With the Lakers shorthanded due to injuries, Head Coach Darvin Ham turned to several players to shoulder the load in the rotation. Guys like Cam Reddish and Taurean Prince had their moments, but all eyes have been on second-year guard Max Christie, who has been working for this opportunity since he first entered in the league.
How Has Max Christie Handled His Increased Role for the Lakers?
Christie, the 35th pick in the 2022 Draft, came into the 2023-24 season after showing flashes of growth during his rookie year and at Summer League. Still, it took a while for Darvin Ham to find proper minutes for him—even as the Lakers became decimated by injuries. Lakers coaches and fans also knew they had to be patient with Christie, a 20 year old who received limited opportunities. LA had several players who would get minutes above him, but Christie appeared far from deterred.
Even after multiple DNPs and only being inserted in garbage time, Ham continued to trust Christie. That trust was exemplified when Ham started Christie on Nov. 22 against the Mavericks—and a string of games after that. It’s all led to this discussion of Christie’s recent play, and what it means for him going forward.
Max Christie’s Offense
Max Christie recorded seven points (3/7 FG) and two rebounds against the Mavs—not bad for his first start of the season. He was more efficient against the Cavs a few nights later, recording 12 points (5/7 FG, 2/4 3PT), five rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes of action. Traits he improved on in Summer League were noticeably on display: cutting to the basket, nailing catch-and-shoot threes, and making plays for others. Overall, Christie has averaged 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in five games as a starter. He also shot 46% from the field and 31% from three in that span.
Christie has played well as of late, and last night’s showing against the Rockets only added to his case for a spot in the rotation. In 28 minutes off the bench, Christie recorded 12 points on 4/7 shooting from the field and 3/3 from deep. He’s become more efficient as time has gone on, and he’s shown that he’s much more than a catch-and-shoot guard.
Max Christie’s Defense
Equally important to Christie’s growth has been his work on defense, which has been a point of emphasis for him this season. Christie has relished the chance to guard the opponent’s best players. He expanded on the opportunity to guard OKC Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in a postgame interview:
“He’s definitely a lot more methodical. He’s a lot more physical I would say with his bumps, his stepbacks, his shot fakes, he gets to the free throw line a ton. So it was a good challenge for me, obviously he had a night like he always has but this experience for me is always important coming into these games. Like you said, on this road trip, guarding the best player on almost every single team that we play this road trip, I had a lot of fun. It was good experience for me.”
Christie’s performance against the Cavs also included lockdown defense against Cleveland’s best players, which earned plenty of praise from Darvin Ham and Anthony Davis and is considered his best game of the season so far. As Ham noted in his postgame press conference:
“A matchup like that, all of those guys he had to try to defend – Caris, Darius, Max, Donovan down the stretch toward the end of the game – that’s a huge, huge challenge for a young player like Max but one that’s much needed. He was awesome tonight. We gave him a shoutout after the game. Everyone here is pulling for him. We know how special he can be. We know how special he already is. The biggest thing for him is the more minutes he gets, the more comfortable he gets.”
Christie has already displayed numerous admirable traits on the defensive end, able to use his quickness and wingspan to limit some star players, which became crucial in crunch time. It’s a skill that he’ll continually improve on with more reps, which could be coming even as the Lakers ease their reinforcements—Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura—back into game play.
The Last Word on Max Christie
Despite key players returning from injuries, Christie has made a strong case to get significant minutes off the bench going forward. His ability to impact the offense coupled with fantastic defensive principles have given Ham a good problem to have. Even if Vando and Rui surpass Christie in minutes, the Lakers know that the 20-year-old can step up when needed, and he won’t remain stuck on the bench for long. Christie’s recent performances have Lakers fans hyped for his future, and they may have been good enough to satisfy his long-awaited goal.