Welcome to the second installment of my rookie scouting report series for Pounding the Rock. We examined Jeremy Sochan in part one, and it’s time for an in-depth breakdown of Malaki Branham, the 20th overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft and the middle child of San Antonio’s three teenage first-round selections.
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 bigger steals of this class, but he is by no means a finished product.
Malaki Branham | Ohio State | Freshman | Guard |
Height: 6’ 5’’
Weight: 195 lbs
Wingspan: 6’ 10’’
Stats (32 GP)
Per Game: 13.7 PPG/3.6 RPG/2.0 APG/0.7 SPG/0.3 BPG
Per 36: 16.7 PPG/4.4 RPG/2.4 APG/0.9 SPG/0.4 BPG
Shooting Splits: .498 FG%/.416 3P%/.833 FT%
- Excellent efficiency from the short midrange area, went 38-of-77 (49.4%), and ranked in the 87th percentile from that zone while self-creating 81.8% of his non-rim two-point field goals.
- Plays at a methodical pace in the midrange, uses jab steps to set up the possession before using spins, bumps, pump fakes, jump stops to generate enough space to get his shot off, gets good elevation but stays balanced in the air, stops on a dime, uses a variety of different footwork when pulling up
- Does a great job of attacking aggressive closeouts with shot fakes to get defenders in the air and then using a couple of dribbles to create space for his midrange jumper
- Also showed the potential to shoot in the midrange coming off curls and pin downs, he only had 31 possessions shooting off screens away from the ball at Ohio State, but he looked fluid and comfortable using curls and pin downs to create good looks inside the arc or to get to the rim.
- Among the most efficient pick-and-roll scorers in the nation. He shot 53-of-89 (59.6%) and ranked in the 95th percentile for that play type. Branham had an excellent grasp of snaking ball screens, changing gears, trapping defenders on his back or hip before rising into a middy or a runner, and allowed bigs to seal rim-protectors before attacking the basket.
- I am a little concerned about his ability as a straight-line driver. Many of his drives were noticeably wide because he gets knocked off his path to the rim. He relied on seals from his bigs to break free and did not create a lot of space one-on-one or off quick rips. He had that problem against bigs too. How will his finishing translate in the NBA?
- Branham does not have the quickest first step or best lift in a crowd, but he uses his strong frame to patiently will his way to the rim against his defender. He possesses exceptional body control and has the touch to finish with either hand. I love how he can play so controlled off two-footed takeoffs, went 10-of-21 (47.6%) on runners, but tends to lean away from contact directly at the rim.
- Drained 44.2% of his spot-up three-pointers and ranked in the 82nd percentile on all spot-up jumpers, does a great job of getting square with the basket, hopping into his shot, and has a quick, fluid, albeit low release, also hit 53.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot threes, relocated well off-ball.
- Branham did not show much utility shooting threes off movement or screens and struggled beyond the arc in transition. There are some legitimate questions about his shot versatility on and off the ball out the NBA three-point line, but his jumper is fundamentally sound.
- He is a solid passer with some secondary ball-handling upside. He can hit the roll man over the top, find the big man on pick-and-pops, dump the ball off to the dunker’s spot when two defenders committed to his drive, and make good post entry passes. Branham keeps the ball moving, and he should be a solid connective tissue guy who executes simple reads.
- Branham averaged 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game on .388/.333/1.000 shooting splits before the Ohio State COVID hiatus. He exploded for 35 points against Nebraska and averaged 17.0 points, 3.8 boards, and 2.2 assists per game on .528/.432/.822 shooting splits over the final 22 games of the season.
- A lot of his shot diet consisted of contested midrange jumpers. He does not generate a lot of separation, but that could improve as he tightens up his handle and adds more combination moves to his repertoire. He turns down too many threes in favor of longer twos.
- Branham self-created 63.7% of his field goals this season but could stand to expand his range, especially out of the pick-and-roll. He would be much more valuable if he made guys pay for going under screens instead of looking to get to his spots near the paint. He only made three unassisted three-pointers all year.
- Shot 4-of-7 (57.1%) and ranked in the 90th percentile out of isolation plays this season. Despite the low volume, Branham likely has some late-clock isolation upside with his undeniable tough-shot-making ability. This skill is something I would love 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 the Ohio State COVID hiatus. His methodical playstyle and masterful use of pump fakes is a solid foundation to build upon going forward.
- There are some concerns regarding his lateral mobility. Average athletes often blew past him off the dribble and quick rips on the perimeter. His fluctuating effort from possession to possession did not help his cause.
- Branham is not the best team defender right now. He has a relatively low awareness of tagging cutters and roll-men and was late on rotations. Branham was not the best communicator on switches. He also plays too upright away from the ball. Overall, he needs to get better in these areas.
- He needs to work on his screen navigation. Branham got caught on screens more often than you would like and did not always put in that second or third effort to get back into the play. He probably should not be tasked with chasing shooters away from the ball.
- If he cleans up some of his bad habits, Branham has the size and wingspan to at least become acceptable on-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 will probably be able to defend 2-3, though I am not sure he has much switchability heading into the next level. However, his frame and length give him a solid baseline of tools to match up with similarly sized players. He would benefit from packing on more muscle. This idea also applies to the other end.
- He was too often upright and off-balance on closeouts, which left him susceptible to getting blown by off the dribble. He doesn’t have the foot speed to make up enough ground to recover and make a difference in the play.
- Despite being a physical driver, he doesn’t embrace contact or make guys feel him when his man drives against him, allowing his assignments to get by or through him with minimal resistance.
- Branham plays a little too flat-footed and tight to his man on the perimeter. These flaws allow his man to drive past him since he doesn’t have the tools to recover. His footwork, positioning, and discipline needs work.
- Branham is not much of an event creator. He only accumulated a combined 1.4 steals and blocks per game. Despite his wingspan, he doesn’t deflect or get his hands on the ball as often as you might think.
- Tends to leave his feet on pump fakes, and that got him into trouble from time to time. He picked up a few fouls when stranded in the air, and he should cut down on those mistakes to maximize his defensive impact. Branham does not have a lot of room for error.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball Reference, Synergy Sports, and BartTorvik.