clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Men’s Basketball: Roster Outlook and Implications in the Max Christie Afterglow

New, 72 comments
NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Max Christie is a Spartan...

As Kevin wrote in the commitment announcement, Max Christie chose to play for Michigan State over Duke among many other terrific schools this afternoon, adding a second huge recruiting win for Tom Izzo and the staff in as many weeks. While Spartan fans are reeling from the best recruiting streak in program history with Pierre Brooks II committing this spring, and Emoni Bates committing last week, it would seem that something has changed for Izzo on the recruiting trail. But has it really?

I do not believe that anything truly has changed in some sort of seismic shift of the cosmic forces that control the world of NCAA men’s basketball. Rather, Michigan State and Izzo have just had a happy confluence of events: three unique players with incredible basketball talents, awesome families, a passion for Michigan State’s basketball program, and a set of guys that Izzo recruited harder than any other coach, for whatever reason.

In the case of Max Christie, Duke, the long-time perceived leader, had relied on John Scheyer to recruit Christie, with Coach K reportedly not being directly involved to any significant degree. Tom Izzo, on the other hand, was directly involved with recruiting Max Christie from the start of their pursuit of the talented shooting-guard. Izzo and the staff also made a point to recruit his entire family, building typically strong relationships with his parents, and beginning to recruit Christie’s younger brother, Cameron, a talented young player in his own right. In short, this is a match made in heaven: a family and player that Izzo loves and one that loves and recognizes Izzo for who he is - totally genuine, a basketball savant, and more than capable of preparing Max for his future in the NBA.

And make no mistake: Max Christie will be an NBA player, sooner rather than later...

Who is Max Christie as a basketball prospect?

Christie, as Kevin began to outline, is a supreme talent. He is a shooting guard, but will likely play on both wings in Izzo’s system. His best asset is his brain and basketball mind. Christie is clearly a very bright young man, a terrific student, a thoughtful interview, reflective, and cerebral on and off the court. He reminds me a lot of Chris Hill and, more recently, Cassius Winston and Aaron Henry in this respect.

On the court, his skills range from the terrific to the superlative. Christie is tall (around 6-feet-6-inches in shoes), long (looks to have a +2-4 wingspan), agile, and a smooth athlete. His frame is slight as his highlights attest, but he does not get bullied and looks comfortable even among bigger and stronger athletes. In this regard he reminds me a bit of a player that takes us outside of the Michigan State program, and a player that Christie shares other similarities with: Stephen Curry.

I realize that this claim will seem hyperbolic, but I think it is a reasonable one. Curry as a high school player, and at Davidson, was a terrific basketball player, but very slight of frame. While Curry’s frame and his smaller stature undercut his own recruitment, Christie’s height and length have ensured his visibility on the national radar for the last two years. The main reason is his skill level, scoring acumen from all three levels, and his shooting:

As you can see in these highlights, Christie can handle the ball — often playing as a point-guard or offensive initiator, he can shoot the ball with deep range, pull-up off the dribble from anywhere inside the arc, can finish in the paint while absorbing contact, and can pass and rebound the ball at a high level as well.

Christie’s shooting stroke is pure every time he shoots, no matter the range, he has a great natural dip to his shot (an essential mechanic), terrific extension, he uses his legs effectively, and his elbow placement, ball-placement, and follow-through are terrific. In short, while he will need to continue to make his stroke as efficient as possible, and to speed up his release as much as he can, he will enter the Michigan State program with essentially nothing to improve on with regard to his shooting stroke, a true blessing for him and the team.

It is his shooting stroke that really does evoke Curry, and his willingness and ability to pull-up from anywhere (maybe a Mo Ager might be a good comp — but Christie will join the Michigan State program with far more offensive polish than Ager did). Christie is also effective at passing and relocating after the pass, which will put him in good stead as he learns to read screens and how to work off-ball to an even greater degree at Michigan State — a hallmark of Izzo’s coaching of shooting guards.

The major area for improvement for Christie will be on the defensive end. For his high school team he serves as a de-facto center in a 2-3 zone (he goes to a small school and is the tallest guy in the rotation). But at MSU he will need to add weight — both lower and upper body muscle — and improve his tenacity and grit on the defensive end. It seems that part of the reason that he chose MSU, like Emoni Bates, is precisely because of Izzo’s insistence on his players learning to defend at a high level.

If Christie stays at Michigan State for a second year, it will likely be due to his need to continue to add strength and continue to work on his defense — it will NOT be due to his offensive game or offensive fit in the NBA.

What we know about the current roster and possible roster projections...

