An important career milestone for Malaki Branham and EJ Liddell is set to transpire within hours.
Both Buckeye stars are on the verge of being drafted into the NBA, a lifelong goal for each on their respective basketball travels, and the sport’s top tier awaits thereafter. While both are widely regarded as Thursday’s first-round selections, the mere fact of both being drafted would mark a historic night for the Ohio State basketball program. Not since 2007, when Greg Oden (# 1 overall), Mike Conley (# 4), and Daequan Cook (# 22) were all drafted in the first round, plus Buckeyes were caught in the NBA draft.
Whichever Buckeye is caught first Thursday will be the first Ohio State player selected in four years since Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop was selected with the 48th overall pick in the second round in 2018. Branham, Liddell or both should be taken in the first round, they would be the first Buckeyes to earn that status since D’Angelo Russell was taken overall number 2 in 2015. Branham will also be the first player since Russell to be drafted after just one year. ‘Ohio State.
For Chris Holtmann in particular, Branham and Liddell will be the first ever NBA draftee he recruited after high school and developed in college. Bates-Diop was drafted into the NBA following Holtmann’s first season with the Buckeyes, but the Illinois native spent three previous years with the program under the leadership of Thad Matta, who recruited him after high school. If enlisted in the opening round, Branham and Liddell will become the top two picks in the NBA draft of the first round that Holtmann produced as head coach.
As for where exactly Branham and Liddell will go on Thursday, that’s still in the air, even though most (not all) analysts seem to agree that both Buckeyes will go to round one. With the draft taking place tonight, we’ve rounded up eight major NBA mock drafts to take stock of prevailing views on where Branham and Liddell might land on Thursday night.
You can check out each of the dummy drafts referenced in our roundup below:
CBS Sports: Round 1, n. 15 overall, Charlotte Hornets
Tankathon: Round 1, n. 15 overall, Charlotte Hornets
Sports illustrated: Round 1, n. 16 overall, Atlanta Hawks
Atletico: Round 1, n. 16 overall, Atlanta Hawks
NBA Draft Room: Round 1, n. 17 overall, Houston Rockets
ESPN: Round 1, n. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls
Bleacher Report: Round 1, n. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls
The ringtone: Round 1, n. 21 overall, Denver Nuggets
The debate surrounding Branham’s stock has more to do with whether or not it will be a lottery choice than its prospects of being a first-round choice. Holtmann believes Branham has already locked in the latter part of that equation, telling 97.1 The Fan Monday that Branham “definitely will” be selected in the top 30 picks.
“I would expect Malaki to do well by round one,” Holtmann said in an appearance on The Buckeye Show. “As he looks, he is still fluid. He is still fluid until, really, in the time he is chosen, because it all depends on who goes where. ”
In our first roundup of fictitious drafts last month, eight different outlets had the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in office ranging from pick # 1. 13 to n. 18, with four predictions that the Columbus native will land with the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 14. Adaptation seems to make sense given Branham’s Ohio roots. Prior to his debut season with the Buckeyes, Branham played high school basketball at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Marys, who also produced LeBron James as the Cavs draft pick nearly 20 years ago.
This time around, however, not a single fake draft found for our compilation has Branham going higher than # 15 overall at the Charlotte Hornets. Both CBS Sports and Tankathon have Branham in that slot, meaning the Cavs would have ignored him and his lottery pick status would have slipped away with only one pick.
– Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) June 22, 2022
Six other outlets have Branham falling from 16 to 21. The Ringer has the lowest possible landing spot for Branham, placing him out of the top 20 picks and dropping to the Denver Nuggets. Both Sports Illustrated and The Athletic see Branham go to number 16 of the Atlanta Hawks, while ESPN and Bleacher Report think Branham will be selected at number 18 by the Chicago Bulls. NBA Draft Room predicts that Branham will go to overall number 17 of the Houston Rockets.
According to HoopsHype, Branham worked with seven teams prior to the NBA draft: The Hawks, Hornets, Cavs, Rockets, Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Washington Wizards. One of those teams could very well end up taking nineteen tonight.
The ringtone: Round 1, n. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls
Atletico: Round 1, n. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls
Tankathon: Round 1, n. 19 overall, Minnesota Timberwolves
CBS Sports: Round 1, n. 20 overall, San Antonio Spurs
NBA Draft Room: Round 1, n. 22 overall, Memphis Grizzlies
ESPN: Round 1, n. 24 overall, Milwaukee Bucks
Bleacher Report: Round 1, n. 24 overall, Milwaukee Bucks
Sports illustrated: Round 2, n. 34 overall, Oklahoma City Thunder
While Branham’s stock appears to have slipped slightly from our first collection of fictional drafts so far, Liddell’s appears to have increased incrementally. Only one rant in our initial compilation had the three-year veteran of college hoops going higher than number 20 in late May, but three now have Liddell selected in the teens as the draft approaches.
Holtmann wasn’t as sure of Liddell’s first-round status as he was with Branham’s during his radio appearance on Monday, but he still said he expects the two-time All-Big Ten artist to be taken within the top 30 picks. .
“I think maybe there is a little more fluency with EJ than with Malaki, but I expect both guys to be in the first round. Surely both guys will be enlisted, “said Holtmann.” My hope is just that they go into great situations. Whether or not everyone wants to be chosen higher, but you just want them to be in great situations where they will be developed and able to make an impact and have a long career. ”
The dummy drafts we used for this roundup mostly agree. Only one prediction saw Liddell come out of round one, as Sports Illustrated had Liddell at number 34 overall for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Beyond that, the other seven simulated drafts we reviewed placed Liddell from 18 to 24.
The Ringer, The Athletic, Tankathon, and CBS Sports all saw Liddell being taken within the top 20 picks. The top two of these outlets have Liddell ranking 18th at the Bulls, while Tankathon and CBS Sports have it at 19 and 20 at the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs respectively.
– Atlanta Hawks (@ATHLaks) June 13, 2022
NBA Draft Room, ESPN and Bleacher Report all see Liddell being taken somewhere in the mid-1920s, with the latter two imagining the Bucks taking him with the 24th overall pick and NBA Draft Room placing Liddell at number 22 of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Liddell worked with Cavs, Hawks, Nuggets, Bulls, Timberwolves, and Golden State Warriors prior to the draft, according to HoopsHype. But no matter where you land, Holtmann thinks Liddell can contribute immediately.
“You have a guy who is really young and people see this incredible potential, which is obviously why he raised the bar on the draft board, in Malaki. And then there’s another guy who’s shown he’s ready to go and ready to impact an NBA – and not that Malaki isn’t – but EJ is ready to impact an NBA franchise, ”he said. Holtmann. “And I think they are two great examples of how every kid is following their own path and having great success.”