Alright everyone, take a deep breath. Delete that angry, angsty tweet that you were preparing to send, ripping Ohio State for their loss to Wisconsin last night. It’s Friday and January is halfway over, which means we’re inching closer and closer to the NCAA Tournament. Soon, very soon.
On top of that, the Buckeyes (10-4, 4-2) are still in a pretty good spot. Despite their second conference loss, their schedule for the next two weeks is rather friendly, and hey — they beat Duke. Can’t forget that.
Last week, we debated what Ohio State’s biggest flaw was in their road loss to Indiana. Unlike last night, the IU loss was a game that the Buckeyes had a good chance to win for about 32 minutes, it just snowballed a bit at the end and they ended up losing by quite a bit.
Connor pinned the loss mostly on Ohio State’s inability to defend Trayce Jackson-Davis — specifically their inability (refusal) to double-team him and make literally anyone else beat the Buckeyes. Justin pointed to E.J. Liddell’s struggles out of the COVID-pause as the main reason that the Bucks couldn’t beat the Hoosiers. Well, 54% of the people sided with Connor, 19% agreed with Justin, and the remaining 27% said it was something else. Another win for Connor, who is now approaching 20 dubs.
After 34 weeks:
(There have been two ties)
This week, we’re talking about Malaki Branham, who has suddenly emerged as Ohio State’s clear No. 2 option and as a potential NBA draftee this season. Just a few weeks ago, the 6-foot-5 freshman guard was averaging six points per game and was held scoreless against Wisconsin the first go-around. Now, he’s included in some NBA mock drafts as a potential first round pick and is blossoming before our own eyes. Could he be Ohio State’s first one-and-done since D’Angelo Russell?
Today’s Question/Prompt: Could Malaki Branham be drafted after this season?
“Of course” is the clear and easy answer here, right? Especially because we aren’t debating if he will get drafted, just if it’s possible. Not only is it very possible, it’s looking more and more likely with every 20-point game that the dynamite freshman puts up.
Just a few weeks ago, Branham could’ve been labeled as a letdown or a disappointment at that point in the season. He was averaging around six points per game, three rebounds, and was turning the ball over more often than he was assisting on baskets. In early December it looked like he was just keeping a seat warm for Justice Sueing until he returned.
And then the Nebraska game happened — 35 points out of nowhere. He played well against Indiana too, despite the loss. On a night where Ohio State struggled to get open looks, it was Branham — not Liddell — who had the most success finding soft spots in IU’s stingy defense, finishing with 13. He then showed out against Northwestern, playing Robin to Liddell’s Batman, scoring 24 points and grabbing five rebounds while going 13-of-14 from the free throw line. All of a sudden, Branham became next in line to be Ohio State’s star… unless he leaves at the same time as Liddell.
NBA teams love drafting freshmen for a few reasons. For starters, they’ve got more years of basketball left in them as opposed to someone a few years older. Secondly, most 18 or 19-year old freshmen are still growing — they’re going to get taller and bulk up a little bit. That’s why you see so many less accomplished freshmen getting drafted in the NBA lottery each season as opposed to some of the most productive, veteran college players in the country. Most NBA teams can watch a talented freshman and know if his game translates better to the league than some older players.
Guards — and especially tall guards — are especially coveted come draft time. The Toronto Raptors selected Florida State freshman Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick last year after he averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists for the ‘Noles. With the 12th overall pick, the San Antonio Spurs took Alabama freshman guard Joshua Primo, who averaged 8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Crimson Tide last season. Neither of them started for their respective college teams, but both were drafted in or right outside of the lottery.
Why? Because both will continue to grow and showed potential to be elite NBA guards in their limited college time — especially Barnes. Both were above average defenders as well, something Branham is not and will need to continue to work on.
Branham was included in Sports Illustrated’s latest mock draft yesterday, going 30th overall to the Golden State Warriors. We’ve officially entered a zone where not only is Branham being considered as a draftee, he’s flirting with the first round. I think it’s a given that when the season ends, Branham will enter his name into the draft and see what teams tell him about his game. But his performance over the next eight weeks or so will ultimately determine if he returns to Ohio State for his sophomore season.
It’s been quite the ascension for the Akron kid over the past few weeks, and I’m starting to think Ohio State fans should really start appreciating him while they can — he may not be in Columbus too much longer.
I will point this out off the jump; it is hard to determine who will get drafted as we sit here in January with so many games left to play in the season. Also, I am huge proponent of guys putting their name in the hat at season’s end because there is no downfall. If they don’t like what they are hearing after going through the pre-draft process, they can just head back to college. It is literally a win-win.
So that being said, I don’t think Branham would be drafted in this particular draft. Next season? Completely different story. But we can talk about that when we get there. However, over the past month, Branham has put his name on some draft lists and has received some attention on the boards. Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher report listed “sleeper draft prospects who can still break out in 2022” and Branham was first on the list.
“Scouts will be paying more attention to Malaki Branham following his 35-point game against Nebraska on Jan. 2,” Wasserman said. “That type of volume scoring did come out of nowhere, but he started showing signs since the Duke game Nov. 30, and he’s coming off another big effort with 24 points on eight shots, plus five assists and three steals against Northwestern.”
Wasserman also added, “At 6’5”, Branham has NBA size and long strides for beating closing defenders or turning the corner as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He’s looking comfortable shooting out of different situations, doing a nice job creating separation into dribble jumpers (44.4 percent), releasing with balance off a curl or making catch-and-shoot threes (41.9 percent 3PT).”
These are all great numbers and I am not denying that Branham has looked amazing over the past month, and honestly has kept the Buckeyes afloat and really helped them get past the hump following their three-week COVID-19 break. The problem with specifically this season is the struggle that Branham had over the first two months. He only had one game in double digits and really struggled on the defensive end. This is absolutely reasonable considering he is a freshman and the jump from high school to the pros is not an easy one to make.
Over the past month, Branham has found that success on the offensive end, but he is still a freshman. I wouldn’t be surprised if he entered his name into the draft to test the waters after the season is over and then returned to the Buckeyes for 2022-23. I just don’t think that he would get drafted in this go-around.