The Washington Wizards have the 10th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...
2022 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Profile: 2022 Malaki Branham
Team: Ohio State
Position: Shooting guard
2021/22 stats: 32 G, 13.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 49.8 FG% (5.0/10.0), 41.6 3PT% (1.2/2.8), 83.3 FT% (2.5/3.0)
Player comparison: Khris Middleton
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 18th, Sports Illustrated 14th, Ringer 18th, Athletic 16th, ESPN 14th, NBADraft.net 14th, Bleacher Report 14th
5 things to know:
-Malaki Branham is an efficient playmaker who is patient in letting plays and spacing set up while rarely turning the ball over. With relatively low volume for a starting guard, Branham was extremely productive as the second-leading scorer on the Buckeyes last season. Already at 19, he knows his spots on the floor and strives to hit those marks. He shot nearly 50 percent from the field in just 10 attempts per game and was 41.6% from deep with just 2.8 threes per contest.
-As a shooter, evaluators should love his ability to score at all three levels. There's a true mid-range shot in his game (sometimes perhaps an overreliance on it at times), which not many mid-first-round prospects have. What's preventing him from making the leap into a sure-fire lottery prospect is a lack of speed to gain natural separation. His strength against smaller guards in college allowed him to drive to the basket, it will be a question mark if that strength will translate to NBA opponents that won't allow easy pull-ups.
-Branham gained confidence in his game as the season went on and upped it in the process. February and March were phenomenal for the freshman which put him on many draft radars. Separating the final two months of the season, he averaged 17.6 ppg while maintaining a 53.6% FG mark and 43.2% from three.
-As an Akron kid, named Mr. Basketball for the state of Ohio and going to Ohio State, clearly, Branham has an affinity to his home state. The lone Ohio NBA franchise is also going to be picking in the middle of the first round. Most big boards might have that as a reach, but one would imagine the Cavaliers are quite familiar with his game.
-It took Branham just three conference games to set a new Big Ten record. On Jan. 2 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Branham set the new record for points by a freshman when he dropped 35 points. To get there, he drilled six threes.
Fit with Wizards:
No one in the Wizards' front office would be opposed to adding guard depth with a prospect that has a proficiency to hit shots behind the arc. It's an area they can directly address in this class even without a complete answer to the point guard position.
Branham would provide some upside that is lacking in the team's backcourt. For a college guard, he had a well-rounded game that could score at all three levels. The lack of burst, though, is what is concerning about his overall skill set.
Bullying through the lane he could get away with at Ohio State. That may take some time to develop at the NBA level. Branham counters the lack of speed with a real solid pull-up mid-range jumper that is his best shot on the floor. Years ago a midrange shooter was the last thing this franchise needed. Now, with the diversity in the team's skill set, there is value.
His high mark from three with such a low volume is something that could translate right away. There won't be the dip in shots that some top-caliber college guards face in their transition. He would give the team another competent ballhandler, which teams can never have too many of on a roster.
Washington does have a player with a similar role on the roster in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He's carved himself quite the career as a high-level role player and would be a great projection of what Branham could turn into. Caldwell-Pope will be an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season with a lot of financial cap questions needed to be answered.
While Branham could be a depth piece this upcoming season, in the future he could have a much bigger (and cheaper) role in the Wizards' rotation on a rookie contract.
2022 NBA Draft profiles:
Dyson Daniels, G-League Ignite