2022 NBA Mock Draft Roundup: Projections For Ohio State’s Malaki Branham And E.J. Liddell Following The Lottery And Combine

The balls have fallen, the draft order is in place and the combine harvester is in the books.

The NBA draft is now less than a month away and two former Buckeyes are expected to hear their names before the first 30 picks are hit on June 23. According to most forecasters, Malaki Branham and EJ Liddell are slated for virtual first-round suspensions which would give Ohio State its first Round 1 draft pick since D’Angelo Russell in 2015 (and first overall draft pick since Keita Bates-Diop 2018 was selected in the second round).

Branham and Liddell are said to be Chris Holtmann’s first-ever draft picks for the first round, a notable benchmark in his own right that he hopes will pay off for his program down the line.

“It’s certainly an important moment for us to have some guys drafted this year,” Holtmann said when Branham officially announced his intention to remain in the NBA draft process in late April. “No question, it’s important. It’s something we want to see on a consistent basis and we hope this is the start of that.”

The only thing stopping Branham from making a final decision to leave Ohio State’s program earlier in the offseason was whether or not he would be a first-round pick, and it’s clear he wasn’t long afterwards received all the necessary assurances. Neither Branham nor Liddell played in the five-on-five scrimmages at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago during the second half of the week, which was just another indication that both are confident in their positions.

But which NBA team exactly each Buckeye could land is still up for debate for now. Players have just over four weeks to compete for position on the league’s draft boards. To get a better look at where both former Scarlet and Gray standouts might end up if they make the leap to the next tier, we examined several mock blueprints to try and triangulate a consensus range for each player.

You can check out each of the mock designs referenced in our roundup below:

Using input from each of these eight mock drafts, here’s a rundown of where some of the top NBA draft experts and analysts think Branham and Liddell will end up on draft night.

G Malaki Branham

NBA Draft Room: Round 1, No. 13 overall, Charlotte Hornets
Bleacher Report: Round 1, No. 14 overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
CBS Sports: Round 1, No. 14 overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
ESPN: Round 1, No. 14 overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sports illustrated: Round 1, No. 14 overall, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tankathon: Round 1, No. 16 overall, Atlanta Hawks
NBC Sports: Round 1, No. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls
The ringtone: Round 1, No. 18 overall, Chicago Bulls

Not on many (if any) preseason draft boards, Branham’s blistering run through the Big Ten schedule sent his stocks skyrocketing over the course of the season for Ohio State. After averaging just 6.3 points in the first 10 games of the season, Branham has averaged 17 points per night in the last 22, with 20.2 per game in the last 10 competitions of the year.

They would also prove to be the last 10 of his collegiate career, as Branham did enough in just one season to secure an NBA future. Now Branham is on the verge of a lottery selection as five of the eight bill designs used for this article have the Colombian native among the top 14 selections.

The most common landing spot would actually keep Branham in his home state, as ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report expect him to be picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the No. 14 overall pick.

Branham, a former Mr. Ohio Basketball Award winner, played high school basketball at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Marys, and even received a shoutout from LeBron James on Twitter when he declared himself for the draft. A selection by Cleveland would only reinforce those parallels.

in a (n Interviewed by ESPN During last week’s combine, Branham cited Cleveland’s Caris LeVert – also from Columbus – as a player he studies frequently due to their similar build and skills. If the Cavs choose Branham, he may be able to play alongside former Michigan Wolverine and six-year NBA veteran.

Branham came off the board before the Cavs picked only one of the eight drafts played. NBA Draft Room projects Branham will go to the Charlotte Hornets at No. 13, which is the highest pick of any mock for Branham. No ridicule had Branham go below No. 18, as both NBC Sports and The Ringer have the slick two-guard going No. 18 to the Chicago Bulls.

The list of teams Branham was interviewed with at the combine included the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. None of the mocks included any of these teams as potential landing spots for Branham.

F EJ Liddell

The ringtone: Round 1, #17 overall, Houston Rockets
Sports illustrated: Round 1, No. 20 overall, San Antonio Spurs
ESPN: Round 1, No. 24 overall, Milwaukee Bucks
NBC Sports: Round 1, No. 24 overall, Milwaukee Bucks
Bleacher Report: Round 1, No. 25 overall, San Antonio Spurs
CBS Sports: Round 1, No. 25 overall, San Antonio Spurs
Tankathon: Round 1, No. 26 overall, Dallas Mavericks
NBA Draft Room: Round 1, #27 overall, Miami Heat

If Liddell had stayed in the draft a year ago, he might not have been drafted. With only two years of college experience at this point, Liddell didn’t even get an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, and the one Buckeye that did (Duane Washington) didn’t get drafted.

But after a career-best season that earned him first-team All-Big Ten and third-team AP All-American honors, Liddell is a surefire draft pick. A few of his readings at the combine harvester can even help his stock a bit. The versatile forward’s wingspan was just a quarter inch shorter than 7 feet, and Liddell’s 35.5 inch standing vertical jump was the highlight of the entire event.

Of course, Liddell’s Ohio State band will already be showing teams a lot, given the 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game he averaged as a junior. He’s had to make some adjustments over the past season – playing more on the touchline, shooting more three-pointers and showing his versatility defensively – and some of those will need to be continued at the next level. But what he has shown so far could make Liddell a top 20 pick in June.

Of the eight mock designs we examined, only The Ringer included Liddell in the top 20 picks. It’s also the only prediction where Liddell will be picked ahead of Branham, whom O’Connor brought to the Bulls at 18th pick after the Rockets hit Liddell with the 17th pick.

The other seven mocks see Liddell somewhere between pick 20 and pick 27, with the most common landing spot being the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have both the 20th and 25th picks, giving them two options to look at Liddell should he still be on the board. The Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are also listed as potential targets for Liddell in various mocks.

While unlikely to venture into lottery territory, Liddell could be well positioned as a late first-round pick for stable organization for immediate team success. Having drawn comparisons to Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams, who at times made the difference in the playoffs, Liddell hopes to make a similar tangible impact in the NBA sooner rather than later.

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