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Big | 6’10 | 243 | Syracuse
Projected: 2nd rounder
Best Case: Gorgui Dieng
Most Likely: DeWayne Dedmon
Worst Case: Ekene Ibekwe
Rakeem Christmas was a late bloomer at Syracuse, not really fulfilling the promise afforded by his strong frame and athleticism until his senior season. If you’re going to take awhile to figure it out and still want to make the NBA, you better be spectacular when you do arrive. Christmas was just that this year, putting up an efficient 17.5 points per outing to go with 9 boards and a couple of swats a game.
He further improved his stock at the NBA Combine, impressing probably more than any other prospect in attendance. Christmas measured a little taller than expected at 6’10 but most impressive was his 7’5 wingspan and 9’2 standing reach. Those numbers take him from being considered an undersized center to more like prototypical size for a backup big. Christmas was also the best performer in the live scrimmaging, averaging 20 points, 6 boards and 2 blocks on 59% shooting.
Projecting how Christmas will transition to the NBA is tough. There is a history of NBA flameouts for players who blossom as upperclassman after mediocre early college stints, with Christmas certainly fitting that description. Another consideration is Syracuse syndrome – the growing list of players who emerge from Jim Boeheim’s system entirely unprepared for NBA ball, never recover and end up out of the league. One example Christmas will hope not to follow is that of Fab Melo, another athletic big who came out of Syracuse with question marks and promptly left the league with those still intact.
I have hope things will pan out better than that though. Assuming he can transition from Boeheim’s 2-3 zone to the more varied set of defenses the NBA has to offer, I can see Christmas having a long career as a two-way backup big and adequate stopgap starter.