A bit of recap from a similar discussion in the Emoni Bates piece: the roster, as of today, looks like this for next season (2020-21):

1) Watts (so), Loyer (jr)
2) Langford (sr), Hoggard (fr)
3) Henry (jr), Brown (jr)
4) Hauser (jr), Hall (so), Bingham jr (so)
5) Tillman (sr), Sissoko (fr), Marble (so), Kithier (jr)

Now there is approximately a 50 percent chance that Xavier Tillman heads to the NBA this summer (for now I do not project or believe that Aaron Henry will do so). In that case, I believe we would see Bingham jr, Sissoko, and Marble taking most of the minutes at center, with Kithier possibly the odd man out of the rotation in the front-court this year.

Following next season, which will likely see Izzo’s Spartans ranked in the top-10 in the pre-season, and a very strong candidate for a B1G championship, or two, and a deep run in the NCAA tournament, we would likely see at least Xavier Tillman (if he returns), Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, and, possibly, Rocket Watts head to the NBA. Of the possible early entrants I would think Joey Hauser is the more likely of the two rising seniors to return for a senior season, and I do believe that Rocket Watts will return for his junior season, but that is no sure thing (as far-fetched as that statement might have seemed at points last season). There also might be some sort of attrition in the team in the form of transfers.

Now, as I mentioned when discussing Emoni Bates’ commitment, while his family has not confirmed anything, I do believe that Bates will reclassify into the 2021 HS class, and that he will play at least one season for Tom Izzo starting in the 2021-22 season. This would see the Michigan State class include, for now, Pierre Brooks II, Emoni Bates, and Max Christie. If, in fact, Aaron Henry and Joey Hauser both go to the NBA after next season (a slight tweak from my earlier projection), then the roster (assuming no additional attrition) would look something like this:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr)
4) Bates (fr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Bingham jr (sr), Marble (jr)

This team, if it in fact looks like this, would have 12 scholarship players, and, even without adding another player, would be a lock to enter the season as the No. 1 team in the nation. The team would have four seniors, three juniors, two rotation playing sophomores, and three incredibly talented freshmen. I will say it again (and will, again, be accused of hyperbole): this would be, on paper, one of the all-time great college-basketball rosters in NCAA history — with, possibly, as many as eight NBA players on it (Bates, Watts, Christie, Sissoko, and, possibly, Brown, Hall, Brooks II, and Bingham jr or Hoggard).

For reference: most of the truly great college teams in the last 20 years or so (and in the history of college basketball) have anywhere from three to six guys who end up having NBA careers. For example: the great 2018 Villanova team had five (possibly six) NBA guys, the 2015 Duke team had five NBA guys (six if you count Amile Jefferson), the 2012 Kentucky team had three NBA guys (four if Wiltjer can make it back in), the 2009 UNC team had five NBA guys, and the 2007 Florida team had four NBA guys.

Open offers: who might fill spots, and what if there is attrition?

Michigan State currently has, by my math, four open offers:

1) Jaden Akins (PG, four-star, supremely talented lefty, with shake and scoring acumen at all three levels)

2) Charles Bediako (C, four-star, big frame, imposing athlete, developing skill, and a strong defensive presence)

3) James Graham III (F, four-star, fast-rising Wisconsin kid, a combo-forward with athleticism and a high basketball IQ)

4) Jeremy Sochan (F, four-star, La Lumiere forward in the mold of Malik Hall, technically sound, solid basketball IQ)

Now, in the above projection, Michigan State could only take one of these players, and would likely have to rescind offers to all but their top-two preferred kids. If Hauser does not go pro, then Michigan State would not have any space left without attrition. My guess is that Izzo would be most keen to target Akins and one of the forwards.

As is, the roster has seven players capable of playing in the front-court, nine if you include Gabe Brown and Pierre Brooks II as small-ball options at the four-spot. The old adage always applies as well: you can never have enough shooting. My gut tells me that Izzo has a very good chance to land Jaden Akins, who will, apparently, attend the prep academy founded by Emoni Bates’ father.

So what WILL happen? Will the roster look like this? What are the reasonable permutations for the 2021-22 season and beyond?

Scenario 1: Henry goes pro, Hauser stays, Emoni Bates does not reclassify, no further additions or attrition:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr)
4) Hauser (sr), Bingham jr (sr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

With 12 scholarship players, Izzo would still be open to taking one of Akins, Graham III, or Sochan, with Akins being the ideal (given Bates’ impending joining of the team mitigating the need for a developmental forward). This team would have the shooting, guard play, experience, and size to be a formidable squad and comfortably rank in the top-10 pre-season, if not the top-5.

Scenario 2: Henry goes pro, Hauser goes pro, Emoni Bates does not reclassify, no attrition, in need of two more bodies:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Akins (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr), Brooks II (fr)
4) Bingham jr (sr), Kithier (sr), Sochan/Graham III (fr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

With only 11 scholarship players, Izzo would still be open to taking any two of Akins, Graham III, or Sochan, with Akins needing to step in the following season with the departures of Watts (likely early entrant), Loyer (graduating), and Brown. Izzo would also need at least one more forward or even a true-big due to the impending departures of Bingham jr and Kithier (both graduating). This team would still comfortably rank in the top-10 pre-season, if not the top-five.

