A few years ago, a second-round draft pick entering his early 20s garnered a ton of praise from the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office as well as the fans. This player was hyped up to be the next big thing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers put a lot of stock into this hype, making said player virtually untouchable in trade discussions. That player, Talen Horton-Tucker, failed to deliver for the franchise in the 2021-22 season, forcing them to pivot and trade him last summer.
That memory is a fair reason for Lakers fans to be cautious when it comes to their excitement for Max Christie, a guard who finds himself in a similar position as Horton-Tucker was three years ago. Their cases are certainly similar, as they both were highly-touted high school prospects from Illinois who turned pro after just one season of college basketball, but their NBA profiles are completely different.
Christie played at Michigan State under legendary head coach Tom Izzo. His performance impressed the Lakers enough to where they bought a second-round pick to draft him 35th in 2022. He showed glimpses of potential during his rookie season with the team. Christie, who turned 20 years old in February, split his time between the NBA and the South Bay Lakers.
The Lakers’ front office has made it clear that they are bullish on Christie’s growth, while not necessarily putting burdens of endless hype onto him. Rob Pelinka and the rest of the staff have expressed their hope for Christie, but appear focused on not making the same mistake they did with Horton-Tucker. The team would be immensely better if Christie has a breakout campaign, but they won’t suffer much if he stumbles.
Christie’s weight is listed at 190 pounds, per Basketball Reference, but he put on upwards of 15 pounds during his first season. But it’s not just his new physique, as the second-year guard’s game turned heads at Summer League as well.
While spending last season in the shadows, Christie worked toward building a frame that aligns with most lanky three-and-D wings in the NBA. While he will mostly match up against guards, his defensive impact has the potential to extend beyond that. His defensive growth from his time at Michigan State to his first NBA offseason has been evident.
Using BBall Index’s player profiles tool, we can see some of the impressive skills that Christie exhibited on both ends of the court. On the defensive end, he excelled in perimeter isolation defense, ranking in the 89th percentile, showing an ability to effectively guard opponents one-on-one on the perimeter. Additionally, he was very proficient in navigating through ball screens and staying attached to his man, ranking in the 81st percentile in that skill. Those abilities will be very important for Christie, as Ham implements a defensive scheme littered with drop coverage on high ball screens.
When considering the defensive assignments he faced as a rookie, Christie’s performance is commendable, ranking in the 78th percentile of matchup difficulty. This indicates that he guarded strong opponents throughout the season. Surprisingly, Christie’s rim protection is also noteworthy, ranking in the 79th percentile. He’s showcased an elite ability for a guard to use his physicality to protect the basket (he averaged 2.3 blocks per game in Las Vegas Summer League en route to making the All-Summer League Second Team).
Here are my 3 favorite clips of Max Christie's defense from last night!— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) January 7, 2023
Contains well, often w/a long arm also up
Length + reaction speed to contest well against a filthy move
Slithery around ball screens
Dejounte & Trae Young were Max's top 2 assignments on the night. pic.twitter.com/rCtUmPF4Ik
However, there are areas where Christie could still improve on the defensive end. Specifically as an off-ball chaser, where he ranked in the 39th percentile. This suggests room for growth in terms of his ability to track and defend opponents off the ball, particularly against playoff teams like the Warriors. Christie also has the potential to enhance his rebounding skills. By exerting more effort in crashing both the offensive and defensive glass, he can create additional second-chance opportunities and initiate fast breaks, leading to transition scoring opportunities for the Lakers.
Offensively, Christie’s smooth shooting profile stands out, as he connected at an impressive 41.9% clip from 3-point range and ranked in the 79th percentile in 3PT Shot Quality. He also shot 37% on corner 3-pointers. According to Synergy Sports Tech, he connected on 41% of his catch-and-shoot jumpers as a rookie. He went 11-20 from beyond the arc in summer league (55%), which is a videogame-type figure, albeit on a small sample size.
Christie also has impeccable basketball IQ, having a knack for cutting to the basket at the right time and creating scoring opportunities for himself and teammates. Christie’s playmaking skills have been underwhelming in his limited NBA appearances, however, he’s shown improved passing ability and decision-making during Summer League, notching a 1.73 AST/TO ratio. Christie ranked in the sixth percentile in finishing talent as a rookie, but he did show some improved chops with an impressive poster against the Warriors.
The only other question surrounding Christie is his ability to create his own shot. He’s been more adept in this part of his game at Summer League, but he hasn’t shown much of this in the NBA. Christie also won’t be asked to do much of this with guys like Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and LeBron James at the helm of the offense. He will likely compete with Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince, and possibly Jalen Hood-Schifino for minutes and backup guard/wing duties.
But while Christie’s potential shines bright and his impressive skills on both ends of the court show promise, only time will tell if he can surpass the hopes placed upon him by the Lakers’ front office. With his defensive growth, smooth shooting and improved playmaking, Christie has the opportunity to become a valuable asset for the team. However, as Horton-Tucker showed, cautious optimism is key, and only through consistent development and performance will Christie truly emerge as the next diamond in the rough for the Lakers.
Tristan Beckmann is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @TBeckmann24.