1. Max Christie isn’t ready for the NBA
Max Christie behaves like a pro in many ways — in how he works and prepares and takes care of himself. But his game and body aren’t there yet. He’d be wise to play another year in college basketball, be it at Michigan State or wherever.
Christie might do just that. He announced on Instagram on Friday that he’s entering the NBA draft, with the intention of going through the pre-draft process to get an “accurate assessment and feedback from the NBA” on where he stands. From what I understand, this has been his intention for a while. And, if he’s truly just probing for knowledge, it’s a wise decision by Christie, who noted in his Instagram post that his dream, like with every college player, is to play in the NBA.
He’ll be an NBA-ready player in time, perhaps by this time next year. But he isn’t now, no matter where the NBA tells him they’ll select him — and, by most analyzes I’ve seen, that’s likely in the second round.
There’s nothing wrong with being a second-round pick, if that’s your ceiling as a prospect, and/or your game and frame is ready for that grown man’s league. But Christie can do better on all fronts. He’s someone who could benefit from more time in the college game, against peers his age. I suspect he’ll return to MSU, if he doesn’t stay in the draft, but he could also decide to withdraw from the draft and enter the transfer portal. He could play immediately elsewhere, if his experience in East Lansing isn’t something he wants to run back. Either way, college basketball is perfect for his continued development. Because what I think he needs is added strength and to play at a level that he can grow to dominate.
This isn’t like Xavier Tillman after his junior year — someone who had done all he could at the college level and had proven himself to the fullest extent of his abilities, even if the NBA still saw him as a second-round draft pick. Christie is a guy who’s going to have to hit shots, score and defend to have an NBA career. He has the tools in him. We’ve seen it in bursts. And he was a better defender this past season than MSU’s coaches imagined he would be. What he’s shown already, coupled with his length and five-star pedigree, will be enough to be selected this year. But the player that we saw for most of this season at MSU would spend most of next season in the G League.
Christie would be better off following the examples of a few other gifted but inconsistent Big Ten freshmen — Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray and Jonathan Davis — all of whom became bona fide stars as sophomores and are projected top-10 NBA draft picks now.
MSU has recent experience with this NBA flirtation. Aaron Henry and Nick Ward both tested the NBA draft waters and came back. The rules are set up these days to allow for this, to help players understand how the NBA sees them and return to school fairly late in the process. Christie probably knows he needs more time. But he’s a confident kid who can taste his dream. Unless he gets humbled, it’s hard to turn back.
2. MSU has to prepare for the possibility of life without Christie
If Christie leaves MSU, it changes the Spartans significantly next season. It’s not that they can’t overcome it and have a great season, but the odds of being a contender for something meaningful are less. It would put the onus on the development of Christie’s classmates, Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks, and heighten the possibility of playing AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker more regularly as a backcourt tandem, with incoming freshman point guard Tre Holloman perhaps as Hoggard’s backup.
There are lots of possibilities. But MSU, minus Christie, would be without a player who has a chance to become a college basketball star and who, with Hoggard, gives the Spartans the potential of having two true frontmen. If Christie doesn’t return, MSU will undoubtedly add a wing in the transfer portal, which Izzo and his staff will probably do anyway.
Losing Christie doesn’t have to ruin next season. But it makes the Spartans’ hopes rest on being more of a strong collective than being a team led by a couple potential pros.
MORE: Couch: Analyzing next season’s MSU basketball roster as we know it – player by player
3. MSU fans, be glad Christie didn’t have a slightly better year offensively
If Christie had had the year he hoped he would, the year offensively that MSU hoped he might, there’d be no chance he’d return. And while perhaps if he’d been able to provide more offensive oomph, the Spartans would have won a couple more games and maybe lasted a round or two longer in the NCAA tournament, this team wasn’t ready to contend. There were too many flaws elsewhere, including inconsistency from a senior class that played its best basketball in a short postseason.
Next year’s team might not be a contender, either. But with Christie and Hoggard and Malik Hall, if they all stay and take another decent-sized step, maybe the Spartans will be contenders. This program has barely ever gone three years without a contending team in Izzo’s tenure.
MSU, if Christie does return, might have threaded the needle in terms of having a five-star freshman who was ready for major minutes, showing real potential, but also not quite ready to be a one-and-done player. That’s just about the ideal recruit, if it plays out that way.
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.