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2021 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Josh Christopher

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Is the young wing from Arizona State a good fit in Memphis

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NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year we will be breaking it up in to three sections - five to likely trade up for, five potentially available right around pick #17 where Memphis is slotted to pick, and five that surely will be there or perhaps the Grizzlies could even trade back and still select.

JOSH CHRISTOPHER, GUARD-WING, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

  • 6’4.5”, 202 Pounds, (6’9.25” Wingspan), 19 years old, Carson, California
  • One Season at Arizona State - 29.7 minutes per game (15 games), 14.3 points per game, 43.2% field goal percentage, 30.5% on threes, 80.0% free throw percentage, 4.7 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 1.5 steals per game
  • STATS OF STRENGTH: Steals (1.5), Defensive Rebounds (4.1)
  • STATS TO IMPROVE: Fouls (3.9 per 40 minutes), Win Shares (0.99 per 40 minutes), Assist%/Usage (0.38), Assist/TO (0.81)
  • ACCOLADES: N/A
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 38th Overall (Tankathon), 33rd Overall (ESPN), 37th Overall (CBS Sports), 27th Overall (Bleacher Report), 45th overall (Sporting News), 33rd (The Ringer)

I’m going to be straight up: there are not 30+ players in this draft that are better than Josh Christopher, nor 30+ players in this class that will be better than him in the NBA.

We will see this happen with a few 1-and-done prospects in this class, but the 2020-21 freshmen did not get the normal college experience. COVID protocols threw off their rhythm. There were fewer practice reps between missed practices and summer 2020 being on complete lockdown — as well as canceled games.

Once they get to the league with normal circumstances, they’ll come out better than many anticipated early in their careers.

I think that’ll be the case with Josh Christopher.

For Christopher, he came into college as Instagram star, staying a main fixture in Overtime and Ball is Life mixtapes. However, it was hard to find a rhythm in his lone season. Not only did he have these weird COVID protocols, but he also dealt with injuries too. So as a result, he’s fallen down draft boards.

That’s going to bode well in the favor of a playoff team, as someone will be rich with an upside prospect that can contribute immediately and has a low probability of failing. Christopher is likely looked at as a gunner, but at the NBA level, he’ll show that he’s a more complete player than advertised — en route to being the steal of the draft.

I hope the Memphis Grizzlies are that team that reaps the benefits.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

What He Does Well

Let’s go ahead and start with what we know — Josh Christopher can get buckets.

Christopher projects as a good 3-level scorer that uses great burst and athleticism to find his shot inside the arc. He also fares well in shot creation metrics.

Christopher’s elevation on his jumper helps him rise up over the defense to create his own shot, and he has really good wiggle as a ball-handler. His 2-point percentage is pretty skewed (49.6%, per barttorvik), since he didn’t shoot too well on “far 2’s” (35.6, 26-73). However, he shot 72.7% (32-44) on “close 2’s” — 4th among draft-eligible underclassman, and only players higher were Evan Mobley, Matthew Hurt, and Kai Jones (players all 6’10” or taller). That’s a stat that’s going to be interesting to monitor, as that zone was the Grizzlies’ bread and butter.

Christopher thrives the most in transition. Last season, he scored 1.373 points per transition possession — which fell in the 91st percentile, per Synergy Sports. He fits in well with Memphis, as they’ve been one of the top teams in pace, steals, and deflections over the past few years. He generates a lot of transition looks with his defensive playmaking and rebounding. He averaged 2.7 steals per 100 possessions, 6th among underclassmen in this draft class (ahead of prolific defenders like Jaden Springer, Cade Cunningham, and Franz Wagner).

The thing that attracted me to his game the most though is how he went into the 5-on-5 scrimmages in the combine and showed out in the areas other than scoring. In one scrimmage, he corralled 10 rebounds; and in another, he had 6 assists with 0 turnovers. He also finished with 4 steals over the 2 scrimmages. Going into the league, scoring won’t be his primary responsibility. He’s going to need to add value in the other stuff to earn minutes right away, and his scrimmage performance was a good sign.

Where He Can Improve

Josh Christopher’s biggest swing skill will be his outside shooting.

