Malaki Branham

Southwest Notes: Zion, McDermott, Branham, Silas

Zion Williamson was the star attraction for Pelicans fans at this year’s open practice, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. After missing all of last season following foot surgery, Williamson has been impressive during training camp, with coach Willie Green saying he “dominated” the team’s first scrimmage. This is the first time Williamson has been able to take part in an open practice since his rookie year, so he tried to put on a show for the crowd.

“I haven’t been in that environment where I have been able to play and interact with the fans,” he said. “Once I hit one group, I looked around and was like, ‘I’m going to have to make a 360.'”

Williamson also talked about having stability for the first time in his NBA career. He agreed to a five-year, maximum-salary extension during the offseason, and he has watched the team reach new deals with CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. in the past week.

“My first three years, it was always a different cast of guys,” Williamson said. “To see some vet guys stay around and build something special here, it means a lot. Last season after the final game, I just wanted to be part of something special. Seeing CJ, Larry, some of the other guys stick around, I’m excited for the process.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Even though they aren’t that old, Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson have to fill the role of veteran leaders on a young Spurs team, per Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs have 10 players on their 20-man roster who are 22 or younger, and five are still teenagers. “There is something to be said that we are still here and kind of leading the locker room,” the 30-year-old McDermott said. “It’s a blessing honestly that they value me and Josh and Jakob (Poeltl) to be those guys. Because we don’t have any egos and want to see those guys thrive just as much as they do.”
  • The Spurs‘ six rookies, including three first-round picks, will get their first taste of NBA competition Sunday night, McDonald adds in a separate story. There has been plenty to absorb in a short time for the group, which has been through only four practices together. “It’s been a lot of learning,” said 20th overall pick Malaki Branham. “Fast-paced, but it’s been good. We’re all fast learners so I feel like we all kind of get it.”
  • Rockets coach Stephen Silas will focus on working out his rotations during the preseason, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle“Still trying to figure out which groups play well together,” Silas said. “Tomorrow gives us a chance to do it against another team, which is huge. It’s hard when you’re evaluating both teams at the same time. But when you’re playing against a team, you can really dive into what works well offensively or defensively.”

Spurs Notes: Sochan, Branham, Hall, Days

Most of the NBA’s top draft picks saw at least some playing time in Las Vegas, but not Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan, whose Summer League plans were derailed by COVID-19, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. The ninth overall selection tested positive for the virus shortly after the draft and couldn’t practice with the Summer League squad. He agreed with the team’s decision to not have him try to play in any games.

“I didn’t have any injuries, but COVID still affects you, affects your lungs,” Sochan said.“I didn’t practice, and I was out of shape. … It made sense for me not to play here and I am always going to listen to the people in the organization.”

Sochan said he “stayed in bed and slept a lot” after contracting COVID, but he felt better after three days. He has spent most of his time in Las Vegas doing weight training and working with Summer League coach Mitch Johnson to learn the team’s playbook. He has also been a prominent cheerleader during the games and has been impressed by fellow first-round picks Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley.

“I think both have done great,” Sochan said. “There are some areas where they could have done better, but it’s a learning experience for everyone. (Two-way player) Dominick Barlow has also done well. I think it’s been a learning experience for them. They just want to learn and win.”

There’s more on the Spurs:

  • Branham turned in his best performance Saturday in San Antonio’s final Summer League game, Orsborn notes in a separate story. The 20th pick in the draft scored 23 points while hitting 8-of-15 shots from the floor and 5-of-8 from three-point range. “Him being decisive is going to be the key,” Johnson said. “He gets in between sometimes with, ‘Should I drive it? Should I shoot it?’ Or he’s thinking, ‘I missed the last one.’ When you are as versatile and as skilled as he is, you just need to play and be aggressive. … That’s going to be one of his strengths (three-point shooting), so he needs to try to score.”
  • Jordan Hall, an undrafted rookie out of St. Joseph’s, declared for the draft in 2021 but took the Spurs’ advice and returned to school for another year, Orsborn states in another piece. Hall, a combo forward who’s competing for an open two-way slot, reminds a lot of people of former Spur Kyle Anderson.
  • Johnson called it “bittersweet” to have Darius Days sign a two-way deal with the Heat after a strong performance with the Spurs, but he said that’s one of the purposes of Summer League, Orsborn tweets. “It’s all about these guys either finding jobs or trying to promote themselves within their current job,” Johnson said. “So that’s good on him.”

