In the 2016-17 season review of Semaj Christon TI examines the 24 year old rookie’s year and his stubborn refusal to quit.
With Russell Westbrook in full on beastmode, none of his OKC Thunder teammates could hit a shot. After several wide open misses, Westbrook passed the ball to Christon who promptly buried his corner three. The resulting effect cemented Westbrook’s name in NBA history annuls and simultaneously inked Christon as the answer to a trivia question.
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Christon played his college days at Xavier. Over the course of his two seasons he amassed decent stats. As a freshman in 2012-13 he averaged 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 30 games. In his sophomore season he averaged 17 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 34 games.
Although his rebounds and assists dipped in 2013-14, his shooting efficiency climbed. Specifically, his three point shot experienced a climb from 25 percent to 38.8 percent. Considering this improvement his significant regression at the pro level is puzzling. Optimists could chose to hope his first year experience can witness similar upticks in his second season.
Long journey to NBA:
In 2014 he entered the NBA Draft and was selected by the Miami Heat in the second round. His draft rights were traded by the Heat to the Charlotte Hornets. Shortly after, the OKC Thunder acquired his draft rights.
Upon arrival in OKC Christon was sent to the teams D-League squad for the 2014-15 season where he averaged 18.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals. Immediately Christon showed his defensive chops and the Thunder hoped he would mature into a reliable backup to Westbrook. Unfortunately, he wasn’t picked up by the varsity squad, so he spent his 2015-16 overseas playing for the Consultinvest VL Pesaro of the Liga League in Italy. While there he played 30 games with averages of 14. 3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assist.
Last summer with the departures of D.J. Augustin and Randy Foye the OKC Thunder were once more desperately seeking a Westbrook backup. After a successful Summer League, Christon was brought to camp along with Cameron Payne and Ronnie Price. At the time it seemed a certainty Price would make the squad. Instead Semaj Christon made his first cut to land on the 15 man OKC Thunder roster.
Fans of the OKC Thunder are beyond familiar with what has become a revolving door for Semaj Christon. In late September 2016, Westbrook’s backup Cameron Payne suffered a Jones fracture. Because of this Christon moved into the backup role. When Payne returned he got the nod as the backup.
Then Payne was packaged in the trade which brought Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to OKC. Again, Christon seemingly got the nod to become the backup. But things are never simple for Christon. To wit, Norris Cole was signed and the Thunder immediately moved him into the backup role.
Yet again, Christon ended up moving ahead of Cole when he was unable to provide what Billy Donovan was seeking from the backup. Even Victor Oladipo was slotted minutes with the bench in an effort to elicit more playmaking and offense from the reserve unit. But, you guessed it inevitably Semaj Christon ended up returning to the role.
Christon may not have convinced Donovan he has earned the backup role outright, but he sure does refuse to quit. Recalling players of the ilk of Chauncey Billups and Kyle Lowry who faced adversity through the early years of their career, Christon may have the most coveted NBA trait of all–tenacity.
Christon appeared in 64 games this season. His per game averages were:
- Minutes: 15.2
- Rebounds: 1.4
- Assists: 2.0
- Blocks: 0.1
- Turnovers: 0.7
- Field Goal Percent: 34.5 percent
- Three Point Percent: 19.0 percent
Christon’s shooting percentages are well below ideal, his trivia question 3-point shot not withstanding. That said, Christon does well to not turn the ball over– a trait he could stand to rub off on other Thunder players.
On four occasions this season Semaj Christon scored in double digits and on 7 occasions he spearheaded between 5 and 9 assists. Ultimately, what kept bringing Christon back to the court was his ability to create.
In the November 5 game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves Semaj scored 10 points and dished 5 assists in just under 20 minutes.
Another stand out performance came on April 4 when Semaj scored 10 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, doled out 3 assists and blocked a shot.
Yet, one moment this season may have been Semaj’s crowning moment in a Thunder uniform. Christon sunk the 3-point shot which provided Westbrook his 10th assist to give him his 42nd triple-double. Hence, Semaj Christon became the answer to a trivia question which will live well into the future.
Offseason Home Work:
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To reiterate, Christon isn’t under the delusion the backup role is his or that he’ll even be retained. Certainly the offseason priority will be to address team offensive issues. At the top of this list is playmaking both in terms of assists and creating shot opportunities for others as well as 3-point shooting.
If Christon wants to ensure his spot these areas should be his primary focus. Specifically, improving his shot with a view to 3-point efficiency. Further, developing more offensive versatility and improving his handle also need to be worked into his summer homework.
Let’s face it the backup role to Westbrook doesn’t afford players much time. Still, with the NBA being guard driven, there is an opportunity to gain playing time. OKC lack skilled playmakers and consistent shooters, specifically on the perimeter. So, it stands to reason any player who offered those assets could increase their role. Plenty of teams utilize two and three guards on court together. Windows of opportunity exist, but it’s on Christon to seize them.
Semaj Christon took years to break into the NBA and fought tooth and nail this season to retain his place and role within the OKC roster. Moving forward, Christon has the chance to be the master of his destiny via growth and expansion of his game. Certainly, much will depend on the offseason moves made by Sam Presti. But, for now, the backup point guard position remains open.
The big question is will Christon’s tenacity be enough to translate into retention of his roster position. Or will his fate simply end up being the answer to a trivia question?