At Arizona State, he shot 30.5% from behind the arc. When you look into the some splits, it gets even more interesting. Per Synergy Sports, he shot 12-29 (41.4%) on guarded catch-and-shoot 3’s but only 1-13 (7.7%) on unguarded ones. I’m willing to bet a progression towards the mean in the unguarded category. In addition, 69% of his catch-and-shoot shots were guarded, and he scored 1.17 points per possession on them — a better mark than Corey Kispert, Chis Duarte, Moses Moody, Davion Mitchell, and James Bouknight. He has the framework to be a good 3-point shooter, but he needs work in this area if he wants to hit his ceiling.

A lot of his improvement areas are tied to discipline in several areas.

One would be defensively. He had a pretty high foul rate in college, 3.9 per 40 minutes. He’ll have to maintain good defensive discipline, as the whistle in the NBA is a bit shorter than the college one.

He also needs to improve his decision-making as a playmaker. Granted, assists are two-player stats — believe it or not — but Christopher will need to cut down his turnovers and drive up his assists just a wee bit to be a secondary guard in the NBA.

Finally, the biggest area of discipline for him will be tied to his shot selection. Christopher has a knack for creating his own shot at all 3 levels. His ability to pull up over defenders will bode well for him at the next level. However, it does affect his efficiency on “far 2’s” and 2-point percentage. At the next level, he’ll either need to pick his spots a bit better, or change his shot diet to factor in more 3’s and shots inside the floater zone.

Josh Christopher has the tools to be a good NBA player, and some tweaking in these areas could make him one that has a strong impact on winning.

The Fit

We’re off to a good start.

For one, Christopher has family ties with front office executive Tayshaun Prince. He also has a connection with Ja Morant:

He also recently had a workout with the Memphis Grizzlies, reported by the blog itself.

Before I get more into the on-court dynamic, I want to share a conversation I had with an anonymous draft analyst about Christopher and a potential fit with the Grizzlies.

“He’s such a nice guy. Easy to have a convo with,” they said. “He also is very critical of himself. When I asked about what he did well at the combine, he only talked about what he did wrong and needed to improve on and how — unprompted.”

Those high-character players have been a priority for this Grizzlies regime since Zach Kleiman and Jason Wexler took over in 2019.

Now on the court, his fit is more of a “long view” thing. Do I see him playing immediately? Yeah, for sure. However, it’s hard for me to envision a scenario where Taylor Jenkins does that with Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, and maybe even John Konchar ahead of him in the rotation. There would need to be some extra maneuvering for him to play immediately. Otherwise, he’d be honing his craft with the Memphis Hustle, allowing the Grizzlies to put him in different spots that’ll aid in his long-term development.

Christopher would be the only wing on the roster with the ability to turn a corner and just rise up over a defender. He’d also add a nice microwave energy, as he could add more chaos to the 2nd unit with his shot creation, defensive tenacity, and his big-time play in transition.

Long term, his fit is interesting. Could he be that “Jordan Clarkson” type player that gets buckets off the bench? Or could his defense and 3-point shot catch up to the point where he’s Ja’s backcourt partner down the road? I’m willing to bet he’s more of that 6th man bucket-getter — think Terrence Ross.

Regardless, I love the potential fit with Josh Christopher in Memphis.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Verdict

“Upside swing” has been a term thrown out there for the Memphis Grizzlies this draft season. With Josh Christopher, he may be a swing for the fences. I said this on a recent episode of “The Long View” — even if he doesn't end up being a home run pick, he could easily turn out to be a double.

He has the framework to be an energy wing off the bench that can electrify the game with his shot creation, his transition excellence, and defensive playmaking. However, he could be so much more. He may end up being the steal of the draft.

The Memphis Grizzlies can swing, and they have a need for size and shot creation on the wing. And Josh Christopher fits that to a T.

Don’t get swayed by the national consensus too much. Christopher is a bonafide 1st-round talent with the potential to be an impactful player in the league.

Teams tend to overthink draft prospects, and over the past few years, the Memphis Grizzlies have benefitted. With Christopher, they have the chance to do the same, while betting on his high upside.

Prediction: Josh Christopher probably won’t be the pick at 17, but he’ll likely end up in the late first round or early second round.

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