The way hindsight works, you can see the Lakers walking into their draft room on Thursday with an eye toward Michigan State freshman Max Christie. But early Thursday, the Lakers didn’t even have a draft pick.
Christie was a big-time talent in high school, a McDonald’s All-American with a profile as a shot-maker. He has the size at 6 feet 6 to be a versatile perimeter defender. And in the second round, those traits get harder and harder to find.
“It's very rare to have a consensus pick," Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. "Maybe at No. 1 you can kind of get a room full of scouts and get a consensus pick. But once you get to 35, there's just so many varying opinions. But very uniquely on this night — it doesn't happen all the time — but Max was a consensus pick of all the scouts and all the front-office people.”
Yet Christie isn’t without his flaws and was available with the No. 35 pick for a reason.
So why did the Lakers like Christie so much? What did he think about joining the Lakers? What about the Lakers' other moves?
Let’s try to answer some of those questions:
When it came time for the Lakers to make their pick, the team had options for more NBA-ready prospects — namely Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell. But Pelinka said on draft night, you can’t think that way.
“I think the wrong thing to do in the draft is to just say, ‘We need to get this guy who can play for us right now.’ That’s when you can make big mistakes,” Pelinka said. “We wanted to take the player that we thought could help our team in the current, present time but really develop into something special. And we think Max Christie has that DNA.”
The statistics at Michigan State weren’t great — especially shooting: Christie made only 31.7% from the three-point range.
“I really think he’s going to turn into a really good shooter," Pelinka said. "He’s got just beautiful touch on the ball. Great arch and rotation on his shot. And then he’s a twitchy athlete with a really unique floater game and finishing skills around the basket. He can get in the paint. We really think he’s a guy that if he would’ve chosen to go back to school, you’re talking about a guy that could’ve easily been in the top 20, top 15 of next year’s draft. So to be able to get a player like that and develop him with the 35th pick is rare, and we’re really proud.”
The Lakers have known of him long before this past season, having scouted Christie as he went through the elite summer camps while he was a high school star.
What does Christie think of all this?
Christie struggled with the emotion of the night, his dreams coming true early in the second round when the Lakers took him. He wasn’t a dreamer anymore; now he’s teammates with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
“I definitely thought about it," he said. "I don’t know if it’s completely processed within my mind the magnitude of what you just said. But it’s definitely crossed my mind a couple of times.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to learn and get better and play alongside them is obvious, as ridiculous as it is.”
What’s the immediate plan?
To get him shooting more consistently and to get him stronger.
“He knows that,” Pelinka said. “It’s something that we’ve talked about with him. He’s gotta get out here early and start to put in the work with our Lakers strength staff. I think he’s got the ability to move his feet, probably guard three positions. He’s got long arms. You can kind of project forward what you think a kid’s build will be, and he’s got a great frame on him and he likes the weight room. That’s a question we asked him.
“So I hate to put a timeline on it — I can’t really predict how someone’s gonna grow and fill out. But he’s got a great frame, a great basketball set of skills, and I think he’ll develop quickly.”
What about the other guys?
The Lakers also added Syracuse shooter Cole Swider and Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr. — two players Pelinka was clearly excited about.
They like Swider’s shooting — he made more than 41% from three at Syracuse last season at a high volume. Pippen Jr. was a tremendous scorer at Vanderbilt, and Pelinka praised his defensive intensity in his workout with the Lakers.
Swider worked out for the Lakers twice.
The team also got a commitment from Shareef O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal’s son, to play with the team in summer league.
While rumors swirl about the Lakers and Kyrie Irving, that wasn’t going to be addressed or resolved Thursday night. Pelinka did say he and new coach Darvin Ham have met with Westbrook about their hopes for him this season.
“Darvin and I have had meetings with Russ and have just been honest about how we think he fits with this team and what we expect of him next year if he decides to opt in next year,” Pelinka said. “And he’s ready to embrace the philosophy of defense first as well, and he’s made that clear to Darvin and me if he chooses to come back. But he hasn’t given a final decision on that, and he has more days to figure all that out with his family.
“But if he comes back, he will be embraced here with open arms, and I want to put a path in front of him to have a successful season.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.