A Mcdonald's All-American three and a half years ago, Rakeem Christmas' career at Syracuse hasn't really evolved the way some may have hoped. Despite being one of the oldest players in his high school class (he turns 23 in December), Christmas barely played as a freshman and then followed that up with two relatively non-descript seasons, averaging around 10 points per-40 with average rebounding numbers to boot.
While Christmas hasn't developed into a prolific scorer (his 10.8 points per-40 was lower than any college player drafted last season, and his overall usage rate is miniscule), he's managed to at least become a more efficient offensive player, upping his 2P% from 53 to 61% as a junior and his free throw percentage from 57 to 73%. Still, he's largely a non-factor offensively, with a 12% usage rate that would rank dead last among any player drafted in the past 13 years, showing just how rarely he touched the ball for Syracuse in his 24 minutes per game this past season.
Not a very skilled big man, Christmas sees most of his offense by crashing the glass, diving to the rim on cuts and pick and rolls, and mixing in the occasional post-up for good measure. He lacks the lower body strength or footwork to be overly effective with his back to the basket, as he doesn't possess great touch and is relatively passive looking to assert himself, but can be very dangerous when catching the ball in the immediate vicinity of the rim.
He ranked as one of the best finishers in college basketball last season, converting an outstanding 73% of his attempts around the basket, thanks to his tremendous length and very good leaping ability, allowing him to elevate and convert plays from impressive distances. Unfortunately Christmas saw less than two opportunities per game in these situations, despite playing next to one of the best passers in the country in Tyler Ennis (and Michael Carter-Williams the year before).
Outside of catching and finishing, there isn't much to speak of regarding Christmas' contributions offensively. He doesn't show enough intensity running the floor to be much of a factor in transition for Syracuse (scoring 4 points all season according to Synergy), he rarely draws fouls, and he hasn't shown much range on his jump-shot beyond 10-12 feet.
Defensively, Christmas has nice tools with his terrific 7-4 wingspan which allows him to play bigger than his 6-9 height, and very good athleticism to boot. He sits at the back of Syracuse's trademark 2-3 zone and rarely strays very far outside of the paint, being tasked with protecting the basket, which he does very well.
Christmas blocks shots at a high rate, as his 3.6 blocks per-40 would rank sixth best among returning Top-100 prospects if he was deemed as such. He uses his length very effectively to contest shots around the paint and sometimes on the perimeter when forced to make a closeout, as he's very mobile and quick off his feet.
Christmas' lack of size and lower body strength works against him at times, as opposing teams often looked to post him up as a way of attacking Syracuse's zone. He struggles to hold his ground at times and will give up deep post-position in turn, something that would likely be more of an issue against higher level competition operating as an undersized center like he has throughout his career thus far.
Christmas chases a lot of blocks, which puts him out of position on the glass, one of the reasons he averaged just 5 defensive rebounds per-40 minutes last season, a very poor rate. However, he also doesn't show great instincts for pursuing loose balls, often looking content just standing around flat-footed when rebounds come off the rim, as he doesn't appear to have the highest motor around. He's been a relatively poor rebounder his entire college career, which is not ideal considering how limited a player he is offensively already.
After four years of sitting inside the paint and protecting the basket as part of Syracuse's zone, Christmas will be at somewhat of a disadvantage relative to his counterparts transitioning to professional basketball as he attempts to learn how to operate in man to man settings virtually from scratch. Can he guard power forwards on the perimeter? How would he fare in different pick and roll schemes? These are all total unknowns for NBA decision makers and coaching staffs, which won't help his cause.
With that said, after starting over 100 games at Syracuse, Christmas will be one of the most experienced players in the ACC, and it will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays this season on a team that is in somewhat of a rebuilding phase. With no Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, or Jerami GrantSyracuse's top three scorers last year- someone will need to step up and play a much bigger role for the Orange offensively, and Coach Jim Boeheim has already gone on the record saying Christmas will be the most improved player in the conference. This is a big year for Christmas, as he has one last chance to show that he wasn't such a highly touted player in high school for nothing, and after losing quite a bit from last season, Syracuse will need all the help they can get from him.