Although the San Antonio Spurs are on pace to finish with their worst record in franchise history, there have been a few bright spots. One of which is the second-half emergence of rookie Malaki Branham. Branham did not show much at the beginning of the season, but his early struggles were understandable, especially considering he is still a teenager. What's surprising, however, is his recent play.
In February, Branham averaged an impressive 16.8 points, up from the 7.8 points he averaged the month before. This spike in production was a direct result of the coaching staff giving Branham more opportunities, which he took advantage of to build momentum. He shot 38.3% on a high volume of threes, which was a significant factor in his improved play.
He also got to play more with the ball in his hands while displaying a mid-range game and the ability to get to and finish at the rim despite not being the most explosive player. Branham even got numerous easy baskets simply by being a good cutter.
How does Branham fits into the team's wing rotation going forward?
His emergence is a fascinating development for the Spurs. After all, they took a chance on a prospect who wasn't expected to be a one-and-done player but broke out midway through his freshman season at Ohio State. Now, it seems like he could soon be a key contributor for the Spurs. Of course, that is a great thing, though the team already has Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson on the wing, which could complicate Branham getting more minutes.
The Spurs could try some small-ball lineups with Vassell, Branham, and Johnson playing 2-4 or even point-guard-less lineups with all three plus Jeremy Sochan sharing ballhandling and playmaking responsibilities. Both are distinct possibilities but heavily depend on who the team takes in the 2023 NBA Draft. If they choose Victor Wembanyama, the Spurs probably aren't going to play much small ball, nor should they with a 7'3" big man.
If the Spurs select Scoot Henderson, there likely won't be many point-guard-less lineups. As he continues to improve, the Spurs could simply have a three-man wing rotation with Branham playing at both shooting guard and small forward, depending on which of Vassell and Johnson are out of the game. That would allow him to play significant minutes despite coming off the bench.
All in all, Branham still has a ways to go before he becomes the Spurs' next success story. Still, he is looking more and more like an NBA player, and far sooner than most would have expected.