After trading into the 2022 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Michigan State wing Max Christie with the No. 35 overall pick. They also inked a couple of undrafted free agents to two-way contracts — Scotty Pippen Jr., Cole Swider — shortly after the second round wrapped.
Outstanding pick for the Lakers — Max Christie, 19, was a top-30 player and projected 1st-rounder on plenty of draft boards.
6'6 wing, elite shot mechanics, natural off-ball mover with potential to be a top-notch defender. The rare one-and-done Michigan State guy https://t.co/1GC6W1BaHl
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) June 24, 2022
Christie gives the Lakers nine players with a contract option for 2o22-23: LeBron James ($44.5M), Anthony Davis ($38.8M), Talen Horton-Tucker ($10.3M), Kendrick Nunn ($5.3M), Stanley Johnson ($2.5M team option), and Austin Reaves ($1.6M). Russell Westbrook will assuredly pick up his $47.1M option. Wenyen Gabriel ($2.9M team option) is a safe bet to return. That all amounts to approximately $156M, with six roster spots to fill (not counting the two-ways). The salary cap is projected to land near $122 million with the luxury tax threshold at $149M.
Westbrook, Horton-Tucker, Nunn, Reaves, Johnson, and Christie could be traded, depending on how the market shakes out as the Lakers look to retool and get deeper.
Notably, the Lakers were inadvertently integral to the scuttlebutt on Thursday. Kyrie Irving continues to use the threat of taking a $30 million bargain to hoop in L.A. as leverage in extension negotiations with the Brooklyn Nets. Real or not, the Lakers certainly don't mind being mentioned in that fashion. That's an indirect win for the brand.
Now, back to the Lakers' performance on draft day.
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Lakers 2022 NBA Draft Grades
Rob Pelinka had two orders of business: acquire a pick, then a wing — arguably the team's biggest need. He accomplished both.
First, the Lakers sent the Orlando Magic cash and a conditional 2028 second-round pick for No. 35. (Los Angeles had $4.7 million to spend on a pick. In 2014, they spent $1.8 million to nab Jordan Clarkson; in 2019, they paid Orlando $2.2 million for THT — both No. 46.)
Christie could be a home run, though he has plenty of room to grow. The 6'5 Illinois-native (6'9 wingspan) — a five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American — was projected to be a top-30 pick by plenty of prognosticators. When the Lakers bought a higher-than-expected pick, they put themselves in the running for first-round talent. Bang.
“It's amazing,” Christie told reporters. “It's surreal. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony — the list goes on. A bunch of great names, a bunch of great players on the Lakers team. I think I can learn a lot and get a lot better in that organization.”
"I think Carmelo Anthony's a pretty good example for me. Someone I can really pick his brain. He's one of the greatest scorers of all time and I know he's a great player historically and still is now."
– New Lakers guard Max Christie
(via @BySamDiGiovanni) pic.twitter.com/Kd5h63f8dq
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 24, 2022
Christie shot 32% from three in 35 games for the Spartans, but his shooting stroke is balanced and fundamentally sound with a high release point (Tom Izzo mostly kept him in the corner). He can catch-and-shoot, or come off motion and plant and rise. He can knock down buckets off the dribble, off screens, and in the midrange. He's an instinctual cutter. The guy just knows how to move around a basketball court.
Lakers just got a steal in Max Christie 🔥 pic.twitter.com/vtzOfHLtOC
— LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) June 24, 2022
“I think the biggest thing is my ability to make shots and shoot the 3,” Christie said after the draft. “I don’t think that was displayed very well at Michigan State. I think having a little bit of a reset coming into the NBA now, I think I’ll be able to display that at a better level.”
Christie possesses defensive potential, too. His lateral agility, focus, and positional understanding are what you want, but he's been dinged for a lack of physicality at 190 pounds. The Lakers training staff will work to bulk him up. Don't expect any above-the-rim or tough and-1 finishes through contact either.
“He’s gotta get stronger, and 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.
"A two-way, 3 and D type player. High character… He’s just going to bring the grit that kids that play (at MSU) bring." Rob Pelinka on the #Lakers drafting @Max12Christie with the 35th pick. pic.twitter.com/cMEL4ATCNk
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) June 24, 2022
The argument against the Christie choice is his rawness. The Lakers are (obviously) in win-now mode with LeBron approaching his 20th season, and one could argue they should've leaned towards an upperclassman who could immediately deepen their rotation (see: Reaves).
Christie, asked by reporters in NYC, if he can step into a Lakers team looking to win now in LeBron's twilight years and make an impact as a 19-year-old: "I think I'm ready to contribute, for sure, right away" https://t.co/5wdk221eqI
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 24, 2022
Then again, the Lakers have one of the most competent scouting departments in the league which boasts an impressive recent track record of drafting and developing talent. Fans should feel inherently optimistic about the 19-year-old panning out in some capacity. The question is: how soon?
“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,'” Pelinka stated. “That’s when you can make big mistakes. 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.”
Who knows what the Lakers draft board truly looked like, but Christie may have been too enticing to pass up. If he can add some pounds and translate his picturesque form into consistent sniping, Los Angeles may have found an uncut gem. Evidently, he shined in his Combine interview, as well.
Or, they could use him to sweeten a Westbrook trade to a rebuilding team.
Rob Pelinka says the Lakers wanted to get younger and had been targeting a high second-round pick. He believes Max Christie is next in line with the Lakers' long list of impressive draft picks over the past decade. Called him a "two-way, 3-and-D" player.
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) June 24, 2022
“We project him as a guy that has the talent to be a starter in the NBA, and we’re going to put in the work to put him on that path,” added Pelinka.
Oh, and there's this:
Another 35th pick from Michigan State. History says he’s going to be an All-Star 🤷🏿♂️
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) June 24, 2022
Following the festivities at Barclays Center, the Lakers signed Cole Swider and Scotty Pippen Jr. to two-way deals.
Swider was the only (known) player to work out twice for the Lakers. The 6'9 combo forward averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and shot 41.1% from three in his final season at Syracuse.
“I think the reason why I’m here is because of my shooting,” Swider said after his second Lakers workout. “And obviously my size and I think my rebound will translate the NBA level. I think my shooting will translate immediately. It’s all about just playing within myself. Playing with guys like LeBron, AD, and Russ. They need guys like me for space.”
Pippen averaged 20+ PPG and made All-SEC in his final two years at Vanderbilt, but his tweener status (6'3), lack of explosiveness, and inconsistent shooting dropped him down draft boards.
Rob Pelinka also talked about what two-way players Cole Swider and Scotty Pippen Jr. did to impress them during workouts: pic.twitter.com/kWMEbu1B5k
— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) June 24, 2022
Later on, we got reports that LSU's Shareef O'Neal, Houston's Fabian White, and UConn's R.J. Cole — all of whom worked out for the Lakers — will play Summer League for the Lakers.
Overall, a successful evening for the Lakers.