Thursday will be a rare event for Ohio.
For the 12th time in the history of the men’s basketball program and only the third time since the turn of the century, the Buckeyes are expected to have two players selected in the NBA draft. Before the night is over, two-time Big Ten first-team striker and New Year’s Big Ten 2022 student, Branham owners, EJ Liddell, prepares to hear their names as the league’s newest member.
And according to three ESPN draft analysts, despite their different positions and abilities, both will likely wait a short while.
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“I think both players are likely to be first-round picks,” Jonathan Jevoni, co-owner of DraftExpress.com and NBA analyst for ESPN told ESPN. “Very different features.”
The question is how far both Buckeyes can go. Ohio State hasn’t had multiple draft players since 2007, when Greg Odin, Mike Conley Jr., and Daikan Cook were all first-round picks. This was the first time since 1980 that many Buckeyes were taken in the first round.
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It looks like it’s about to happen again.
As a rookie, Liddell led the team in scoring (19.4) and rebounding (7.9) while shooting at 49.0% from the ground and 37.4% from a 3-point range as he adapted to a more ocean-oriented role. After a slow start, Branham hit the scene with a 35-pound flush in Nebraska on January 2 and went from averaging 6.3 points per game at the time to second on the team at 13.7.
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Branham’s meteoric rise from relative obscurity led him to choose a potential lottery, similar to Conley’s season.
“My angel Branham I think is one of the quickest risers not only over the past year, but the truth is that I didn’t know him as a high school player and I was dumbfounded when I watched him in practice before Ohio State played Duke,” said Jay Bellas, college basketball analyst and analyst. The NBA draft, he’s in this ACC-Big Ten challenge, and he only got better from there.” He could shoot her. He is an athlete. He can get out of shuffle. He reached the corrupt line. He has a great future ahead of him.
“His present is really good, but he has a great future ahead of him.”
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Branham’s 35-point game in Nebraska set an Ohio state record for a freshman in the Big Ten. In his last 11 games at Ohio State, Branham averaged 19.4 points. He was included in a 31-point bid in the road win against Illinois, by which point coach Chris Holtman realized that Branham would likely not return for the sophomore season. Three days earlier, Branham had had 27 home points, an overtime win over Indiana and led the Buckeyes to overcome a four-point deficit with 71 seconds left.
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“I think it has improved over the year,” said Bobby Marks, a former assistant general manager of Nets and current front-office officer at ESPN. He shot 62% in March. He plays a center position as much as he is a winger. He’s a perfect fit for the NBA team.”
Givoney said Branham, who measured 6-6 with a 6-10 wing, didn’t start the year on his mock draft but was the best player on the ground when Ohio State lost to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Championship.
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“It fits a lot of boxes for what the NBA teams are looking for in this wing position,” he said. “He has the ability to get his shot in the mid-range, get people up, and has really improved over the year with his playmaking ability and defensiveness, and he turned 19 a month ago. The upside there is unlimited.”
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After a fresh second season, Liddell entered his name in the NBA draft process and earned a G-League invite.
Things didn’t go well, and Liddell knew he was unlikely to be selected, so he went back for another year at Ohio State University. Liddell upped his game, expanding his perimeter skills and playing himself a potential first-round pick. Givony described Liddell’s journey as an “incredible story” of a man who took notes and found ways to make improvements.
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“He’s been forced to go back to school and put a lot of work into his game and he’s modernized himself as a potential NBA player,” Jevonne said. “He became a much better 3-point shooter, improved his ability to play, looked like a more versatile defensive player, blocking shots, and running the perimeter. He is a guy I think is very popular in the NBA today. He has positioned himself very well in this recruiting class.”
Marks and Givony described Liddell as an option to play up to three positions in the NBA, from junior forward to junior ball center.
“He’s definitely shown he can play in the middle,” Marks said. “It might be more of a challenge depending on who’s on the court, but it can stretch the floor.”
Where will Malaki Branham and EJ Liddell be selected in the NBA draft?
All three analysts agreed that both Buckeyes were likely to qualify for the first round, making sure Branham was named after him first.
“I don’t see these two men as lasting,” said Marx. “Branham is probably in the top 15, 16, EJ probably in his late teens, early twenties.”
Bilas said it’s possible that both of them will rise to a higher level.
“I think EJ will be recruiting in the top 25, and I think there’s a chance that Branham’s Kings will be in the top 10, and they will definitely be in the top 15,” he said.
According to the odds provided by BetOnline.ag, Liddell’s draft position over/under is 22 1/2 and Branham is at 13.
Helping their respective issues is the fact that both Buckeyes have cleared themselves quite well in their off-court meetings with the NBA folks.
“Both Ohio men are getting enthusiastic opinions from the court,” Jevonne said. “Their interviews were great.”