’s my mission. That’s my goal.”
It remains to be seen how much of what he showcased will translate to the regular season in terms of production and minutes. At the very least though, Christie has shown and made enough strides to no longer go ignored.
There is also the element of the organization needing to see what exactly they have in the 20-year-old, as he's set to enter the final year on his contract. From a sheer prospect and asset perspective, it would behoove both parties to have Christie on the floor far more than he was in his rookie year.
Christie may ultimately be too young to freely spread his wings as the Lakers navigate the twilight of LeBron James’ career. Veterans will undoubtedly get the first crack at minutes, so there will be DNP’s and Christie’s leash will expectedly be shorter than the rest.
Yet, if the rapid growth and work ethic he’s shown is any indicator, sooner or later, Christie will force the team’s hand and make it impossible to take him off the floor.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.