NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: Rakeem Christmas February 24, 2015 Scouting Report by Jonathan Givony. Video Analysis by Mike Schmitz
An underachiever for the better part of three years at Syracuse, Rakeem Christmas came to life as a 23-year old senior. He strung together a very productive season that will unfortunately come to a premature conclusion as Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban preventing the team from competing in the NCAA Tournament, ACC Tournament, and NIT.
Christmas' role grew dramatically playing for one of the weakest Syracuse teams in Jim Boeheim's tenure, with his usage rate rising from a middling 12-13% his first three years to 26% as a senior. Despite the huge increase in touches, his efficiency remained extremely high, with his 62% TS% rating 14th best among college players in our Top-100 prospect rankings. He's been very effective with his back to the basket this season, is a near-automatic finisher around the rim off cuts and pick and rolls, and hits a respectable 71% of his free throw attempts, a place where he's found himself very frequently.
Sporting very good physical tools, Christmas doesn't have great size for a center at 6-9, but makes up for that somewhat with a very long 7-3 wingspan, strong athletic ability, and a frame that should continue to fill out in time. This, combined with his solid timing and ability to get off the ground quickly, helps him as a rim protector, where he blocks 2.9 shots per-40 minutes, good for 12th among DX Top-100 prospects.
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Christmas still has an uphill battle in terms of showing he can translate his effectiveness within the confines of Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense to NBA settings, where he won't just be able to park in the middle of the paint for 35 seconds every possession.
Beyond the numbers, his awareness and intensity level still leaves a lot to be desired at times, as he's frequently posted up due to his lack of lower body strength or caught out of position showing lackadaisical effort and poor fundamentals. This shows up in his rebounding numbers as well, where he's just average at the moment, despite having good hands and strong physical tools. Besides learning an entirely new way of playing defense at age 24, Christmas will likely need to move down a position in the NBA as well, as he'd almost certainly struggle having to guard centers full-time, all of whom will be significantly taller and stronger than him.
Christmas has done an excellent job of making substantial improvements as a senior, but there are still significant question marks about how his game will translate to NBA settings. His offensive game remains limited, as he's much more of an undersized center offensively than the type of versatile power forward we're increasingly seeing in today's NBA. Trying to post up NBA big men will likely be very different than backing down college teenagers, and his perimeter game hasn't shown much improvement since he arrived at Syracuse, besides his free throw shooting.
Combine that with the fact that he's the oldest player in our Top-100 rankings by nearly five months (if he were an international player he would have been automatically eligible for the 2013 NBA Draft) and it's fair to question how much upside he still has left to tap into. Christmas is a day older than Brandon Knight for example, who played his last college game four years ago. He is four and a half months younger than Derrick Favors, who is in his fifth season in the NBA. The track record of players in this mold is not encouraging to say the least. [Read Full Article] Top NBA Prospects in the ACC, Part 10: Prospects #22-26 October 27, 2014
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 Grant—Syracuse'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. [Read Full Article] Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East, Part Two October 13, 2012
A McDonald's All-American and consensus top-25 recruit coming out of the Academy of the New Church in Pennsylvania, Rakeem Christmas played a fairly small role for the Orange as a freshman. Plugged into the middle of Jim Boeheim's zone for 11.5 minutes per-game, the 6'9 post struggled with foul trouble, but showed promise in a number of areas. With Fab Melo moving on to the NBA, Christmas will compete with junior Baye Moussa-Keita and incoming freshman DeJuan Coleman for minutes in the post for one of the nation's most talented teams.
Standing 6'9 with a 7'3 wingspan, Christmas has good dimensions for a power forward, but functioned primarily as a center last season. A very good athlete with a frame that has terrific potential to carry more muscle, Christmas, at the very least, passes the look test. As he evolves as an offensive threat, he could emerge as a more viable prospect at the power forward position, which he'll likely need to in time.
At this point, Christmas's offensive arsenal is mostly limited to catch and finish opportunities. Able to play above the rim effortlessly in space, the freshman shot 62% at the rim in his first year of college basketball. Benefitting from the versatility of Syracuse's deep, experienced back court, Christmas still needs to improve his touch around the rim to help him finish under defensive pressure and has plenty of room to expand his versatility and role for the Orange.
Christmas also has ample room to improve his overall skill level. He was, for all intents and purposes, never asked to create his own shot or make plays away from the rim. He did not attempt a single jump shot last season according to Synergy Sports Technology and lacked the polish to score with any consistency in post-up situations on either block. If Christmas is to reach his full potential, he'll need to find a way to contribute in back to the basket situations and become a more competent player away from the rim.
