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Examining where Ohio State’s Malaki Branham is projected to go


A year ago at this time, most people involved in the NBA were unaware of Malaki Branham. While the shooting guard out of Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School was a top-40 prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, his name didn’t appear on any NBA mock drafts.

How quickly things change in a year’s time. Branham put together a fantastic freshman season at Ohio State, finishing as the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer, helping to lead the team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with his play over the second half of the year. This not only led Branham to Big Ten Freshman of the Year and third-team All-Big Ten honors, but it made him an unexpected one-and-done when he declared for the NBA Draft and elected to keep his name in the pool last month.

The reason for this change is that Branham, due to his play for the Scarlet and Gray since January, has skyrocketed up NBA Draft boards. The player who was on no one’s radar heading into the college basketball season is now expected to be a lottery pick in next month’s draft.

With the draft order now set and the NBA Combine — where Branham again showed off his skills — in the books, Bucknuts went through a number of mock drafts to see where the former Ohio State freshman is expected to land.

Malaki Branham’s projections:

David Cobb, CBS Sports: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer: Round 1, Pick 18, Chicago Bulls

Jonathan Givony, ESPN: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Sam Vecenie, The Athletic: Round 1, Pick 16, Atlanta Hawks

Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Krysten Peek, Yahoo Sports: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Carl Berman, NetScouts Basketball: Round 1, Pick 17, Houston Rockets

Ricky O’Donnell, SB Nation: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Bryan Kalbrosky, USA Today: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Basketball News: Round 1, Pick 14, Cleveland Cavaliers

Chase Hughes and Mike Deprisco, NBC Sports: Round 1, Pick 18, Chicago Bulls

Branham finished his freshman year in Columbus averaging 13.7 points as well as 3.6 rebounds and two assists per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the court, 41.6 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent from the free throw line. But he began the 2021-22 season coming off the bench for the Scarlet and Gray. Head coach Chris Holtmann inserted him into the starting lineup prior to the second game of the year and Branham never looked back.

The freshman announced himself to the college basketball world in early January, scoring a career-high 35 points in an overtime win at Nebraska. This came following a 22-day layoff for the team due to a COVID-19 outbreak and Branham, who never tested positive for the virus, carried the group that night.

Branham then established himself as Ohio State’s No. 2 scorer behind junior forward EJ Liddell, scoring in double figures in 17 of the Buckeyes’ 20 remaining games on the year. Branham was crucial in an overtime win against Indiana — scoring 27 points — and in a road upset of Illinois — 31 points scored. His final game in a Scarlet and Gray uniform came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament where Branham managed 23 points in a defeat to Villanova.

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If many of the above projections are correct, Branham won’t be going far for the start of his NBA career. Many Ohio State fans would love to see Branham playing two hours north for the Cavaliers. This would continue Branham following in the footsteps of LeBron James, who made St. Vincent-St. Mary famous before beginning his legendary NBA career in Cleveland.





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