Scenario 3: Henry goes pro, Hauser goes pro, Emoni Bates does reclassify, no attrition, possibly adding Akins:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr), Akins (fr)
3) Brown (sr), Hall (jr)
4) Bates (fr), Bingham jr (sr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Marble (jr)

With 12 scholarship players, including Emoni Bates, Izzo would still be open to taking Akins, given the departures of Watts (likely early entrant), Loyer (graduating), and Brown. Izzo would only take another forward or big if there were attrition in this scenario (possibly Bingham jr, Kithier, or Marble departing early for the NBA after this coming season, or transferring in search of a better situation). This team would easily enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

Scenario 4: Henry goes pro, Hauser returns, Emoni Bates does reclassify, no attrition:

1) Watts (jr), Hoggard (so), Loyer (sr)
2) Christie (fr), Brooks II (fr)
3) Bates (fr), Brown (sr)
4) Hauser (sr), Hall (jr), Kithier (sr)
5) Sissoko (so), Bingham jr (sr), Marble (jr)

With 13 scholarship players, including Emoni Bates and Joey Hauser, Izzo would not have room to add any other players unless there were some sort of attrition (possibly Loyer, Bingham jr, Kithier, or Marble). This team would easily enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country and would easily be the best team on paper in the history of the Michigan State program, and very likely one of the greatest college basketball teams in history. This team would be favored to go undefeated.

The 2022-23 scenarios:

In a world where Bates does, in fact, stay in his class, what might the Michigan State roster look like? Loyer, Brown, Henry, Hauser, Kithier, and Bingham jr would all have graduated the year prior. For now, assume that Hall, Marble and both sophomores (Sissoko and Hoggard) return for their senior and junior years. Here is what the team might resemble:
[Note: these projections do not even entertain additional 2022 recruits that Izzo might land]

Scenario 1: Watts leaves early for the NBA, Izzo lands Akins and one of the developmental forwards to round out the ‘21 class, and only Christie leaves early:

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Brooks II (so)
3) Hall (sr), Sochan/Graham III (so)
4) Bates (fr)
5) Sissoko (jr), Marble (sr)

This team would have two veteran lead guards in Hoggard and Akins, three versatile wing-forward hybrids in Brooks II, Hall, and Sochan/Graham III, two true bigs in Sissoko and Marble, and an all-universe player in Bates capable of playing any position on the court.

Scenario 2: Watts returns for his senior year, Izzo lands Akins and one of the developmental forwards to round out the ‘21 class, and only Christie leaves early:

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Watts (sr)
3) Hall (sr), Brooks II (so)
4) Bates (fr), Sochan/Graham III (so)
5) Sissoko (jr), Marble (sr)

This team would now add a third veteran lead guard in Watts (in addition to Hoggard and Akins), and still have the rest of the amazing pieces listed previously.

Scenario 3: Watts leaves early, Izzo lands Akins and one of the developmental forwards to round out the ‘21 class, and Christie stays:

1) Akins (so), Hoggard (jr)
2) Christie (so)
3) Hall (sr), Brooks II (so)
4) Bates (fr), Sochan/Graham III (so)
5) Sissoko (jr), Marble (sr)

This team would retain a likely lottery player in Christie (who would only return to continue to improve his body and his defense) in addition to Hoggard and Akins, and still have the rest of the amazing pieces listed previously.

Scenario 4: Watts returns for his senior year, Izzo lands Akins and one of the developmental forwards to round out the ‘21 class, and Christie stays:

1) Watts (sr), Akins (so)
2) Christie (so), Hoggard (jr)
3) Hall (sr), Brooks II (so)
4) Bates (fr), Sochan/Graham III (so)
5) Sissoko (jr), Marble (sr)

This would be the most incredible scenario simply due to the absurd level of NBA talent that would be on the court for Michigan State. In this scenario, I would imagine that Watts and Akins would take point-guard duties, with Hoggard stepping in seamlessly in injury or foul-trouble scenarios. Hall and Brooks II would form a dynamic duo on the wing, with both players capable of shifting to the forward spot if Izzo chooses to play a five-out line-up with Bates at the de-facto center. The team would start two seniors, two likely lottery guys in Bates and Christie, have another likely NBA guy starting at center in Sissoko, with his back-up as a senior Julius Marble (replicating Andre Hutson), and then bring on Jaden Akins, AJ Hoggard, Pierre Brooks II, and one of the talented young forwards to round out the bench two of whom would likely end up in the NBA (in Akins and Brooks II). What an absurdly good team this would be.

This is not a drill... what a time to be a Spartan!!!

Go Green!!!