Spurs Notes: K. Johnson, Primo, Wesley, Branham, Engelland

The Spurs are locking up one of the keys to their rebuilding project by agreeing to a four-year, $80MM extension with Keldon Johnson, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Even though Johnson is only 22, he’s among the most experienced players on the roster following the trade of Dejounte Murray to Atlanta.

“I kind of have been in the system the longest,” Johnson said after the Murray deal was announced. “So just lead these guys, tell them the ins and outs. We are all going to have learning moments in the upcoming years, but just stay even-keeled throughout it.”

After earning an Olympic gold medal last summer, Johnson turned in his best NBA season so far, posting career highs with 17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and shooting 39.8% from three-point range. With Murray and Lonnie Walker both gone, Johnson will have to become an on-court leader for a team with the league’s second-youngest roster.

“Definitely a big opportunity,” he said. “We lost some big pieces, but it’s time to step up. You got to keep evolving, keep getting better, keep grinding. I am ready.”

There’s more on the Spurs:

  • San Antonio is counting on a pair of 19-year-old guards to play major roles this season, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs were hoping to get a long look at 2021 lottery pick Joshua Primo during Summer League, but he was limited to two games after testing positive for COVID-19. Blake Wesley, the 25th overall pick this season, had issues with shooting and turnovers in Las Vegas, but ranked 14th in scoring coming into today’s games. “Blake Wesley and Josh Primo are the modern-day guards,” Spurs Summer League coach Mitch Johnson said. “They are not classic throwback point guards. They are not classic throwback shooting guards in terms of how we used to define those things years ago. They are attacking guards, so that’s going to be a thing we will continue to develop, evolve, grow, teach, partner with them on.”
  • Summer League has been a learning process for another young guard, Malaki Branham, who was taken with the 20th pick last month, Orsborn adds. “I would rate myself grade-wise probably a C, C-plus,” Branham said. “I feel I need to be more aggressive. I’m looking for my shot but also creating for others. Just learning every game and learning every play as well.”
  • Assistant coach Chip Engelland, who has been with the team since 2005, will leave after his current contract expires, tweets Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Spurs Sign Malaki Branham To Rookie Scale Contract

The Spurs have signed first-round pick Malaki Branham to his rookie scale contract, according to NBA.com’s transactions log.

In 32 games (29.6 MPG) as a freshman for Ohio State, Branham averaged 13.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG and 2 APG on .498/.416/.833 shooting. He was named Big Ten Rookie of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten Third Team for his efforts.

The 19-year-old put up 15 points and three rebounds on 6-15 shooting in his Summer League debut this evening, a 99-90 loss to the Cavaliers.

Branham was the 20th overall pick by San Antonio and will earn $2,925,600 as a rookie and $14,177,433 over the course of four seasons, assuming he receives 120% of the rookie scale amount, which is standard. As with all first-rounders, both the third and fourth seasons are team options.

Branham is the 27th first-round pick from last month’s draft to officially finalize his rookie contract, as shown by our tracker of draft pick signings. Dyson Daniels (Pelicans), Jeremy Sochan (Spurs), and Walker Kessler (Jazz) are the lone holdouts, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t join their fellow first-rounders soon.

Spurs Notes: Branham, Wesley, Walker, Sochan, Popovich

Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley impressed the Spurs so much with their competitiveness at a pre-draft workout that the team decided to take both players, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. The two guards were matched up against each other in a 3-on-3 scrimmage and both took advantage of the opportunity.

“I felt like we was competing for a spot, so I was going extra hard and going after him,” Wesley said of Branham. Wesley also tried to outshine Duke’s Wendell Moore, who took part in the scrimmage as well, explaining, “They had a lot more hype than me, so I wanted to go at them.”

General manager Brian Wright said the Spurs expected Branham to be selected in the mid-teens or possibly late in the lottery and were prepared to trade up for him before he fell to No. 20.

“He’s smart, tough, competitive and coachable, and those are all things we were looking to find in this draft,” Wright said.

