Malaki Branham, the former four-star recruit and two-time Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio, vaulted up draft boards with his electric play during the second half of the season. He will become the first one-and-done Buckeye since D’Angelo Russell went second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. E.J. Liddell, also a former four-star recruit, took a different path. He began his career on the bench as a freshman before turning into an All-Big Ten honoree and de-facto team leader during his second and third seasons.
Branham’s draft “range” has settled somewhere between picks 10 and 16 in most mock drafts, either at the end of the lottery or just outside of it. Liddell’s landing spot is more unpredictable, with some mock drafts projecting him to go just a few spots below Branham, while others see him sliding to the second round entirely.
Could either Buckeye slide on draft day, like Keita Bates-Diop did in 2018? The 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year was projected to be a late first round pick, but slid all the way to pick 48 due to concerns about his speed, athleticism, and age. KBD was 22 years old on draft day, while Branham will be 19 and Liddell 21.
For Branham, it’s a simple no. He’s young and athletic, and will continue to get faster and stronger. If anything, keep an eye out for Branham to move up on draft day due to his upside. The knocks on him are obvious ones — his defense at Ohio State was never great, and he was often pushed off his spots and knocked around by bigger, stronger players. But good offense is more important than good defense in the league, and Branham has the offense down already. The other things will come with time and conditioning with an NBA team’s strength staff.
I’m not sure there has been a name buzzing in Chicago this week more than Malaki Branham’s. At this point, I think there is a strong possibility that he will go in the lottery. #NBADraftCombine pic.twitter.com/SyjDGpCd0y— Matt Babcock (@MattBabcock11) May 20, 2022
Liddell could slide a few spots, but not to the level Bates-Diop did. Liddell’s ceiling isn’t as high as some other projected first-rounders, but his floor is also higher than many potential draftees. In other words, he’s a pretty safe pick. While he may never become an All-Star, Liddell will have a solid NBA career due to his versatility and durability. Unfortunately, his lower ceiling will keep him from being drafted in the lottery like Branham likely will.
Unlike Branham, Liddell is no longer a teenager. He is not as quick or explosive as Branham either, and does not have a clear position (or at least not as clear as Branham). At 6-foot-7 Liddell is not large enough to guard NBA centers, and is smaller than quite a few power forwards as well. But he’s a good shooter, a great rebounder, and plays quite a bit larger than his actual size. He fits the mold of a P.J. Tucker or Grant Williams, and — as we’ve seen — there’s definitely a place in the NBA for that kind of player.
E.J. Liddell is the first Ohio State player in the last 25 seasons to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in a game. pic.twitter.com/gdZuJ7FEVh— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 28, 2022
Mock drafts aren’t always accurate. Certain players will jump higher than any of the experts predicted. Others — like KBD a few years ago — will slide an entire round. But as of today, let’s take a look at where some of the most respected websites have our two Buckeyes landing in this month’s draft:
Most mock drafts have Branham being taken between picks 10 and 16, while Liddell could go anywhere from pick 17 to 34. Here are a few examples.
Branham: Pick No. 16 to the Atlanta Hawks
Liddell: Pick No. 23 to the Philadelphia 76ers
Branham: Pick No. 15 to the Charlotte Hornets
Liddell: Pick No. 31 to the Indiana Pacers
Branham: Pick No. 14 to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Liddell: Pick No. 25 to the San Antonio Spurs
Malaki Branham has the talent and size to be a solid contributor for an NBA team this upcoming season at age 19, but has the potential to be a star in the league within a few years. Because of his tremendous upside, I think he goes somewhere between picks 10-14 at the end of the lottery.
E.J. Liddell doesn’t have one A+ tool that NBA teams are looking for, but he has plenty of B and B- tools (rebounding, defensive versatility, perimeter scoring, etc.) that makes him a very safe (but not flashy) pick. If he’s still there at No. 24, Milwaukee would make a lot of sense.