Malaki Branham emerged as a legitimate lottery selection over the course of the collegiate season thanks to his impressive scoring ability. He should be available once the Charlotte Hornets are on the clock at 13 and could be an interesting addition to their backcourt.
Height: 6’4” w/o shoes, 6’5.5” with shoes
Weight: 194.8 pounds
Standing reach: 8’6.5”
Vertical: 29” standing, 35” max
Branham spent just one year at Ohio State. He averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 49.8% shooting from the field and 41.6% shooting from three-point range. Despite his impressive efficiency from deep, however, Branham only attempted 2.8 threes per game. The freshman ranked second on the team in scoring behind EJ Liddell, another projected first-round pick.
The Buckeyes qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a seven seed. They took down Loyola Chicago in the first round before falling to Villanova in Round 2. Branham played well in both games, putting up 14 and 24 points, respectively. He shot a combined 15-of-26 (57.7%) from the field in the tournament.
Shooting, shot-creation, pick-and-roll
Branham’s biggest strength is his shooting. Although he didn’t take too many threes in college, he’s got an extremely smooth stroke and can nail shots from all over the court. He was a ridiculously efficient catch-and-shoot guy at Ohio State, too, despite limited attempts. That bodes well for him at the next level, as he likely won’t have as much freedom to create in the NBA as he did in college.
Malaki Branham had another phenomenal showing last night - 31 points on 10-14 FG. At 6’5 180, scored on all three levels using creativity, craft, and a smooth jumper - strengthening his case as a 1&D.— Derek Murray (@DMurrayHoops) February 25, 2022
80 points on 40 shots over his last three games. Still 18 years old. pic.twitter.com/5Wfz8Ej0Ay
While his raw three-point percentage may be a bit deceiving, it’s still a positive. He didn’t shoot the three-ball well until he got to Ohio State, but to see him thrive at such a high level gives hope for the future. If he can even out around 37% at the NBA level, he’ll be in good shape. But where Branham really has a chance to shine is with his shot creation and shot-making.
The 19-year-old is a great mid-range shooter. Once he picks his spot, he can get there with ease, shooting over even the tallest of defenders. He can get his jump shot off quickly if necessary and isn’t phased by opposing players in his face. Not only does he thrive off the catch, but he’s also great at creating his own looks and breaking down defenders.
Strong, pull-up jumper from Malaki Branham. pic.twitter.com/vGGDdUSIK3— Derek Murray (@DMurrayHoops) March 20, 2022
However, playing off the pick-and-roll is Branham’s bread and butter. If he gets a nice screen set for him, the scorer’s table might as well count the two points already. His mid-range game is so automatic that even the tiniest glimpse of open space is enough for him to get his shot off.
The Buckeye’s shooting mechanics are great, and while a guy like Johnny Davis may have the more intriguing package from mid-range, Branham’s combination of shot creation and a smooth stroke makes him the better candidate to become a knockdown shooter at the next level.
Branham’s most-used play type was the pick-and-roll (27.2% of his possessions), where he scored 1.044 points per possession (PPP), which ranked in the 94th percentile. pic.twitter.com/IJhN8ZXFNS— (@King0fCleveland) April 18, 2022
Branham also has some solid upside on the defensive side of the ball. He’s far from a lockdown guy, but with a 6’10 wingspan, he could have tremendous upside. The 6’4” guard isn’t a point-of-attack defender that can lead a defense, but he can hold his own. If he taps into his length and motor, he could become a sneakily underrated defender in the league.
Playmaking, defensive downside, creativity
While he’s great at getting to his spots and drawing multiple defenders, Branham lacks the ability to create shots for others. He often finds himself with tunnel-vision, focusing solely on getting his shot up. Branham showed some playmaking chops as the year went on, but it wasn’t as consistent as most would hope. Since his jump shot is so smooth, this wasn’t a huge problem at Ohio State, but with the defenders in the NBA taking things up a notch, he’ll need to develop a crisper passing game.
While there's room for improvement, I thought Malaki Branham had some interesting flashes passing out of the pick and roll this year. He showed a variety of passes, some more consistent than others, and think his passing is worth keeping an eye on going forward pic.twitter.com/NXpTfvt66p— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) April 19, 2022
In addition, there’s a small concern that Branham depends too much on his mid-range game. He’s got a nice shooting touch which should extend out to the three-point line, so again, this is a minor concern, but very few players have a ton of success at the NBA level on the back of their mid-range game alone.
Branham’s defensive potential is there. He’s got a solid frame and a nice, long wingspan. Unfortunately, he’s had some problems staying in front of smaller, quicker guards. He gets a bit stiff and stands too tall on the perimeter. This issue has led to mixed reviews regarding Branham’s defense. Some believe that he’ll be a top-notch perimeter defender, while others see him plateauing. It probably falls somewhere in the middle there, but he’ll need to continue to improve at the next level in order to reach his full potential.
Ohio State's Malaki Branham conducted a Pro Day in front of a packed house of decision makers at the NBA Combine. The projected lottery pick showed his fluidity and smooth mid-range game while mixing in some unexpected defensive drills. pic.twitter.com/TMzK89FXa3— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 21, 2022
Lastly, another knock on Branham’s game is his lack of creativity. He often does the same moves when coming off of screens, and it leads to predictable offense. Similar to his need to improve his playmaking, if Branham can expand his arsenal of scoring moves, it will give his game a necessary, lethal unpredictability that will help him excel at the NBA level.
Fit with Hornets
With all of his strengths and weaknesses, Branham would certainly be an intriguing fit next to LaMelo Ball. His lack of playmaking ability would largely be nullified by Ball’s incredible passing, and it would also allow Branham to focus on his scoring, which is easily his best attribute.
He would also benefit from a ton of fairly easy looks from distance in the flow of Charlotte’s offense. With Ball and Miles Bridges often drawing multiple defenders, Branham would theoretically have a ton of space to nail catch-and-shoot threes and attack defenders one-on-one.
Joining us for today’s #NBADraft workouts:— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) June 17, 2022
MarJon Beauchamp (G League Ignite)
Malaki Branham (Ohio State)
Kendall Brown (Baylor)
Bryce McGowens (Nebraska)
Isaiah Whaley (UConn)
Trevion Williams (Purdue)
His defensive potential could also be tapped into on a Hornets team that lacks any sort of perimeter defense. Outside of Cody Martin, they don’t have anyone ready to step up and guard the perimeter. If Branham wanted to, he could solidify himself as an immediate rotational player in Charlotte. All it would take is him tapping into his defensive potential and leaning into that side of the ball.
Unfortunately, Branham seems like the type of player who would thrive next to a big man that can set him hard screens, opening up the middle of the floor for him to work. The Hornets don’t have that. Charlotte has a glaring need for a big man, which will undoubtedly be something they address this summer. Drafting someone like Mark Williams or trading for a player like Richaun Holmes would make Branham’s fit on the team even more seamless.
A lack of a center shouldn’t dissuade the Hornets from selecting Branham. He wasn’t projected to be a one-and-done guy, but his improvements as a scorer and shooter transformed him into a lottery guy. Branham looks like he could be a great shooter at the next level, and that’s on top of his already-elite shot creation. There’s an easy argument for the Charlotte Hornets to focus on defense with their top picks, but pairing Branham next to Ball in the backcourt could be an interesting proposition.