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Know the Prospect: Malaki Branham

A closer look at the promising one-and-done from OSU.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Men’s Championship - Second Round - Ohio State v Villanova Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As reported recently, an impressive group of draft prospects visited the New York Knicks’ Tarrytown facility for workouts this week. World Wide Wes (Executive Vice President / Alleged Superstar Magnet) was so thrilled by this crew that he took them to dinner. Dining on Wesley’s dime were such lottery-bound players as Dyson Daniels, Ty Ty Washington, and Ohio State’s freshman wing Malaki Branham. Welcome to New York, Malaki!

Branham turned heads during the 2021-22 season. He ranked second on the Buckeyes in field goal attempts (322) and points per game (13.7), played in all 32 games this season, and started all but one. He averaged 29.6 minutes per game and 10 field goal attempts (making half!) but took only 2.8 threes despite shooting 41% from long-range. Rounding out the stats, he grabbed 3.6 rebounds and chipped in two dimes per contest.

Roll that beautiful Branham footage.

At June’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, the 19-year-old measured 6’4” barefoot and 6’5.5” in sneakers, and weighed 194.8 lbs. He has a standing reach of 8’6.5” and a 6’10” wingspan. Essentially, he has the dimensions of Canada’s finest, RJ Barrett, minus an inch or two of height.

There’s plenty to like about the young Ohioan. He’s an efficient scorer from anywhere on the floor, who can use both hands but tends to drive more aggressively to the right. He has a sparkling mid-range game and can create opportunities for himself. And he’s a skilled ball-handler who can shake his man and penetrate the lane, where his long arms allow him to elevate for a high-release point.

This year, a quarter of his shots came at the rim, when he cashed in 71% of the time; about half of his shots were two-point jumpers, which he completed at a rate of 43%; and 28% of his overall attempts were from deep. (Stats courtesy of Hoop-Math.com.)

Compared to his Big Ten peers, Malaki’s 83.3% from the line was good for second overall. I like guys who make free throws! His 55% eFG ranked ninth, and his 59% True Shooting was good for tenth in the Big Ten. And his 49.8% field goal percentage was good for seventh in the conference.

Watch him donkey-kick Nebraska for a career-high 35 points!

He’s been compared to Khris Middleton and Caris LeVert. What about accolades, you ask? How about:

  • 2021-22 All-Big Ten - 3rd Team
  • 2021-22 Big Ten All-Freshman
  • 2021-22 Big Ten Rookie of the Year

Before college, the St. Vincent-St Mary product was the school’s first winner of Ohio’s Mr. Basketball since LeBron James took the title (three times, natch). At Ohio State, he was a featured Buckeye throughout the year, and his minutes really jumped about mid-way through the season. Following his 43-minute game against Nebraska (an OSU win), Branham played 30 or more minutes in 19 of the remaining 20 games.

Ohio State finished with a 20-12 (12-8, 4th in Big Ten) record this season and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Villanova. In that final game, Malaki played 39 minutes and finished with 23 points and 19 field goal attempts (tied for his high this season). He shot a respectable 53% from the floor but managed only two rebounds and four assists.

For the season, Branham had 10 games of 18 or more points, including two in the thirties. However, he also had 13 games of fewer than 10 points, including a quiet one against Michigan in which he scored six points in 31 minutes.

His shooting touch from deep surprised scouts this season as a new development, causing some to wonder if the heat was a fluke. Would he maintain his rate of success with double the attempts? He is handy enough with the ball to facilitate as a secondary playmaker, and he can get downhill and score at the rim against collegiate competition. Won’t NBA bigs be less accommodating to the youngster? Fair questions.

Still, his potential is so promising that I predict he will go in the teens of the Draft. I saw one site mock him to the Pelicans with the 15th pick, and Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer mocks him at 22 to Memphis. He could even end up in his home state.

The 3-on-3 scrimmages at Tarrytown this week were intense, according to Stefan Bondy. The intrepid reporter quoted Branham as saying, “If I’m a lottery guy, and the next guy’s a lottery guy, I’m going at his head.”

That kind of quote gives me the tingles. Branham has that classic, hard-nose temperament I want in our Knickerbockers! He has the right attitude and the physical gifts to make it in the association. Sure, I said that his defense needs work, but his motor is good on that end, and his skills will surely improve under NBA-level coaching and training. In time, he can learn to stick with his man through screens and learn how to better use his arms to be a disruptive defender.

As I see it, the Knicks have a logjam at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The more pressing need is at the point guard position unless Immanuel Quickley is given the keys, or at center if Mitchell Robinson decides to boogie on, reggae woman. I don’t see Leon Rose & Co. grabbing Malaki unless they plan to offload one of the other wings on the roster. Maybe Alec Burks gets packaged in a trade? Hmm.

No doubt, more will be revealed on Draft Night. Here’s Malaki scoring 31 against Illinois to whet yer whistle. Peace til next time.