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Final mock draft check-in for Branham, Liddell leading up to 2022 NBA Draft

We’re days away from E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham becoming first-round selections. Where are they going?

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Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking, and the NBA Draft is only a day away. Very soon, the Orlando Magic will be on the clock to make the first selection in the 2022 NBA Draft, where they will either select Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren, versatile Auburn wing Jabari Smith, or Duke’s Paolo Banchero. Not too long after, Ohio State’s Malaki Branham will hear his name called. A few picks later, E.J. Liddell will go off the board, too.

The Ohio State University has had two first-round draft picks over the last decade: D’Angelo Russell in 2015 and Jared Sullinger in 2012. On Thursday evening, they’ll get two more. Branham, the uber-talented, uber-athletic, 19-year old shooting guard, showed up on exactly zero draft boards last fall. He scuffled through the first month of the season, often looking timid and overmatched in the Big Ten. But the switch flipped in January, and he simply coasted through the remaining 20 or so games, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He’ll be a mid-first round pick, with the potential to slide up into the lottery.

Liddell won’t go in the lottery, but his steady improvement from 2019 to now will almost certainly land him somewhere in the first round. One year ago, Liddell struggled at the G-League Elite Camp and did not earn an invite to the NBA Draft Combine. Without a reliable jump shot or any other eye-popping tools, he’d wind up signing as an undrafted free agent at best, or signing overseas at worst. Both fine options, but Liddell returned to Ohio State, raised his scoring average from 16.2 points to 19.4 points, his blocks from 1.1 to 2.6 per game, and his three-point percentage from 34% to nearly 38%.

His 2.6 blocks per game topped the conference, his scoring average was fourth, and his three-point percentage was 25th. He also registered the highest vertical leap of anybody at this summer’s combine, showing off the tremendous leaping ability in front of NBA executives that he showed college basketball fans all season. He’s turned himself into a safe, reliable pick in this year’s draft. To top it off, he’ll likely wind up on a contending team if he goes in the latter half of the first round.

Like I said a few weeks ago, mock drafts aren’t always right. In fact, they’re usually wrong. But they give us a general idea of the range folks in the industry see players going, barring a draft-day slide. Right now, it’s looking like Branham will likely go to the Cavaliers at 14 or the Hornets at 15, but nobody would be shocked if he slides up a few spots. Liddell is projected anywhere between 20 and 30. He’s such a safe pick, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where contenders pass on him at the end of the first round. Liddell on the Bucks? Liddell on the Warriors? Those are situations I’m sure E.J. wouldn’t mind finding himself in Thursday night.

Let’s take a look at where some of the most respected outlets have our two Buckeyes landing in this week’s draft:


The Projections

Most mock drafts have Branham being taken between picks 10 and 15, while Liddell could go anywhere from pick 19 to 30. Here are a few examples.

Sports Illustrated

Branham: Pick No. 16 to the Atlanta Hawks
Liddell: Pick No. 34 to the Oklahoma City Thunder

CBS Sports

Branham: Pick No. 15 to the Charlotte Hornets
Liddell: Pick No. 20 to the San Antonio Spurs

The Athletic

Branham: Pick No. 16 to the Atlanta Hawks
Liddell: Pick No. 20 to the San Antonio Spurs

Tankathon

Branham: Pick No. 15 to the Charlotte Hornets
Liddell: Pick No. 19 to the Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA DraftNet

Branham: Pick No. 20 to the San Antonio Spurs
Liddell: Pick No. 24 to the Milwaukee Bucks

Yahoo Sports

Branham: Pick No. 12 to the Oklahoma City Thunder
Liddell: Pick No. 25 to the San Antonio Spurs

Bleacher Report

Branham: Pick No. 11 to the New York Knicks
Liddell: Pick No. 18 to the Chicago Bulls

ESPN

Branham: Pick No. 18 to the Chicago Bulls
Liddell: Pick No. 24 to the Milwaukee Bucks


Outlook

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Malaki Branham won’t light the world on fire in year one, there will be some growing pains. But at 19 years old, he’s already showed great ability to knock down shots off the dribble or off the pass with his feet set. He was one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the Big Ten, killed the mid-range game, and is explosive getting to the basket with his left or right hand. And he’s so young, NBA teams are absolutely salivating over his potential. The upside is crazy, and that’s why he’ll go in the top-20 if not higher.

E.J. Liddell is just such a solid player, I can’t see any scenario where every team passes on him in the first round. He won’t be an elite NBA player, but adding him to a contending team will just make them that much better (see Grant Williams on the Celtics, for example). He probably won’t be an All-Star, but he works his butt off and will provide solid minutes wherever he goes. His combine results helped his cause, and returning to school for his junior season actually helped him jump not just into the draft, but into the first round most likely.