Evaluating another talented guard prospect in a draft class full of them.
The 2021 NBA Draft is full of guards that can be really solid at the next level and today we are taking a look at another one in Josh Christopher out of Arizona State. After his freshman season was cut short due to a leg injury, Christopher still declared for the draft and projects to go either in the mid-first round range or early second round.
Even though he played in just 15 games during his one season of college basketball it’s easy to see why NBA clubs are still willing to make Christopher a high draft pick. When he was healthy, Christopher’s athleticism and 3-level scoring was on full display even though he was playing a little out of his comfort zone. Christopher was paired with two upperclassman at Arizona State in Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, which forced him to play out of position at small forward for most of the year.
Because of that it makes you wonder whether we saw the best of Christopher during his one year in college. Often times Christopher — when he did get the ball — would force up tough contested shots that were incredibly low percentage looks. Towards the end of the year before he got hurt it felt as if Christopher finally started to find a rhythm offensively, which is what NBA teams are banking on continuing at the next level.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into Christopher and see what his game is all about.
Josh Christopher (Guard, Arizona State)
Age: 19 (December 8, 2001)
Christopher’s per game stats from his freshman season (2020-21)
Christopher averaged 14.3 points per game in just 15 games last season. His two-point shooting percentage was 49.6 percent while his three-point percentage was much lower at 30.5 percent. Christopher did find other ways to have a positive impact on the game averaging 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 assists per game.
The first thing you notice when you turn on Christopher’s tape is he’s incredibly athletic for his size. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Christopher has the potential to be a true combo guard at the next level who also possesses the ability to play small forward. Considering he played this past season out of position at Arizona State it could actually help Christopher more down the road in case a team wants to play him a little at the three.
Christopher can get to the rack and score with ease as he’s a true scorer at all 3-levels and can take the game over when the opportunity presents itself. That didn’t happen a ton at ASU but when it did Christopher certainly made sure to take advantage.
Josh Christopher has had NBA game for quite some time now.
An explosive wing who can get to the cup at will and score. If he can shoot the ball well in his rookie year, he will put up numbers right away and be a ROY candidate. He’s got the tools and that motor. #DraftTalk pic.twitter.com/PoEeeEEF6r
— Ball Don’t Stop (@balldontstop) July 19, 2021
His athleticism doesn’t just help him offensively as Christopher also uses it defensively to his advantage. Christopher made 1.5 steals per game last year and most of them came using his long wingspan to jump into passing lanes. Once Christopher made the steal he was off to the races even though he rarely looked to pass in transition. That’s both a strength and a weakness because Christopher did a fairly good job of finishing near the rim, but often times would miss teammates for easier shots because of his tunnel vision.
The explosiveness and athleticism really helps this part of Christopher’s game as he projects to be an elite playmaker in the NBA. We saw it in flashes during his time with the Sun Devils as Christopher’s ability to score at all three levels on the basketball court makes him a threat anytime with the ball in his hands.
Ignore Bagley’s block, Josh Christopher’s playmaking, and the finish on this play for a second.
Look at the little rub screen Jaygup sets on Mobley after passing up the ball so that his teammate has a clear lane to the hoop
Love it pic.twitter.com/yO0qBZ0mjg
— Bowser2Bowser (@bowser2bowser) July 19, 2021
Christopher is actually a pretty solid ball handler for his size and got a lot of his baskets off the dribble. His ability to finish above the rim really helps his scoring averages considering how Christopher is still developing as a shooter. One really encouraging stat from Christopher is he shot 80 percent from the free-throw line, which means the shooting stroke is there and he can get to the line to score even when his shots aren’t falling.
Christopher is a rebounding machine who averaged 4.7 rebounds per game during his freshman season. In the 15 games he played, Christopher had four or more rebounds in 12 of them and went for a career-high 11 boards against UCLA.
— Mason Kern (@MasonKernMedia) January 8, 2021
His instincts for making plays near the rim always puts Christopher in good spots to get rebounds when they come available. Christopher also loves to get the ball and run out in transition and what better way to make that happen than getting a rebound and leading the charge yourself.
Even though Christopher scored double figures in 13 of 15 games his scoring never found that consistency you are looking for in a prospect. Christopher can score at all 3-levels but still never seemed to find his go-to spot on the floor at Arizona State.
Slow-motion look at Josh Christopher’s shooting stroke. The physical, scoring guard is shooting 58% from 2, 19% from 3 and 88.2% from the free throw line through 8 games. pic.twitter.com/BSHhXloRVH
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) January 9, 2021
Christopher doesn’t have the cleanest shot as the ball starts at his left hip then flows in a circular motion as opposed to a normal up and down shot. This is something opposing teams will notice in the NBA as his mechanics cause him to struggle from three-point range so defenses will be able to sag off him.
He shot just 59 threes last season and made only 18 of them as opposing defenses will likely let Christopher shoot and take their chances. Christopher is a much better player when he can drive the ball effectively — especially to his right — so defenses can just key on that and take it away forcing him to shoot the ball. His stroke is definitely something that can be fixed in the NBA, which is a positive and the fact that he still shot 80 percent from the free-throw line means his stroke is not completely broken.
We mentioned it before, but tunnel vision is something that really holds Christopher back. Yes, he was playing with some very talented players at Arizona State so when he got his chances he tried to make them count, but that often meant he rarely passed even when Christopher desperately needed too.
It’s evident in his stat line as Christopher averaged just 1.4 assists per game. The most assists Christopher had in a game was four as he dished out 3 twice, 2 three times, 1 five times, and had zero assists in four games.
Like the aggression from Josh Christopher on this pass. Nice vision and knows there’s a small opening where he can hit Cherry for the layup, but unfortunately Cherry isn’t able to finish it here. Still nice to see this passing from Christopher pic.twitter.com/vhjJhsj14h
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) December 4, 2020
As you can see in the tweet above, Christopher can be a solid passer, he just has to buy in and do it. Better shot selection will be key at the next level as that got Christopher in a ton of trouble as well. Instead of just passing to his teammates and moving on with the play, Christopher would sometimes jack up a prayer that had no shot of going in. That is something that can’t happen in the NBA or Christopher won’t be getting much playing time.
For a player that gets so few assists it’s never a good thing if you average more turnovers than dimes a game. That was the case with Christopher as he committed 1.7 turnovers per game, which honestly is not a terrible number if his assist numbers were higher.
It all goes back to forcing up shots that just aren’t there and getting his teammates more involved. Christopher has a habit of putting his head down and going 100 MPH till he reaches his destination. Even though he’s athletic enough to play fast, it often leaves his teammates in the dust, especially in transition.
The tough contested shots Christopher also took in college falls into the mental mistakes category. Even though some of them went in a lot of Christopher’s jump shots last year were low percentage looks that played into the defenses hand. Cleaning that up along with the turnovers will be key in the NBA if Christopher wants to have long term success.
Another option for the Nuggets at 26 overall and Christopher is a player Denver had in for a pre-draft workout. Christopher is definitely an upside player with so little college basketball experience and he is still 19 years old till December.
It feels like Christopher could be on the clock when Denver picks, so he is certainly someone to keep an eye on since they did work him out. The 26th pick feels a little rich to me for Christopher, but if he fell to the second round and you could trade back in to the draft to select him it would be a no brainer.