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EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham Pass Team Interviews and Athletic Tests During NBA Draft in Preparation for ‘Lifetime Accomplishment’

E.J. Liddell
Written by admin_3fxxacau

Last year, the only Buckeye to make the NBA Draft Combine had to earn a last-minute invite through the G League Elite Camp. And even then, Duane Washington Jr. ultimately didn’t hear his name called during the draft itself.

This year, the first-round status of Malaki Branham and EJ Liddell is so assured that none of the former Ohio State players have even participated in five-on-five scrimmages at the Chicago combine in the course of the last two days. Still, the Scarlet and Gray stars underwent athletic measurement and testing, conducted interviews with a number of NBA teams, and also spoke with members of the media.

Which question discouraged Liddell the most throughout the process? The two-time All-Big Ten first-team performer told ESPN2 on Friday that it was his teammate and first-round prospect.

“Who would I choose, me or my teammate, Malaki Branham? I’m like, it’s a win-win. You can’t lose picking one or the other,” Liddell said.

Branham might end up being the pair’s first selected Buckeye, if most of the fictional drafts are true, but that won’t diminish Liddell’s chances of having an extended and successful NBA career in his own right.

Liddell didn’t earn an invite to the combine last season and eventually returned to school despite testing the waters and attending the G League’s elite camp. But after a career-best junior campaign in which he averaged 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.6 blocks per game, it was no secret or surprise. that Liddell would remain in the draft process in 2022.

Slated to be a first-round mid-to-late pick on June 23, Liddell did himself a disservice with his test numbers and metrics at the combine. Among his notable figures was a wingspan that only reached a quarter inch under 7 feet, which is impressive considering his stature of 6 feet 7 inches with shoes. Liddell also had the best standing vertical jump of any combine participant, reaching 35.5 inches, and his maximum vertical jump of 38 inches was eighth best among the prospects tested.

Since returning to Ohio State a year ago, Liddell has discussed that defensive versatility and multi-position guarding is something NBA scouts want to see him improve. Liddell was on the all-defensive Big Ten team last season and led the conference in blocked shots, but believes he has an even wider range of defensive abilities he can showcase at the next level.

Results for the Buckeyes at the 2022 NBA Draft Combine

Player

Ht (in Shoes)

Weight

body fat

wingspan

Standing reach

Standing Green (in)

Max Green

Shuttle race(s)

Lane Agility(s)

Three Quarter Sprint(s)

EJ LIDDELL (SF)

6’7″

243

12.2%

6’11.75″

8’7.5″

35.5

38

3.23

11.11

3.26

MALAKI BRANHAM (SG)

6’5.5″

194.8

6.1%

6’10”

8’6.5″

29

35

3.09

11:38

3.17

“Just being able to keep everyone, honestly. I can play where I can guard, and I see a lot of (different matchups) on the pitch, to guard a lot of different people,” Liddell said. “As for my lateral quickness, that has definitely improved and I think I can show that even more.”

Liddell’s stocky build (243 pounds at the combine) and athleticism have drawn comparisons to Boston Celtics forward and former Tennessee volunteer Grant Williams, who ranked No. 22 overall in of the 2019 draft after a three-year college career. If the similarities between the two players persist, Liddell could quickly become an important contributor to a Championship-seeking side, even if it takes him a year or two to find his footing.

“(I want to be) a guy who’s known for his heart, honestly,” Liddell said. “My first year, I don’t expect it to be perfect, but after a few years I built the confidence and I was the player I always was.”

Liddell reportedly interviewed the Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks during the combine. The Pistons have the highest first-round pick of any of those teams at No. 5, but Liddell is expected to drop a little lower in the draft order at the end of June.

Branham told ESPN on Thursday that he recently interviewed 10 different teams, and he said during his combined media session that the list includes the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Houston. Philadelphia Rockets and 76ers. Three of those teams have lottery picks in the draft, and the Thunder actually have two.

Branham likened the quick interview process to “speed dating” and said many teams just wanted to get to know him and see what the Big Ten Freshman of the Year personality looked like before draft day.

“I think I answered that question,” Branham said.

His rapid rise on the draft boards came in the second half of the college basketball season, as Branham spent the final 15 games of his true freshman campaign averaging 17.7 points per game. on 54.5% from total shots and 44.7% from 3 points.

So what changed for Branham, who averaged just 6.3 points on under 40% shooting from the field in his first 10 games?

“Mentally I was just more in attack mode, picking my spots and just helping the team,” Branham said. “Like they need me to score this game. I felt like physically I was going into the weight room a lot. Just knowing how to pick my spots on the pitch, I feel like that’s how my game went up in the second half of the season.

ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz compared Branham’s game to Bucks wing Khris Middleton, a three-time NBA All-Star who averaged at least 20 points per game in four of the last five seasons, but Branham said there are a few other players he’s looking at. because of the similarities in their game.

“(Cleveland Cavaliers guard) Caris LeVert. I love watching Caris LeVert, you know he’s a Columbus guy too,” Branham said. “And then also (Phoenix Suns guard) Devin Booker. They’re guys the same size, so I really like watching them just to see how they fit into their places.

After their respective careers at Ohio State, many young players are no doubt already studying Branham and Liddell to try to improve their craft. In just over a month, both players will realize the fruits of their many years of hard work, and Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said in April that it would be “an important moment” for them and the Buckeye program.

“I don’t think I’m going to cry. It could (happen). I hope I mean when that moment comes it will be the fulfillment of a lifetime,” Liddell said. “I hope I stay in the NBA for a very long time.”


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