NBA Draft

NBA Draft: The case against picking Rakeem Christmas

Margaret Lin | Staff Photographer

Rakeem Christmas will be turning 24 in December. But that's only one reason why an NBA team might not want to draft the Syracuse grad.

Before Rakeem Christmas’ senior season at Syracuse, few thought he had a shot to be selected in the NBA Draft.

But with a breakout senior season in which he averaged 17.5 points per game and was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team, Christmas is in secure position to have his named called on Thursday night.

The 23-year-old Philadelphia native measured nearly 6 feet, 10 inches and 243 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine in May, where a strong performance in the five-on-five scrimmages saw him ascend across mock drafts.

Where Christmas is selected — most experts have him going early in the second round — will depend on a variety of factors. Based on research and conversations with people in NBA scouting, here are three reasons why teams shouldn’t select Christmas.

Click here to see why teams should pick Christmas. Draft analysis on former Syracuse power forward Chris McCullough will be posted on Wednesday.

A team should not draft Christmas because of his… 

1. Age

Christmas, who turns 24 in December, is a day older than Suns guard Brandon Knight. And while Christmas prepares for the draft, Knight has played in parts of five NBA seasons and will soon sign his second professional contract.

There could be a team that is attracted to Christmas’ age and subsequent experience. But as an expected early second-round pick there will be a lot of franchises looking for a younger project in that range — for example, someone like 20-year-old Chris McCullough, his college teammate.

While teams are looking for talent at any spot in the 60-pick draft, the second round isn’t where they’ll be deliberately fishing for an immediate contributor. If a decision comes down to Christmas or a 19-year-old prospect, a franchise could consider that four years of NBA experience will put the 19-year-old on a brighter track than Christmas’ current one.

2. Inexperience playing man-to-man defense 

There are two defensive responsibilities that stand out for NBA big men, and that’s protecting the rim and defending the pick and roll.

Christmas, having played four years in the center of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense, doesn’t necessarily lack the size, athleticism or ability to do these things. He just hasn’t defended pick and rolls in a man-to-man defense like he’ll have to in the NBA, and has only protected the rim while moving in a confined space in and around the paint.

And since he’ll come off the bench and not get a lot of touches, he’ll have to excel defensively to stay on the court.

Christmas’ athleticism and length could make him reliable defensively as a pro — he blocked 2.5 shots per game as a senior — but there’s little evidence of his ability in a man-to-man defense, and that’s troubling for an expected reserve big.

3. Confusing college career 

If Christmas’ transition to college led to three lethargic years before a breakout senior season, why should NBA franchises feel that the start to his pro career will be any different?

Before becoming Syracuse’s go-to option as a senior, Christmas was an offensive afterthought (SU’s fifth option whenever on the court) who never averaged more than 5.8 points in a season. He was an athletic body above all else, and it seemed that rebounding and playing defense wasn’t enough to rev any semblance of a scoring motor.

There’s no way of knowing what exactly rendered Christmas offensively ineffective for the first three years of his college career, but a good guess is that he had trouble adjusting to the strength and speed of the college game and then fell behind.

There’s a chance the professional game will be, at least at first, too fast and too strong for him to hedge early growing pains, and he’s too old to take another three years to acclimate himself.

Christmas’ sharp, late turnaround made him a surefire draft pick but also raises a lot of questions about his longterm ability. It’s a problem if he’s only able to produce as a primary option, because he’ll likely never be one at the next level.

Comments

Top Stories