September 30, 2022

Welcome to the second installment of my rookie scouting report series for Pounding the Rock. We’ve looked at Jeremy Sochan in Part 1, and it’s time for an in-depth analysis of Malaki Branham, the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and the middle child of San San’s three first-round teen selections. Antonio.

The Ohio State guard was one of the best freshmen in college basketball last season, with a meteoric rise following a COVID hiatus positioning him as a possible lottery target. As the 17th ranked prospect on my Big Board, Branham was one of the biggest stealers in this class, but he is by no means a finished product.

Malaki Branham | ohio state | Freshman | Guard |

Measurements

Height: 6′ 5”

Weight: 195 pounds

Wingspan: 6′ 10”

Date of birth: 5/12/2003

Statistics (32 GP)

Per game: 13.7 PPG/3.6 RPG/2.0 APG/0.7 SPG/0.3 BPG

Par 36: 16.7 PPG/4.4 RPG/2.4 APG/0.9 SPG/0.4 BPG

Shot divisions: .498 FG%/.416 3P%/.833 FT%

Offense

  • Excellent short midrange area efficiency, went 38 of 77 (49.4%) and ranked in the 87th percentile of that area while creating 81.8% of his field goals himself two-point rimless.
  • Plays at a methodical pace in the midrange, uses jab steps to set up possession before using spins, bumps, pump simulations, jump stops to generate enough space to shoot his shot, gets good lift but stays balanced in the air, stops on a dime, uses a variety of different footwork when pulling
  • Does a great job attacking aggressive closures with fake shots to get defenders in the air, then using some dribbling to create space for his mid-range jumper
  • Also showed midrange shooting potential coming off loops and pins, had just 31 possessions shooting screens away from the ball at Ohio State, but looked fluid and comfortable using loops and pins to create a nice look inside the arch or to get to the rim.
  • Among the nation’s most effective pick-and-roll scorers. He shot 53 of 89 (59.6%) and ranked in the 95th percentile for that type of play. Branham had excellent command of snaking ball screens, shifting gears, trapping defenders on the back or hip before turning into a mid or runner, and allowed the big guys to seal rim protectors before attacking the basket.
  • I’m a bit worried about his ability to drive in a straight line. Many of his drives were noticeably wide because he was getting knocked down on his way to the rim. He relied on the seals of his bigs to break free and didn’t create much space one-on-one or out of quick tears. He also had this problem against the big ones. How will his finish translate to the NBA?
  • Branham doesn’t have the fastest first step or the best lift in a crowd, but he uses his strong frame to patiently force his way to the rim against his defender. He possesses exceptional body control and has the touch to finish with both hands. Love how he can play with so controlled two-footed take-offs, did 10 of 21 (47.6%) on runners, but tends to fly away from contact right at the rim.
  • Drained 44.2% of his three-point shots and ranked in the 82nd percentile on all point jumpers, does a great job getting square with the basket, jumping into his shot and has a quick release, fluid, albeit weak, also hit 53.1% of his three unguarded shots, moving well away from the ball.
  • Branham didn’t show much use shooting three on the move or screens and struggled beyond the arc in transition. There are some legitimate questions about his on-and-off shooting versatility at the NBA three-point line, but his jumper is fundamentally solid.
  • He is a solid passer with a secondary ball handling advantage. He can hit the roll man over the top, find the big man on pick-and-pops, throw the ball in place of the dunker when two defenders have engaged in his drive, and make good entry passes from job. Branham keeps the ball moving, and he should be a strong connective tissue guy who runs simple reads.
  • Branham averaged 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game on .388/.333/1.000 shooting before Ohio State’s COVID break. He exploded for 35 points against Nebraska and averaged 17.0 points, 3.8 boards and 2.2 assists per game on 0.528/0.432/0.822 shooting ranges over the last 22 games in the league. season.
  • Much of his shooting regime consisted of contested mid-range jumpers. He doesn’t generate much separation, but that could improve as he tightens his grip and adds more combo moves to his repertoire. He refuses too many threes in favor of two longer ones.
  • Branham has self-created 63.7% of his field goals this season but could bear to expand his lineup, especially out of the pick-and-roll. He would be much more valuable if he made the guys pay to go under the screens instead of looking to get to his spots near the paint. He’s only made three unassisted three-pointers all year.
  • Shot 4 of 7 (57.1%) and ranked in the 90th percentile of isolation games this season. Despite the low volume, Branham likely has a late isolation advantage with his undeniable ability to shoot hard. This skill is something I’d like to see teams explore off the bench or in the G League next season.
  • I could see him becoming a guy who gets to the line more often as his career progresses. Branham averaged 4.2 free throw attempts per game after Ohio State’s COVID break. His methodical style of play and masterful use of counterfeit pumps provide a solid foundation to build on going forward.

Defense

  • There are some concerns about his lateral mobility. Average athletes would often outrun him with quick dribble and tears on the perimeter. His fluctuating effort from possession to possession did not help his cause.
  • Branham isn’t the best defender on the team right now. He has a relatively poor knowledge of marking cutters and roll-men and was behind on rotations. Branham wasn’t the best communicator on the Switches. He also plays too straight away from the ball. Overall, he needs to improve in these areas.
  • He needs to work on his screen navigation. Branham has been caught on screens more times than you’d like and hasn’t always made that second or third push to get back in the room. He probably shouldn’t be tasked with chasing shooters away from the ball.
  • If he cleans up some of his bad habits, Branham has the size and stature to at least become acceptable on the ball and as a team defender. He could afford to be more active with his hands and more engaged as a help defender with digs against drivers.
  • He’ll probably be able to defend 2-3, although I’m not sure he has much chance to go to the next level. However, its frame and length give it a strong tool base to match players of similar size. He would benefit from gaining more muscle. This idea also applies to the other end.
  • He was too often straight and off-balance during fences, which left him susceptible to being crushed by the dribble. He doesn’t have the foot speed to catch up enough ground to recover and make a difference in the game.
  • Although he is a physical driver, he does not accept touch or feel when his man drives against him, allowing his missions to pass or pass through him with minimal resistance.
  • Branham is playing a little too flat and tight to his man on the perimeter. These faults allow his man to overtake him because he does not have the tools to recover. His footwork, positioning and discipline need work.
  • Branham is not really an event maker. He’s racked up just 1.4 combined interceptions and blocks per game. Despite his wingspan, he doesn’t deflect or get his hands on the ball as often as one might think.
  • Tends to leave his feet on dummy pumps, and this has gotten him in trouble from time to time. He made a few mistakes when he was stuck in the air, and he should reduce those mistakes to maximize his defensive impact. Branham doesn’t have much room for error.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference, Synergy Sports and BartTorvik.