There’s more from San Antonio:

  • The addition of two guards casts doubt on the future of Lonnie Walker, who is headed for free agency, Orsborn adds in a separate story. The Spurs can make him restricted by extending a $6.3MM qualifying offer by Wednesday, but there may no longer be a role for him in San Antonio. “He has done a phenomenal job in his development over the years and we saw the consistency he brought, especially in the second half of the season when he really hit his stride,” Wright said. “At the appropriate time, we will sit with (his representatives) and him and try to find out what’s next for him and the franchise.”
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News looks at the international background of lottery pick Jeremy Sochan, who had to learn basketball from his mother because there weren’t many accomplished coaches in the English town where the family lived when he was young. The organization is impressed by Sochan’s versatility and plans to use him all along the front line.
  • Coach Gregg Popovich called each of the Spurs’ draft picks Thursday night to welcome them to the team, McDonald tweets, adding that it’s a pretty clear indication that Popovich plans to return for another season.

Southeast Draft Notes: Holmgren, Hornets, Williams, O’Neal

Chet Holmgren met with the Magic‘s front office on Wednesday and Thursday, writes Matt Murschel of The Orlando Sentinel. Holmgren is the No. 1 prospect on ESPN’s big board, although his thin frame has caused some other talent evaluators to drop him a bit lower than that.

A person with knowledge of the situation tells Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press that the 20-year-old’s visit included “meetings, interviews and a dinner.” The Magic previously held a solo workout with Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero “expects to meet with” Orlando before the draft on June 23, according to Reynolds.

The big men are widely considered the top three prospects in the draft, and the Magic hold the No. 1 overall pick, so it makes perfect sense that they’re meeting with all of them.

In 32 games (26.9 MPG) in his lone college season with Gonzaga, Holmgren was a consensus All-American with averages of 14.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.9 APG and 3.7 BPG on .607/.390/.717 shooting.

Here are a few more draft-related notes from the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets, who control the Nos. 13, 15 and 45 picks in the 2022 draft, are hosting a group workout on Friday (Twitter link) featuring Malaki Branham, MarJon Beauchamp, Kendall Brown, Bryce McGowens, Isaiah Whaley and Trevion Williams. Branham (No. 13) and Beauchamp (No. 23) are both projected first-round picks, with McGowens (No. 33) and Brown (No. 38) considered early second-rounders. Williams also has a solid shot to get drafted going by ESPN’s rankings, as he’s No. 56 on the board, but Whaley isn’t listed.
  • Mark Williams has a solo workout with the Wizards on Saturday, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Williams is a potential lottery picked at No. 14 on ESPN’s board, and Washington controls the No. 10 pick. The 7’0″ center averaged 11.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.8 BPG while shooting 72.1% from the floor and 72.7% from the free-throw line in 39 games (23.6 MPG) as a sophomore for Duke this season, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year in the process.
  • Shareef O’Neal worked out for the Heat on Thursday, Robbins relays in another tweet. O’Neal only averaged 2.9 PPG and 2.1 RPG in 14 games (9.2 MPG) as a junior for LSU and isn’t considered a strong draft candidate, but perhaps he could be auditioning for summer league as an undrafted free agent. Miami currently controls the No. 27 pick.

Draft Notes: Green Room, Draft Targets, Comps, Mock, Minott

The list of prospects invited to the green room on draft night has expanded to 16, tweets ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The list includes all of the top-16 ranked players on ESPN’s big boardChet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray, Dyson DanielsShaedon Sharpe, Bennedict Mathurin, AJ Griffin, Jalen Duren, Johnny Davis, Ousmane DiengMalaki BranhamMark Williams, Jeremy Sochan and Ochai Agbaji.

A source tells Givony that the list could expand further, with four more invites still a possibility. The draft is nine days away.

Here are some more draft-related notes:

Central Notes: Ibaka, Bucks, Branham, Pacers

Despite some chatter out of Europe regarding his future, veteran Bucks big man Serge Ibaka, an unrestricted free agent this summer, intends to remain in the NBA next season, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando.

Carchia notes that Italian EuroLeague club Virtus Bologna, winners of the 2021 Italian Serie A, would be interested in adding Ibaka, but the team has not made any formal outreach to the 32-year-old. Before joining the NBA for the 2009/10 season, Ibaka played for two Spanish pro clubs: Bàsquet Manresa and EuroLeague powerhouse Real Madrid.

