Instant Reaction: Spurs Get a Steal with Malaki Branham at the 20th Pick

With the 20th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs took a player who wasn’t expected to be available: Malaki Branham out of Ohio State. In my opinion, this was a fantastic selection that could pay major dividends down the road. Branham was the highest player remaining on my Spurs Big Board at No. 15 and he was the last player remaining who I would have been comfortable with the Spurs selecting at ninth overall.

Branham is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who was a splendid offensive player as a freshman at Ohio State. The 19-year-old shot 49.8% from the field, 41.6% on three-pointers and nailed 83.3% of his free throws. He averaged 13.7 points in 29.6 minutes per game. He also posted more assists (2.0) than turnovers (1.7), which points to his underrated playmaking ability.

The best part about Branham’s offensive game is how versatile he is on that end. He can hit spot-up jumpers but he can also create his own looks. His footwork was phenomenal for a freshman and it’s obvious that he has spent hours upon hours in the gym. Not thought of as a one-and-done recruit out of high school, Branham’s rate of improvement over the last year has been awe-inspiring.

Why did Branham fall in the draft? He’s not a super athlete by any stretch of the imagination, which could limit his upside on offense. He should have the ability to be a second or third scorer but is unlikely to become a go-to scorer. However, more worrisome is Branham’s defense. He was a legitimately poor defender at Ohio State; statistically, he was one of the worst defenders of any prospect in the nation. That said, he got a lot better on that end as the season progressed and all indications are that he’s willing to put in the work.

Speaking of which, Branham is an elite character kid. As I reported at the time, scouts say he was one of the two most impressive interviews at the NBA combine (along with Dalen Terry). By all accounts, he’s a great teammate and will fit right in with the culture San Antonio tries to cultivate.

All in all, Branham landing with the Spurs isn’t a shock. I had him as the fifth most likely player to be drafted by San Antonio, in fact. As I wrote:

“If he’s available at 20, Branham is a no-brainer who fits right in character-wise. Scouts say he’s humble, works hard and is dead set on improving.”

As it turned out, Branham was indeed available at 20.