Lakers rookie Max Christie sees rise to rotation as ‘icing on the cake’

LOS ANGELES — Just over a week ago, Max Christie was coming off the bench in the G League, scoring 18 points for the South Bay Lakers.

On Sunday night, he subbed in for the Lakers in the first quarter, guarding Patty Mills and Edmond Sumner, staring down his childhood idol Kevin Durant from feet away.

The week Christie has had would be a lot for any 19-year-old to take in, playing games on three consecutive days from his South Bay debut to back-to-back nights for the Lakers, culminating in a career-high 29 minutes in an NBA game (his previous high was 4:50). For the moment, it seems the Lakers are comfortable installing their 35th overall draft pick out of Michigan State in the playing rotation, needing his 6-foot-6 size and defensive intensity.

“It definitely feels good to know that you’re going in every single time now,” Christie said in the locker room prior to Sunday’s game against Brooklyn. “But obviously, you know that can change at any single moment, so you can’t let any opportunity slip away from you.”

Some of this is necessity: The Lakers need wing depth badly, and Christie has given them a good mix of earnest defensive effort and credible 3-point shooting (6 for 11 coming into Sunday). Coach Darvin Ham gave Christie the assignment to deny Jordan Clarkson and Kevin Huerter in the past week, simply putting himself between them and the ball.

“ Him being a rookie, half the time he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that’s a good thing sometimes,” Ham said. “He’s not overthinking. We tell him something, he’s on it.”

The Lakers drafted Christie as an offensive project: They liked the look of his shooting stroke, but in his one college season, he was just hitting 31.7% from deep. In that respect, Christie might be ahead of schedule. He’s often seen after practice shooting with Matt Ryan, the team’s resident 3-point specialist, and he’s proud of how he’s shot in the few looks he’s gotten already.

By his own admission, Christie is a little surprised to be helping the Lakers already – he thought maybe halfway through his rookie season, he might catch a rhythm and get called up. Now that he’s here, too, he tries to not put too much on himself.

Christie knows he’s primarily in the game to do two things: 1) Defend. 2) Shoot threes. But it’s mostly defend – and he hasn’t been smarting from not having the ball in his hands.

“If I have an off game, it’s not the biggest deal because nobody really expected me to contribute anyway,” he said. “So it’s just sort of icing on the cake for me to keep going as hard as I can, but at the same time there’s no pressure on me.”

Lakers hopeful LeBron James returns Friday

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There’s only going to be one four-day break this season aside from All-Star Weekend, and the Lakers hope it helps LeBron James get back on court.

James missed his second game with a left adductor strain on Sunday, which Ham said was “precautionary.” Being early in the season helped sway the decision. James was doubtful to play the night before the game.

“We can feel good about that, knowing he’s had these days to be rested, to not put any pressure on it, but to strengthen it, treat it to get it to the point where he’s able to get back out there,” Ham said.

The Lakers’ next game is Friday against the Detroit Pistons. They’ll also reevaluate Dennis Schrӧder and Thomas Bryant the day before the game to see if both players, who suffered thumb injuries before the regular season, can make their debuts.

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