Christmas's best contributions came on the defensive end. Averaging a solid 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per-40 minutes pace adjusted, Christmas had some nice moments patrolling the paint last season, thanks to his terrific physical tools. Lacking discipline, seldom staying on the floor when encountering a pump-fake, and still clearly uncomfortable defending away from the rim, Christmas will have to become a more active, fundamentally sound defender to make the most of his abilities on this end of the floor. Perpetually in foul trouble, Christmas's ability to hold his own and be physical without fouling in the center of the Orange zone could be the biggest factor in his playing time this season.
Still in the early stages of his development, Christmas is a raw but intriguing long-term prospect thanks to his tremendous length and athleticism. If he's able to show significant development in a few key areas as a sophomore, he could gain some traction among scouts this season, but ultimately may end up needed more seasoning. [Read Full Article] 2011 Nike Hoop Summit: USA Team Measurements April 12, 2011 Rakeem Christmas Height (with shoes): 6-9 ¼
Wingspan: 7-3 ½ [Read Full Article] Mcdonald's All-American Interviews: Plumlees vs Zellers, Cuse Recruits April 5, 2011 Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas discuss their future legacy with the Syracuse Orange.
[Read Full Article] HoopHall Classic Scouting Reports: Elite Prospects (Part Two) January 22, 2011 Jonathan Givony
There isn't much new to report about Rakeem Christmas (#16 Scout, #12 Rivals, #11 ESPN) following the very poor performance (3 points, 5 rebounds, 25 minutes) he put in at the HoopHall Classic, a game in which his squad blew a 16-point fourth quarter lead and lost to a very average team.
The 6-9 Christmas has clearly added weight and looks even more the part of a top prospect from a physical standpoint, with his excellent frame, super long arms and terrific athleticism. He's a quick jumper who runs the floor extremely well and can play well above the rim.
Beyond that, though, he clearly has a ways to go, as he has a very low skill-level offensively and has never really tried to exert himself in the half dozen or so times we've seen him play. His hands are somewhat questionable, his footwork in the post is poor, and his fundamentals on defense leave a lot to be desired. People who have watched him extensively report that these types of performances are not out of the norm for him, especially on this current high school team he plays for.
With that all that said, it's not difficult to see where the excitement about Christmas stems from, as players with his tools are very rare, and it usually takes big men longer to develop. His effort level, feel and polish will have to improve if he wants to get major playing time immediately at Syracuse, though, as he's going to play for a team that is returning a pretty solid frontcourt. [Read Full Article] Adidas Nations Tournament: High School Prospects August 24, 2009 A consensus top-5 recruit in the 2011 high school class, it’s easy to get enamored with Rakeem Christmas’ (#5 Scout, #4 Rivals, #7 ESPN) upside. He passes the look test and then some on first glance, showing decent size, a good frame, long arms and downright freakish athleticism. Christmas (no relation to ex-Temple swingman Dionte Christmas) jumps out of the gym, runs the floor like a deer, and is extremely quick off his feet.
Offensively, Christmas is extremely limited at this point, which probably isn’t a huge surprise considering the stage of development he’s currently at. He gets most of his offense by running the court in transition, presenting himself at the rim for easy finishes, and crashing the offensive glass. On the block, he has very little in the ways of footwork or post-moves, and doesn’t seem to be all that interested in scoring actually. Disinterested is a word that seems to come up a little more than you’d hope when it comes to Christmas, as he doesn’t always seem to be competing all that hard, looking fairly apathetic at times and not really putting his terrific tools to good use.
Defensively, Christmas has huge potential, and he already can be very effective as both a shot-blocker and man to man defender when he puts his mind to it. His length and terrific leaping ability allows him to establish himself as a major presence rotating from the weak-side, and we saw him send back quite a few shots while watching him play, sometimes in emphatic fashion. His lack of strength makes it difficult for him to avoid being posted up by stronger big men, but his length and lateral quickness can be extremely bothersome, leaving a lot of room for optimism in this regard as his frame continues to fill out. He can already step out and hedge screens on the perimeter quite effectively, which is a nice asset to have from your big man.
Christmas is someone that obviously jumps off the page immediately right now thanks to the undeniable potential he possesses, mostly thanks to his terrific physical attributes. He’s still got quite a ways to go obviously, though, especially in terms of the effort level he displays. [Read Full Article]