LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers think Max Christie is the next underrated young talent who will grow into a solid NBA contributor after he puts on the purple and gold.
The Lakers selected the Michigan State guard with the 35th overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night. The team also agreed to terms with undrafted guards Scotty Pippen Jr. of Vanderbilt and Cole Swider of Syracuse on two-way contracts.
The Lakers hadn’t drafted a player from Michigan State since Magic Johnson, but general manager Rob Pelinka said Christie was the unanimous choice among the front office members and scouting department when Los Angeles' newly acquired pick came up.
A 6-foot-6 shooter and wing defender, Christie left East Lansing after just one season. The Lakers believe he'll evolve into a talent worthy of a much higher selection once he has worked within the team's system.
“He's got the ability to be a pick-and-roll guard and handle the ball,” Pelinka said. “He's got a very nice shooting stroke. I think when we plug him into Darvin (Ham) and (top assistant) Chris Jent and the developmental coaches that we're going to have, I really think he's going to turn into a really good shooter.”
Christie averaged 9.3 points and 3.5 assists last year as a freshman with the Spartans. He's now a teammate of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the 19-year-old was still getting used to the idea as he left the draft in New York.
“I don’t know if it’s completely processed in my mind, the magnitude of that, but it's definitely crossed my mind a couple of times," Christie said. "It’s a great opportunity for me to learn and get better and play alongside them, as obviously ridiculous as it is.”
Although Christie hit just 31.7% of his 3-point attempts as a freshman, his smooth shot and improving wing defense attracted the Lakers’ attention. He still needs to add weight and strength, but Pelinka believes Christie has the frame of an NBA player.
But the Lakers didn't have any picks in this draft until Thursday morning, when they acquired a high second-round selection from Orlando in a trade for cash considerations and a second-round pick in 2028. Los Angeles traded away both of its own 2022 selections back in 2019 while acquiring Davis.
The Lakers have a solid history of finding NBA-caliber talent outside the upper reaches of the past several drafts, and their scouting department identified Christie as a depth addition who could contribute more in the future to a team perpetually in win-now mode with Davis and James.
“Our scouts have an incredible track record of finding guys in the second round that we can develop and turn into good players, and we think Max Christie is definitely next in line,” Pelinka said.
Los Angeles’ personnel department has drafted or acquired Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac, Josh Hart, Thomas Bryant, Svi Mykhailiuk, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves since 2015.
While most NBA scouts were undecided whether Christie can contribute to an NBA team immediately, the Lakers need low-cost supporting personnel. Most of their payroll likely will be going to James, Davis and Russell Westbrook, who is expected to exercise his $47 million player option to return.
Ham said he is eager to coach Westbrook, whose ineffective play last year in his Lakers debut was a primary reason the franchise finished 33-49 and missed the play-in tournament. Injuries also doomed the Lakers, who had James, Davis and Westbrook in their lineup together for only 21 games.
Christie is a Chicagoland native, as are Davis, Horton-Tucker and Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn.
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