Second-year players are held to different standards in Summer League. Unlike freshmen, whose nervousness comes out of their bodies as freshmen on the first day of high school, sophomores must play with confidence, show 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 displayed those exact traits.
He knows where the coldest running water fountain is on campus, which teachers to avoid, and how to open a locker with a single fist like Fonzie. He has 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 raised concerns about how they would fare against the length and quick finishes in the NBA. It didn’t take long for him to put those concerns to rest as Christie quickly fine-tuned his form and shot surprisingly well in his opportunities with the Lakers during his rookie campaign.
According to league tracking dataChristie 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 positive, the Lakers will need to see that efficiency over a larger sample if he hopes to crack the rotation.
Christie has taken his first step in doing just that this summer. Not only has he 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’ll likely fill will limit and require him to do his catch-and-shoot look, 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’s been great at utilizing against defenses thus far.
Whether coming off the pick-and-roll or in isolation, Christie’s confidence in his shooting has been evident. In his five Summer League games, Christie has posted an above-par 49.2/55/96.8 shooting percentage.
That rookie with the shaky jersey seems like a distant memory every time the nylon cracks.
In addition to his hot shooting, the other big development for Christie has been the noticeable difference in his body.
Entering the league at around 189 points, Christie’s slender physique was another limitation he had to address in order to hold up against the physicality of the league’s wings and forwards on a nightly basis.
Since then, Christie is now reportedly up to 205 pounds and has noticeably filled out from a muscle perspective.
However, it’s not just the definition in his arms that matters, it’s how he’ll use his strengthened 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 inside 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 placed him in just the 22nd percentile among other wings.
Christie’s new and improved framework has already delivered benefits and shown glimpses of correcting these weaknesses. There is yet to be a game this summer where the wing has not taken it hard on the stand, and in several cases tries to serve a poster on the opposition once there.
Christie has no longer avoided contact, but has actively sought it when coming downhill. He has carved out space through the boom on 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 supported thanks to his body catching up.
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 coming season. And in the process create some tough rotation picks for Darvin Ham as well.
Even with their deep playoff run, the Lakers lacked size, shooting and defensive flexibility on the perimeter.
It’s likely Christie won’t individually help shore up the still-present holes, but his improvements should at least earn him 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 place. That’s really all it is. That’s my mission. That’s my goal.”
After suffering a reported “right hip sprain” in the team’s loss to the Boston Celtics, Christie’s successful performance this summer is likely over.
It remains to be seen how much of what he showcased will translate to the regular season in terms of production and minutes. However, Christie has at least shown and made enough progress to no longer be ignored.
There is also an element of the organization that needs to see what exactly they have in the 20-year-old as he is set to enter the final year of his contract. From a pure prospect and asset perspective, it would take on 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 in minutes, so there will be DNP’s and Christie’s leash is expected to be shorter than the rest.
But 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.