Max Christie parked himself in front of a backdrop displaying the logo of the league he’d always dreamt of joining, surrounded by reporters, there to answer questions about how he reached this decision and why it was best for him.
It was May in Chicago, and Christie was in attendance for the NBA Combine. He had recently announced he’d remain in the 2022 NBA Draft and begin his pro career, after declaring a month earlier. It was surprising to some, seeing Christie leave after just one year of college basketball, but if you know Christie, it’s who he is. He’s confident — not cocky. He’s very matter-of-fact about his game and what he feels he brings to the table. When you combine those traits with a five-star pedigree and a skill set that fits what the NBA, it’s not hard to deduce how Christie got here.
“I think it’s just betting on myself, being confident in myself and the preparation that I put into this game,” Christie told reporters at the combine. “I think that’s just all it really is, just having confidence in myself and knowing that I feel like I’m ready for this level and able to contribute whenever that time comes.”
A native of Rolling Meadows, Ill., Christie had his fair share of programs pursuing him as a high school prospect. Duke, Villanova, Florida, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Baylor and Virginia, among others. However, it was Michigan State that ultimately secured a commitment from the 20th ranked player in the 2021 class.
Christie arrived at Michigan State with a ton of promise and hypo regarding his ability to contribute immediately. In a lot of ways, he was everything the team needed. An excellent shooter with size and a high basketball IQ, Christie was brought in to provide instant offense. Even before the season began, it was clear he would be counted on in ways that aren’t typical of freshmen at Michigan State.
“Max is 6-5, he’s got size, he can shoot the ball,” Izzo told The Athletic last September. “He’s really, really impressed me defensively. He’s a lot better player defensively than he was, I think, in high school, and he’s gotten a lot stronger. I think he’s taken a good game and made it even better — or a great game and made it even better. He’s exciting because he’s just a great kid, great student, he’s got all the intangibles.”
At times early in the season, Christie looked like the player he was billed as. One of the best shooters on the team, he had the green light to pull up from just about anywhere. Michigan State was 12-1 when he scored 10 or more points. He was a better-than-advertised defender, often guarding the opposing team’s best scorer. And he did it all while averaging north of 30 minutes per game as a freshman.
However, Christie regressed as the year went on. He shot just 34 percent (45 of 129) over the final two months of the season, averaging 7.9 points per game during that stretch. He couldn’t get his shot to fall with much consistency despite good looks. Michigan State worked to put the ball in his hands more, but Christie didn’t always look comfortable in that role. It became apparent that Christie still had work to do. He looked like he hit a freshman wall.
Despite his ups and downs, Michigan State’s coaching staff believed in Christie’s game and the player he could become with the right offseason, prior to his announcement. Another year in the system, more time in the weight room and natural growth could’ve provided the formula that took Christie’s game from solid contributor to an All-Big Ten caliber — perhaps cementing his stock as a potential lottery pick in 2023. We saw it happen in the Big Ten this past year. Jaden IveyKeegan Murray and Johnny Davis all benefitted from strong sophomore seasons, and each were selected among the top ten picks.
The tools were there for that kind of turnaround with Christie, too. Instead, he declared for the draft and remained in it, choosing to turn pro now and bet himself.
“I know this has been a lifelong dream for Max and I am excited for him as he takes the next step and continues the process and journey to becoming an NBA player,” Izzo said of Christie when he announced he was staying in the draft. “We appreciate all the hard work and dedication he gave to Michigan State basketball this season and wish him nothing but the best.”
When it comes to Christie and his development, the Los Angeles Lakers must be patient. This isn’t a near-finished product we’re talking about, ready to take the league by storm. He’ll need to continue to add muscle and strength. His ballhandling must improve, along with his shot selection. His defense was better than expected at Michigan State, but the NBA will present a different challenge. He’ll need to be ready for it.
Still, Christie’s potential role in the NBA is easy to see, and the Lakers are getting some value at pick No. 35. If Christie might’ve been a lottery pick with another year in school, it means there are NBA skills that could be harnessed in the right setting.
Christie possesses good size, measuring in at 6-5 3/4 (with shoes) at the combine, with a 6-9 wingspan. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be an effective player, and he should benefit from the spacing the NBA provides. Though he only shot 31.7 percent from deep in college, it’s not indicative of where he might ultimately end up. His stroke is consistent, and the potential is there to become a threat from behind the arc.
By all accounts, Christie is a high-character person and a tireless worker. There’s a reason he was a five-star prospect out of high school, and there’s a reason he believes he’s ready for the next level. Not next year, but right now.
The Lakers are banking on those skills translating.
(Photo: Bob Donnan / USA Today)