Since the end of the 2019-2020 high school basketball season, I’ve been breaking down the NBA potential of some of Southern California’s top boys basketball stars.
Mayfair wing Josh Christopher was the talk of Twitter this week after announcing his long-awaited college commitment to Arizona State, so now is the perfect time to talk briefly about why he’s a projected first round pick in the 2021 NBA draft – and why I believe he’ll live up to the billing.
PROTOTYPICAL SKILL SET FOR AN OFF-BALL WING
If you put Christopher in the NBA right now, he’d already be able to do a number of things right on the offensive side of the ball. That’s why many experts say he’ll be done with college after just one season. His jumper is ready to go, and his role in the NBA will be to space the floor and knock down what comes his way.
In his senior year at Mayfair, the All-American hit 62 threes at 33% in 29 games. The volume speaks for itself, but while 33% is not bad, it doesn’t show how dangerous he really is from deep. Mayfair was an anomaly in that they had two 5-star recruits – Christopher and sophomore PG Dior Johnson – and their next leading producer on offense averaged 5.5 points and two assists per game. Defenses went to any and every extreme to stop those two as long as the other Monsoons were short of getting an open layup or dunk.
Christopher got nothing easy, but he could easily shoot around 40% from three at ASU. His lift is good, he can shoot under duress, and he has strong confidence. Put him in the corner or run him off of screens at the next levels on teams with more spacing and secondary playmaking, and he’ll be living easier on offense than he has since he first started high school.
That said, part of the reason that I really like Christopher’s NBA stock is that he’s more complete than most spot-up wings.
At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Christopher looks the part of an NBA player already. Not only is he muscular, but you can tell by the way he moves that he has excellent core strength. Per NBA Draft Room, he also has a wingspan upwards of 6-8.
Christopher will be a very solid run/jump athlete at the next levels. He’s already a better physical specimen than plenty of jump-shooting wings in the NBA, and he’s probably still developing.
Despite dealing with double and triple-teams throughout all of high school and never getting clean catch-and-shoot looks from outside, Christopher put up a whopping 29.4 points and 4.4 assists per game his senior year. He isn’t a lead guard by trade and doesn’t project as the focal point of an NBA offense, but he’s a promising creator.
He can knock down threes and mid-range jumpers not only catching and shooting but off the dribble, fading away, and under heavy defensive pressure. He hit an excellent 56% of his twos his senior year which includes mid-range jumpers off the dribble, attacking the rim in both half-court and transition settings, and a wide array of post moves ranging from turnaround jumpers to bully ball on the block. While his “in-between game” of floaters and runners has a ways to go, his general touch in the paint is already fantastic for a wing.
And as his 4.4 APG would suggest, Christopher is a willing and capable passer too. He’s not going to take over games threading the needle in halfcourt sets like Chris Paul or driving and kicking at mach speed like John Wall, but he reads defenses well, stays under control, and wants to find open guys in their spots.
STUFFING THE STAT SHEET
This ties back back to the previous two points. Christopher wasn’t just a scorer in high school. In addition to 29.4 points and 4.4 assists per game, he actually put up 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game as well. That’s because he was Mayfair’s de facto center who embraced his physical gifts, and he’s a very complete player as a result.
While his lateral quickness isn’t going to make him a point-of-attack stopper against NBA lead guards, his good size, strong athleticism, and significant physicality will bode well for his ability to guard bigger wings and play small-ball three. Obviously he’s not going to average double-digit rebounds in the league, but his commitment to securing stops will be welcomed. In this small-ball era, it will stand out.
For comparison’s sake, Bradley Beal is also 6-5 and strong with similar physical attributes, and was forced to play a surprising amount of PF in college. Once he came into the NBA, guarding up on the wing and helping finish stops on defense were ways he was able to contribute despite mostly being a finesse guy. These days, Beal is a poor defender because he’s forced to exert every drop of energy on offense, but he was once a versatile defender and good positional rebounder because of those uinque experiences.
It will take Christopher a bit to get used to stepping into high-percentage looks in the flow of a balanced offense in college. Don’t be surprised if it takes him a bit to get his stroke going before he finds his rhythm. But once he does, he projects as a strong scorer and complete player, and I think his status as a late first-round pick will stick. Someone who can not only finish good looks but a guy teams can run some plays for when he’s in rhythm. If his dedication to defense and rebounding don’t go anywhere and his offense stays on trajectory, he could absolutely rise into the middle of the first round and have a long career in NBA rotations.