As one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft
class, Malaki Branham has become quite the popular name over the
last few months on mocks and big boards. At this point last year,
the Saint Vincent-Saint Mary swingman was named Ohio’s Mr.
Basketball and preparing to head to The Ohio State University for
his freshman campaign with the Buckeyes.
Despite those accolades, and becoming the first member of the
Irish since LeBron James to win those honors, first-round NBA buzz
wasn’t quite attached to Branham’s name going into Columbus in the
fall. But whatever the projections were on the outside never
affected what he knew on the inside.
“I feel like I expected this from myself. I know a lot of people
didn't, but I expected it, and it's definitely a dream come true,”
Branham told reporters on Thursday afternoon ahead of next week’s
“You always wanna be in the green room, shake the commissioner's
hand, hearing your name called with your family. This has always
been a dream of mine, and I'm glad it's almost here.”
To this point, Branham has worked out for eight teams, including
the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Washington
Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks
and his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers. He also confirmed meeting
with the Sacramento Kings and draft-pick-less Brooklyn Nets.
Branham’s momentum from his senior season at STVM didn’t quite
carry over to his first moments with the Buckeyes. As he told our
Sr. NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock at the end of last month,
Branham was searching for his role early on and trying to fit in
the right way. Then, there was a moment when everything
“When we played Wisconsin at home, I had 0 points and 4
turnovers. I texted Coach [Chris] Holtmann after the game and
thanked him for letting me play through the mistakes that I was
making,” Branham shared with BasketballNews.com on
“I was just frustrated with myself, I looked in the mirror and
said, 'We need to get to work.' From that point, the Nebraska game
came, and I kept that in the back of my head and wanted to make
sure that the game wasn't just a fluke. I just wanted to be
consistent the rest of the year, and I feel like I did that."
He most certainly did. Coming off a poor, scoreless effort
against the Badgers, Branham exploded for a career-high 35 points
on 13-for-19 from the field (including 7-for-9 from deep). And
while it was only his second double-figure scoring game in 11
contests to that point, it was a harbinger of similar performances
Post-Nebraska blowout, Branham averaged 16.1 points, 3.7
rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He knocked down a sizzling 51.5%
of his field goals and 40.6% of his triple tries during that
stretch to boot.
Compare that to his pedestrian beginning to the year — 6.3
points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 38.8% shooting overall in
his first 10 contests— and it was a complete turnaround. After
that, Branham was doing it on all levels: attacking the rim,
letting it fly from distance and, utilizing his marquee skill,
pulling up from mid-range.
“Getting to my spots, that's what I've been working on my whole
life,” Branham said. “I know it's gonna be more difficult with
longer guys, quicker guys, but I feel like it's a lot more spacing
in the NBA. Not a lot of people are in gaps like heavy gaps in
With such a drastic improvement and development throughout the
season at Ohio State, it was only a matter of time before Branham
started gaining momentum in pro circles and among draft media.
Babcock currently has the 6-foot-5, 194-pounder going to the
Charlotte Hornets at No. 15:
Branham was ranked 35th in the 2021 RSCI recruiting class and,
after a slow start, burst onto the scene in conference play. At
6-foot-5, he plays with patience and is a smooth, three-level
scorer. He is comfortable operating in the pick-and-roll, mid-range
and has shown promise as a spot-up shooter. Branham is full of
potential and is hitting his stride as a scoring threat, so he's
certainly one to watch during the pre-draft process as he
It’s always fun to go through the pre-draft experience with a
teammate. Unsurprisingly, Branham has been in close contact with
E.J. Liddell, a fellow Buckeye and projected first-round draft pick
in his own right.
“I've been in a couple workouts with him like Cleveland and
Houston, so we've been able to talk throughout this process. We
just really want to see each other win and see each other get
drafted too,” Branham said of the former Ohio State forward.
As he told Babcock, he’s emulated Devin Booker and Khris
Middleton, and today he added that Caris LeVert is another player
he’s watched closely.
Branham stated that the feedback he’s gotten from teams has been
positive, mostly highlighting his shot-making ability and
facilitating to make plays for others. In addition, he understands
the value of being a 3-and-D guy at the NBA level, and that he’s
deeply focused on being stronger on the defensive side of the
Branham’s elevator pitch to Babcock was simple: He lives and
breathes basketball. When asked by the media contingent what makes
him stand out over the rest of the 2022 class, Branham said that's
it's his efficiency.
“I feel like what separates me is really just me being
efficient, me being efficient in my scoring and what I do on the
court,” Branham said. “I do it at a high clip, I feel like,
shooting the ball, scoring. I feel like I'm a good, efficient
player. So I feel like that's what I do best out of everybody in
the draft class.”
Only one week of time remains until Malaki Branham realizes his
NBA dream, and for how far he’s come in the span of a year, he’s
damn sure earned it.
“The process has been good. It's been a good learning
experience," Branham said. I met a lot of guys throughout this
process, working out against 'em. Really the expectation is kinda
just work as hard as I can, control what I can control and make the
team better, and also, help the team win games — whoever picks
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