It has been pretty widely publicized that the Boston Celtics are looking for a rim protector: someone who can at least challenge an opposing big man in the paint. Tyler Zeller was at least average at times, but he isn't a reliable rim protector. Willie Cauley-Stein and Myles Turner have been two big time names around the community, but it is highly unlikely that either big man is around at the 16th pick. While almost all the thought has been surrounding the Celtics' first rounder, there has been little attention focused on the second round prospects that Boston can target. After all, they hold the 33rd pick.
Rakeem Christmas should be a target with their early second round selection. Christmas played four seasons at Syracuse University, but didn't hold a significant role until his senior year. He hadn't averaged over 6 points per game until that point, so when he finally got the ball in his hands, he began to prove his worth. In his final season with the Orange, Christmas averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game; all fantastic averages that awarded him First Team All ACC, First Team All ACC Defensive Team, and ACC Most Improved Player. These numbers are certainly impressive and are attributes to his ever-growing talent, but a few notes must be taken into account.
Christmas was the primary and only reliable scorer for most of the year. Plays were run around the big man, and the amount of times he touched the ball throughout the game is hard to count. He put up 12 shots a game and played 34.3 minutes a game...that is a lot.
Nevertheless, Rakeem Christmas bring a lot to the table as a potential early second round pick, and it has been argued that he deserves to go in the first. Well-respected college coaches have raved about his talent.
"He's probably the best center in the country. That's all I can say. Based on the numbers, what he's been doing, they're tremendous. They're doubling him every time. They're fouling him on every play and he just keeps playing unbelievably. It's the biggest improvement that I've seen in a player in either our program or any other program since I've been here." -Jim Boeheim
"Christmas is just outstanding. He's one of the top 10 players in America. He's having a fabulous, fabulous year offensively and defensively."- Mike Krzyzewski
Christmas has anchored Syracuse's defense for years and is a nightmare to drive on. While he doesn't have the body of Dwight Howard, he is strong in his own way, and fights for every block.
In the video above, Christmas soars from out of nowhere to stop Rodney Hood's (would have been) game winning dunk. It is these types of hustle plays that make him so desirable. Christmas uses his 7-3 wingspan and superior athletic abilities that should translate in the NBA. He's got decent timing which helped him accumulate 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes.
Among the many impressive feats of his senior season, the most remarkable was his improvement within one year. Christmas saw his numbers increase drastically across the board. His progress wasn't only a product of more playing time, his performances were evidently better, and he showed a wider range of skill. Christmas is already 23 years old so how much he can develop is being questioned, but he seems to be a late bloomer who doesn't plan on stopping.
Where Christmas lacks is in the offense department despite his nearly 20 points a game average. However, with his length and quickness he can be a decent contributor in put backs and layups in transition. By no means can he be a stretch four, but he is working on his mid-range shot. If he can add that to his repertoire, he can be dangerous.
Many signs point to Christmas being able to step out and hit a shot. He was pretty efficient from the foul line with a 71.2 FT%. A big man's free throw percentage is often an indication of that player's shooting abilities.
Despite his maturity, there are some questions surrounding the big man. Can he learn to play man defense? At Syracuse, Boeheim implements a zone defense every year that focuses on staying compact and help. In the pros, Christmas will have to learn to play a new kind of defense. One that requires more independence and alertness. Personally, I have no worries; I think Christmas is a smart player who can adapt to most changes.
Offensively, Christmas can be a liability due to his lack of range. In college, he was a prolific scorer because he was able to use his body and length to score. In the NBA, he will be a bit undersized if he doesn't put on some weight and will have trouble scoring over the freakishly large giants that wait for a smaller player to bully.
Rebounding was one of Christmas's best attributes at Syracuse, but his lack of lower body strength may catch up to him at the next level. He's got decent fundamentals but rarely boxed his man out in college simply because he was more athletic than his competition and could reach over them.
If Christmas can continue to improve his offense and gain some weight, I see this as a future steal. On the Celtics, he can start but would likely come off the bench to provide valuable minutes of protecting the rim. Defensively, I love this pick. Christmas has a ton of upside, the only thing bringing him down is his offense and age. He would be the most athletic big wearing green.
On offense Christmas can run but he wouldn't help space the floor. Brad Stevens did wonders to Marcus Smart's shot over one year, so I have faith that he can change the way Rakeem shoots as well.
Assuming the Celtics strike out on defensive minded big men with their first two picks, Christmas can be nice consolation prize that may turn into a gem.