2022 NBA Draft wasn't the display Ohio State hoped but Buckeyes remain in a good place

2022 NBA Draft wasn’t the display Ohio State hoped but Buckeyes remain in a good place

The 2022 NBA Draft took place on Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. A night that could have been a celebration of Ohio State basketball and signs that things were moving toward Big Ten titles and deep NCAA Tournament runs felt a bit flat. But the splash in the draft isn’t all that matters in the end.

Instead of having multiple first-round selections for the first time since Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook all went in the first 21 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft, the Buckeyes had two picks overall, also the first time since that 2007 draft. Malaki Branham went No. 20 overall to the San Antonio Spurs and EJ Liddell came off the board 21 picks later.

While two players selected for a program that hasn’t seen that kind of professional production in a while is certainly a positive step, head coach Chris Holtmann and the Scarlet and Gray hoped and believed that both Branham and Liddell would be first-round picks. It would have been a major feather in the cap for Ohio State to be one of six programs to have multiple players taken in the first round of this year’s draft.

“It’s certainly an important moment for us to have a couple guys drafted this year,” Holtmann said in April. “There’s no question it’s important. It’s something that we want to see on a consistent basis and we hope that this is the beginning of that. Going into next year, we’ll have five players in five years on NBA rosters, so we ‘ ve had that. Some of it’s been a different path … I think as much as anything, we want to continue to add to that number of five guys and that’s important to us. “

Branham’s selection spot was not a huge surprise. While some predicted him to go higher – the most popular pick was No. 14 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers – Branham was likely always going late in the lottery or shortly after.

The question could be asked if Branham could have helped himself by returning for a sophomore season in Columbus. The Big Ten saw three players taken in the first 10 picks in Iowa’s Keegan MurrayPurdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. All three came back for a second season of college basketball and significantly improved their production.

While Branham, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had a much better debut season than any of those three, he certainly has areas of his game that can improve. Predicting how high he could have gone in the 2023 NBA Draft had he returned to Ohio State and continued his development in college is a fruitless process because it didn’t happen. Branham said if he was projected as a first-round pick, he was going to the NBA and that was the case.

Liddell fell further than many expected in the draft, not just dropping out of the first round but going 11 picks into the second, but had less control. While no player knows where he will go, Liddell’s ceiling was as high as it was going to be. Coming off a consensus first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American season, where he was a Naismith Trophy Player of the Year semifinals, another year of college basketball wasn’t going to help the forward when it came to the pros.

After testing the NBA waters a year ago, Liddell worked to improve areas of his game in which he received feedback. With the help of the Buckeyes, Liddell was able to play more on the perimeter as a junior and have the ball in his hands more often. While his scoring and outside shooting improved, his turnovers increased by one-and-a-half times with more on-ball responsibilities.

Even though many draft experts believed Liddell still projected as a first-round pick, there was enough there that nearly every NBA team passed on Liddell at least once.

As Holtmann pointed out recently, however, when a player gets drafted and where a player gets drafted are different things. What matters more than being a high first-round pick is the right landing spot.

“My hope is just that they go to great situations,” Holtmann said this week. “Regardless of everyone wants to get picked higher, but you just want them to be in great situations where they’re gonna be developed and be able to make an impact and have a long career.”

Branham is now in one of the best organizations in the NBA with the Spurs, especially when it comes to developing talent. He will get a fair shot and work with five-time NBA champion Gregg Popovich.

Liddell’s path to early playing time is not as clear, with forwards Zion Williams and Brandon Ingram already on the roster, but the Pelicans’ rebuild after trading Anthony Davis a few years ago has been through mostly younger players.

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And while the Scarlet and Gray would have loved to have been on display in the first round of the NBA Draft, this is not necessary for the development of the program. Holtmann landed a top-10 recruiting class in 2022 and has another one building in 2023, meaning there is excitement around the program from those that matter. Thad Matta had plenty of success at Ohio State prior to Holtmann without regularly having multiple first-round picks.

And if both Branham and Liddell go on to have successful NBA careers, that will be the reflection on the program and not what happened in one night in June.

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