clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Syracuse Basketball: Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Rakeem Christmas in Cleveland

Christmas will join the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In slightly less than a year, former Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas could very well be competing in the 2016 NBA Finals.

As far-fetched as that would've been to suggest a year ago, it's now plausible after Christmas was drafted 36th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in Thursday night's NBA Draft and immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are coming off a loss to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 Finals and will be overwhelming favorites to return to basketball's biggest stage next season.

Christmas should be capable of contributing immediately, but he'll have to fight for a spot in the rotation of what could be a very crowded frontcourt.

Assuming he makes the roster, here are the best and worst case scenarios for the big man in Cleveland:

Best case: Because the Cavaliers love big lineups, Christmas gets playing time immediately. After the potential departures of Kevin Love, Brendan Haywood, and Kendrick Perkins, the SU grad sees regular time with Cleveland's second unit.

By the end of the 2016-17 season, the Cavaliers part ways with Anderson Varejao, and Christmas sees even more court time as Timofey Mozgov's primary backup. Christmas, an exceptional rim protector and instinctively great defender, adapts nicely to playing man-to-man and guarding the pick-and-roll. His impressive wingspan and standing reach enable him to guard centers and traditional power forwards, and he proves athletic enough to defend stretch-4s away from the basket.

Though not quite as impactful as an offensive player, Christmas serves as a dependable post-up scorer when asked to be such. He shows that his performance at the NBA Draft Combine was no fluke by being able to consistently knock down the midrange jumper. For years, he serves as a valuable rotation player on Cleveland teams that compete for championships.

Worst case: By the end of his rookie contract, Christmas isn't getting better. It's obvious that he peaked during his senior season in college. At this point, he's closer to 30 years old than 20, and it's unlikely that he has any more potential to tap into.

As a player, he's too short at 6-foot-9 to defend centers and bigger power forwards and doesn't move well enough to guard stretch-4s. Nor does he adapt to defending the pick-and-roll style of basketball that dominates the NBA.

On offense, not much becomes of Christmas. Now that he's being defended by the Dwight Howards and Marc Gasols of the world, he's far from the low-post juggernaut that he was at Syracuse.

After never quite cracking into the regular rotation, Christmas doesn't get re-signed by the Cavs. There isn't a team willing to take another chance on him, and his NBA career ends up abruptly.

Bottom line: Christmas, unlike his former Syracuse teammate Chris McCullough, isn't just a long-term investment. He's a player who's ready to contribute now, and with LeBron James nearing age 31, the Cavs are doing everything they can to win now. This feels like a pretty good fit, and could look even better if Kevin Love leaves this offseason. Hell, maybe this pick is an indication that Cleveland expects him to.