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Column: Should Malaki Branham return for another season?

The freshman undoubtedly had an amazing first season, but do the cons outweigh the pros in terms of declaring for the NBA Draft?

Ohio State v Villanova Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It took Malaki Branham a few games to get going early on in the season, but once he put up 35 points against Nebraska on Jan. 2, he didn’t look back. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year has had an extremely impressive season, where some may say he's good enough to be one and done. However, I have a differing opinion.

Honestly, I can see both sides on this situation. If we do an overview of Branham’s season, there’s no doubt that the numbers are there. Following that Jan. 2 game, there were only four games in which he did not score double-digit points. He averaged around 14 points per game, and is a very reliable shooter. This part of his game is definitely not a problem.

Branham can score from anywhere on the floor. He’s shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and has an almost 50 percent field goal percentage. He only attempts 2.6 3-pointers per game, and he already has shown that he is capable of scoring from there, so it would be intriguing to see him put up some more threes each game.

This brings me to my first point of why he should stay for his sophomore season. Obviously, Branham was in E.J. Liddell’s shadow for the entire season. Liddell was the main playmaker and leader on the floor, leaving Branham the task of running the offense whenever he was taking a breather.

Ohio State v Villanova Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Branham did a fine job at this. However, it is hard to be as comfortable as Liddell is, since he has two more seasons of experience under his belt. Whenever Liddell had the ball, I felt relaxed, knowing he has the ability to move the ball around or keep it for himself, while staying cool under pressure.

On the flip side, when Branham was leading the offense, he seemed a bit uneasy and nervous, not having the same confidence that Liddell possesses. Like I said before, this makes sense being that it is Branham’s first collegiate season. Therefore, I believe it would benefit him greatly if he could develop the leadership aspect of his game as the No. 1 player on the team next season.

Another part of Branham’s skills that could be developed more are his turnovers. He averages 1.6 per game, yet does it the most in the biggest games. He turned the ball over four times against Villanova, and three times in each game versus Loyola, Penn St. in the Big Ten tournament and Michigan in the regular season finale.

Again, I think this comes with the nerves and inexperience of being a star freshman. Now that he has played in the big moments against his team’s rival, the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament, he can use these experiences to handle the pressure in big games and exhibit greater leadership next season, should he choose to stay.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It’s clear that Branham’s offense is the best part of his game, meaning that his defense could use some work. He averages less than one steal and one block per game. I think this could be improved by him putting on some more weight. As of now, Branham is listed as 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. If he could beef up some more, he would be more of a threat on both sides of the ball.

So, if Branham went pro following this season, he would likely be selected in the first round— not bad at all. However, I think he could be a lottery pick, possibly a top five pick, if he developed his game some more at Ohio State for a second season.

I believe that being the leader of the team for a year would greatly benefit him. Selfishly, I also just want to keep him on the team for another year. Either way, I think Branham will be successful and I’ll be rooting for him no matter what decision he ends up making.


Do you think Malaki Branham will stay for a second season at Ohio State?

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