We’re just about two months away from the 2015 NBA Draft, so I came up with a series that will help that time speed up. Every week, I will be come up with a “Senior Sleeper” in the draft, a player who might not be drafted high based off them hitting their supposed “upside” but drastically outperform and exceed expectations in the NBA.
We’ve seen four-year college players have success despite being drafted in the late first or early second round. Some notable players include Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Chandler Parsons. These will be some players who fit the same mold. First up is power forward/center Rakeem Christmas out of Syracuse.
6-9, 250 PF/C
Lost in the drama surrounding the Syracuse basketball program and Jim Boeheim this past season was a former McDonald’s All-American coming into his own as a player and NBA Draft prospect. Rakeem Christmas finally put together everything in a successful senior campaign where he put up career-highs across the board in points (17.5), rebounds (9.1), assists (1.5), blocks (2.5) and steals (0.9).
Despite the tumultuous season, Christmas was the lone bright spot. The previous three seasons left the Syracuse faithful wondering if Christmas would ever reach his immense potential, failing to average double-figures in each season. He increased his points per game average by 11.7 points per game from his junior to senior season.
At 6-9 and 250 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan, Christmas has an NBA body with good athleticism. He’s very efficient on post-ups, shooting just over half (51.5 percent) of his shots as two-point shots making a solid 41.8 percent of them according to hoop-math.com. The other half of his shots (48.2 percent) come at the rim where he uses his strength, length and explosiveness 70.1 percent of his opportunities. He runs the floor well in transition, leading to many easy baskets. It all added up to Christmas having the fifth-highest shooting percentage in the ACC this past fall at 55.2 percent.
Christmas has the body, game and story similar to a player like Taj Gibson when he came out of USC. Gibson was looked at as an older prospect without much more potential but turned into one of the best sixth men in the League and a shot-blocking menace with strength to overpower back-up big men.
Christmas could have the same type of career. Just like Gibson, he’s already perceived as old for a prospect at 23 years old. He only had one breakout season, so scouts might be suspicious of a one-year wonder. He was highly inconsistent in his first three years, but he hit double-figure scoring in 29 out of 31 games as a senior, showing promise in that area. Christmas had a usage rate of 26 percent this season after his usage was around 12-13 percent his first three seasons.
He was strong statistically on defense with 2.5 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, but it remains to be seen how he does playing man-to-man. Syracuse played its vaunted 2-3 zone over his four years, so it’s his biggest question mark as a prospect. Christmas will have to continue to develop his mid-range game playing on the perimeter, as his best position appears to be as a power forward. He only made four out of the 15 mid-range jump shots he took this past season, but jumpers are the most improvable as player’s head to the NBA.
Christmas is a high-energy, improving low-post scorer that has the size to be physical and block shots in the paint in the NBA. He’ll most likely be picked between 25-45 thanks to his age and one year of production at Syracuse. But, in a few years, I think he will add range to his jumper and be a serviceable big man off the bench capable of playing both the four and five, somewhat like Taj Gibson is right now for the Chicago Bulls.
NBA comparison: Taj Gibson