Last year while with the Clippers and Bucks, Ibaka posted his most modest numbers since his 2009/10 rookie season with the Thunder. For the regular season, the 6’10” power forward/center averaged 6.8 PPG and 4.6 RPG across 16.2 MPG.

Ibaka, a former three-time All-Defensive Team selection and a champion with the Raptors in 2019, played even more minimally in the postseason for Milwaukee. He appeared in only six of the Bucks’ 12 playoff contests this year, averaging 1.5 PPG and 1.7 RPG in just 3.7 MPG when he did play.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • The Bucks may look to the upcoming draft to build out their bench depth for the 2022/23 season. Eric Nehm of The Athletic assesses four point guard prospects who could fit for Milwaukee behind 2022 All-Defensive Second Teamer Jrue Holiday: Kentucky guard TyTy Washington, G League Ignite guard Jaden Hardy, Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler, and 6’7″ Arizona prospect Dalen Terry.
  • An ankle sprain prevented Ohio State guard Malaki Branham from participating in a group workout with the Cavaliers, but the team was nevertheless intrigued by the NBA prospect following a dinner, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). Fedor adds (via Twitter) that Cleveland intends to bring Branham back to its facilities for a healthy workout ahead of the June 23 draft.
  • Due to a flight delay, three prospects missed their group workout with the Pacers on Friday, tweets Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan, Iraurgi Saski Baloia shooting guard Pavel Savkov and Urbas Fuenlabrada guard Ziga Samar were not able to participate in a team workout that also included G League Ignite prospect Dyson Daniels, Oklahoma guard Kameron McGusty and Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels. Given that most prospects have fairly busy schedules leading up to the draft, it is unclear whether this triumvirate’s Pacers workout will be rescheduled.

New York Notes: Nets, M. James, Knicks, Workouts

After playing with the Nets down the stretch in the 2020/21 season, veteran guard Mike James is interested in returning to Brooklyn, a league insider tells NetsDaily. James remains close with star forward Kevin Durant, who traveled to Europe to watch his former teammate play in the EuroLeague this spring.

With Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills, and Goran Dragic all eligible for free agency, the Nets’ backcourt could undergo some changes this offseason, so a reunion with James isn’t out of the question. The team still controls his Non-Bird rights and could offer him either a minimum-salary deal or something slightly above it.

Still, it’s unclear whether the Nets have interest in bringing back James, who threw some cold water on NetsDaily’s report himself in a reply on Twitter.

“(I don’t know) how to even take this rumor,” James wrote. “Would I like to play alongside my friend Kevin? Yes. But I’d also like to play alongside my 10 other of my close friends. Some play in the NBA, Europe and some don’t play professional.”

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams:

  • The Knicks worked out a handful of possible lottery targets on Monday. In addition to TyTy Washington, G League Ignite guard Dyson Daniels and Ohio State wing Malaki Branham were also in town to audition for the team, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic and Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter links).
  • Memphis forward Josh Minott, viewed as a probable second-round pick, also worked out for the Knicks on Monday, tweets Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com.
  • Memphis shooting guard Lester Quinones is working out for the Knicks on Tuesday and the Nets on Thursday, a source tells Jake Weingarten of StockRisers.com (Twitter link). Quinones has previously worked out for the Warriors and Lakers, among other teams.
  • Notre Dame forward Paul Atkinson, the 2020 Ivy League Player of the Year at Yale, will work out on Tuesday for the Nets, tweets Zagoria.
  • Fred Katz of The Athletic explores several hypothetical scenarios in which the Knicks trade up from No. 11, weighing how many assets they’d have to give up and whether their potential trade partners would have legitimate interest.

Central Notes: Branham, Terry, Beauchamp, Tillman, Pacers

The Cavaliers are hosting Ohio State’s Malaki Branham for a pre-draft workout on Wednesday, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Cleveland holds the No. 14 overall pick and Branham, a shooting guard, is ranked 13th on ESPN’s Best Available list. He averaged 13.7 PPG and knocked down 41.6% of his 3-pointers in his lone college season.

We have more from the Central Division: