The 2022 NBA Draft is just over a week away. In Detroit, all eyes are on which prospect the Pistons will select with the fifth overall pick.
Unlike last year’s draft, there is no consensus pick for Detroit. Cade Cunningham with the first pick in 2021 was an easy choice to make. Now, GM Troy Weaver and the front office have to wait and see how the first four picks shake out.
With the fifth pick, the Pistons could find a new backcourt partner for Cunningham in Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin or Shaedon Sharpe, or they could target a high floor player in Keegan Murray.
While the most important and intriguing headline is who the Pistons end up taking with the fifth pick, they also have a second-round selection to make in the upcoming draft. Detroit holds the 46th overall pick in the draft as well, a pick they acquired from the Brooklyn Nets.
One direction the Pistons could go with their second-rounder is to take an in-state prospect from either Michigan State University or the University of Michigan. Last season, the Pistons landed a former Wolverine in Isaiah Livers. This season, the front office could return to the Michigan pool by selecting Caleb Houstan with the 46th pick, or they could take a chance on a Spartan by taking Max Christie.
If taking an in-state prospect is the route the Pistons decide to take, there is good reason to take either player. Christie offers a bit more upside, but Houstan is more of a sure bet to be a contributing role player. Of course, there is no guarantee either guy will develop into an NBA-level talent. But if either does become a rotational or situational role player, that is an automatic win for Detroit at the 46th pick.
Pistons would need to give Max Christie time to develop
Christie flashed a lot of potential in his lone season at Michigan State. The 19-year-old started all 35 of his games played with the Spartans. He was named Big Ten All-Freshman with averages of 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists while playing 30.8 minutes per game. It was by no means a dominant freshman season, but it was a solid one.
Christie has good size for a wing. He stands at 6-5 with a 6-8 wingspan. He has a slight frame, weighing in at only 189 pounds, but he has plenty of room to pack on muscle as he develops. If Detroit pursues Christie in the second round, the team would have to be patient with his growth. He is not ready for the NBA yet. While Christie flashed NBA potential, he has plenty of improvement areas as well.
Coming out of high school, Christie projected to be a knockdown three-point shooter but did not live up to the billing at Michigan State. Christie shot 31.7 percent from beyond the arc this past season, and he got worse as the season dragged on. The freshman shot 24 percent over the last 16 games of the season. Improving his long-range shot is his first priority at the next level.
There is good reason to believe Christie can become a better three-point shooter. For the most part, his shooting mechanics are sound. He starts a bit low but combines a fluid motion with a high release.
If Christie can connect on more of his three-pointers, he would be a solid off-ball scorer. He moves really well without the ball in his hands. Christie has good navigation running off screens, gets to the line in transition and spaces the floor in pick-and-rolls. He does everything before the shot well, it is just a matter of getting his jumpers to fall.
Finishing and self-creation
Christie has a lot of room for growth when it comes to finishing around the rim and creating his own shot. He flashed upside in some moments. The 19-year-old has a decent dribble pull-up, he does a good job attacking closeouts and he has connected on some tough shots. However, these moments were often overshadowed by poor play with the ball in his hands.
Christie does not generate much separation when trying to create for himself. He is most effective as a single dribble pull-up off of a catch. When forced to do more, he struggles. He does not have a quick first step, and defenders are able to easily stick to him. He is often forced off his line when he drives to the basket and settles for contested pull-ups instead.
When Christie is able to get to the basket, he does not finish well. The freshman shot 40.9 percent on attempts from around the rim. He does not finish well through contact. He lacks the strength to hold his ground and get a good look at the basket. Christie often ends up hoisting up a shot while falling away from the basket.
Christie is an effective defender when he is engaged. He had his share of lapses on the defensive end during his freshman season, but when he was locked in, he held his own.
Christie has good lateral quickness. He is able to cut off driving lanes and stay in front of his man. He has good bend around screens and his long arms help recover any ground he gave up fighting through them. Christie stands straight on defense, which limits his fouls. His length makes it difficult for opponents to finish over him around the rim.
Adding muscle to his frame will add to Christie’s defensive versatility. He holds his own against most guards, but he will be subject to bully-ball inside when he is switched onto stronger players. If he can add that muscle, Christie would possess the length, defensive versatility and switchability that the Pistons covet in their wings.
Detroit would get face value in Caleb Houstan
What you see is what you get with Houstan. The University of Michigan product projects as a decent 3-and-D option off the bench. He does not have a lot of upside, but he should have a provide decent minutes in a rotational role. He averaged 10.1 points, and four rebounds per game in 34 contests with the Wolverines.
The 19-year-old has good size at 6-8 and 205 pounds. He does not have an officially listed wingspan, but he has good length. Houstan’s size and play style is reminiscent of Livers. He could become a reliable two-way role player, but his lack of athletic upside limits his ceiling as a prospect.
Houstan shot the three-ball well during his freshman season at Michigan. He sank 35.5 percent from beyond the arc on five attempts per game. He has a natural shooting motion with a high release. His motion does not require a lot of load up providing him with a quick release.
The 19-year-old’s off-ball role with the Wolverines should translate seamlessly to the NBA level. He consistently connects on catch-and-shoot opportunities and has good off-ball movement as well.
The young wing should not be asked to do much more than play as an off-ball shooter. With the ball in his hands, Houstan is not a major offensive threat. He does not have an explosive first step. His pull-up game leaves a lot to be desired. He lacks a tight handle, and he struggles to finish around the rim with many of his shots around the basket winding up blocked.
Houstan plays his role well on the defensive end. He possesses good strength and does a good job of staying in front of his man. He cuts off passing lanes and forces opponents to settle for pull-up looks. Houstan makes the most of his length and contests these pull-ups with relative ease.
His long arms also allow Houstan to disrupt the opposing ball-handler’s dribble. He finds ways to poke the ball free and deflect passes. He denies entry passes to the paint.
While Houstan is solid on the defensive end of the floor, he still has his limitations. His lack of athleticism and quick feet limit his switchability. But for a player projected to play a role off the bench, his defensive abilities are more than suitable.
Should the Pistons target Christie or Houstan?
If Detroit does decide to take the in-state prospect route with the 46th pick, they have a choice to make in what type of player they want. Houstan projects to be a reliable rotational or situational player at the next level. However, he probably will not become much more than a 3-and-D wing in a bench role. Christie offers more upside. His ceiling is somewhere around a starting-caliber guard, but he is a project.
Or, the Pistons could always take a completely different route. It is the second round, and no one really knows what players teams are homing in on there.
(Featured Image Credit: Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports)