• Sudeep Tumma

Scouting Report: Malaki Branham's Improvement Throughout the Season a Sign of Big Things

Ohio State could have two lottery picks.

Malaki Branham piled up the accolades after a triumphant freshman season. The Ohio State shooting guard was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, emerged as the Big Ten Rookie of the Year and made the Third Team All-Big Ten.

Branham proved to be an asset all season, but he particularly stood out in conference play. His productivity and efficiency rose to eye-popping levels.

He averaged 16.3 points along with marks of 52.3 FG% and 46.8 3PT% in Big Ten games.

At 6-foot-5, 181 pounds, Branham possesses an interesting game. He’s not an elite athlete with a devastating first step, but he’s a savvy three-level scorer who finds his way to baskets.

Branham’s off-ball prowess is tremendous. He runs off a bevy of screens — typically pin downs and curl cuts along with many dribble handoffs. It gets Branham the ball in fruitful situations when he gets the ball with an advantage.

Whether it’s off motion or as a floor spacer, Branham hit 3-pointers at a high clip. While he didn’t display an overwhelming range from deep, he hits contested looks and is willing to pull the trigger when he has an inch of space.

The majority of those attempts were spot-up looks, but he flashed the ability to score triples off the dribble. Those attempts typically came in pick-and-roll situations — an area he excels in.

As the ball-handler in those sets, Branham patiently navigates as he dissects defenses. He utilizes hesitations well coupled with a good ability to change speeds effectively.

Whether it’s off dribble-drive action or as the ball-handler, Branham displays underrated burst as he lowers his shoulder and finishes through contact.

He doesn’t have an advanced assortment of finishing moves, but he has a soft touch around the rim and ample body control. He even flashes a bit of a low post game against smaller players and score with the post hook or jumper.

His mid-range jumper has blossomed into perhaps his best asset as a scorer. Branham is a prolific pull-up jump shooter off the dribble. He gets to his spots, feels when there’s space and elevates seamlessly to knock down jumpers. With a high release point, Branham does a splendid job as a mid-range shot creator.

Now, his game at Ohio State mostly revolved around attacking off dribble drives, running off screens and pick-and-roll looks dabbled in. His handles, however, are a bit suspect.

He’ll need to tweak and improve his ball-handling ability to project as more than just a 3&D player.

That’s an area he’ll need to refine, much like his passing.

Branham averaged 2.0 assists. He displayed a good ability to find teammates when he forces double teams and/or defensive rotations. He’s not a nuanced passer who’ll burn you and create ridiculous angles, but he displays some ability.

As a rebounder, Branham’s 3.6-rebound mark is indicative of his capabilities. He doesn’t crash the defensive glass regularly, but he does make a concerted effort to box out when his man crashes.

But the peculiar thing is on the offensive glass. Branham follows up almost every shot attempt on those attempts, but he doesn’t tally much production regardless.

With a 6-11 wingspan, there’s untapped upside as a rebounder. But that length already aids him as a defender.

His off-ball defense needs to be cleaned up as he often falls asleep on backdoor cuts. But he certainly doesn’t lack for a competitive drive on this end.

Branham excels defending 1s and 2s, and he displays good recovery speed even if/when falls behind in pick-and-roll coverage.

With his physical tools and hard-nosed style, Branham remains a potent one-on-one defender.

As a whole, Branham provides a solid package for NBA teams to splurge on. He now projects as a borderline lottery pick, and he’s likely to live up to it.

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