Michigan State basketball’s Max Christie goes to LA Lakers in Round 2

Max Christie’s one-and-done gamble on his talent paid off — from Michigan State basketball to the NBA.

With new teammate LeBron James.

The former five-star prospect went to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round with the 35th overall pick in Thursday night’s 2022 NBA draft.

“It’s amazing. It’s surreal. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony — I mean, the list goes on,” Christie told reporters in Brooklyn, New York. “A bunch of great players on the Lakers team. I think I can learn a lot and get better on that organization.”

Michigan State guard Max Christie drives against Purdue guard Jaden Ivey during the second half of MSU’s 75-70 loss in the Big Ten tournament semifinal on Saturday, March 12, 2022, in Indianapolis.

Christie is the Spartans’ first drafted player since Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston both went in the 2020 second round — Memphis took Tillman with the 35th pick that year. Coach Tom Izzo has not had a player taken in the first round since Jaren Jackson Jr. in 2018.

Moments after the pick was announced, former MSU and current Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green pointed out his draft night 10 years ago. Like Christie and Tillman, he also was the 35th pick, in the 2012 draft.

“Another 35th pick from Michigan State,” Green tweeted. “History says he’s going to be an All-Star.”

Christie’s lone season as a Spartan was a mercurial one. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard started all 35 games he played, missing one against High Point on Dec. 29 due to COVID-19, and posted solid all-around numbers for a freshman by averaging 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 turnovers in a team-high 30.8 minutes. He made 82.4% of his free throws and was a plus-65 on the court.

“One thing that, for me, is going to be beneficial is going to be time,” Christie told reporters at the NBA combine in May. “I’m only 19 years old, and I think being in an NBA system for a few years is really going to help me grow and improve over time. A team that’s willing to do that, the resources that have been implemented and the things that have been done in recent years promotes that for me.”

Christie struggled with his shooting, making 38.2% of his shots overall and 31.7% on 3-pointers. Despite flashing some explosiveness and surprising leaping quickness, his need to add strength and bulk to his 190-pound looked evident once Big Ten play arrived. He shot 44.7% inside the arc, predominantly on midrange jumpers, and had issues finishing through contact in the paint. Christie made 23.9% of his 3s in February and March, as his legs fatigued with his defensive responsibilities while often drawing opponents’top scoring threats.

“It may not have been reflected this past year, but I think I know and I think everyone knows I’m a better shooter than what I produced,” Christie, a native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, said in May. “Not really worried about the numbers that were produced — I’m a better shooter, and I’m going to shoot it better in the NBA.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called the Lakers’ selection of Christie a “value pick,” and he complimented him for having “a really good shooting stroke” with a high release despite Christie’s struggles.

“I’d say he’s a solid defender, so you’d look at him as another 3-and-D guy,” Bilas said. “He wound up being a little streaky this last year, but he’s got a lot of potential. I think if he would have come back to school, we’d be talking about him as a first-round pick next year. He just needed a little bit of time to develop, and he’s going to have that when he gets to the Lakers.”

Christie is the first MSU player selected by the Lakers since Magic Johnson went No. 1 overall in the 1979 NBA draft. Anthony “Pig” Miller was taken by Golden State then traded to the Lakers on draft day in 1994.

While Magic’s “Showtime” Lakers won big in the 1980s, it’s LeBron’s team now. James will enter his fifth season in Los Angeles and led the storied franchise to the 2020 NBA title during the pandemic-induced bubble playoffs. During his tenure, LA has missed the playoffs three times, and exited in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.

Christie arrives after the Lakers went 33-49 and missed the playoffs again in 2022.

“I think (Christie) will be a guy that will be a project,” ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins said during Thursday’s broadcast. “And you have one of the best developmental guys there for player development in Phil Handy, one of the top assistants that’s gonna be able to put his hands on him and be able to work with this young fella and get them right. I mean, you keep them tough. And then he has opportunity to learn from one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball (James).”

Along with Handy, new Lakers coach Darwin Ham — a Saginaw native — this week hired former Izzo video coordinator Jordan Ott as an assistant coach. Ott had been with the Nets since 2016 after working at MSU from 2008-13. The Lakers’ head equipment manager, Shelby Township native Andrew Henk, also was a student assistant for Izzo from 2012-14.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: NBA draft: Michigan State’s Max Christie goes to LA Lakers in Round 2

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