When it comes to the San Antonio Spurs' rookies, Jeremy Sochan has undoubtedly received the most hype throughout the season. That hype has been particularly strong over the past month and a half or so after switching to his renowned one-handed free throws. Since that game, the 6'8" forward has averaged 12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 35% from three and nearly 77% from the charity stripe. His in-season improvement has been unprecedented, to say the least.
But in the Spurs' latest matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, it was 19-year-old Malaki Branham that entered the team's history books. After scoring a career-high 22 points against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, Branham followed up that performance with 26 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds against the 76ers on Friday night. If 48 points in a two-game span sounds like a lot for a Spurs rookie, that's because it hasn't happened since the 1997-1998 season.
Malaki Branham is showing what made him a draft-night steal
That's no typo--Branham is now the first Spurs rookie to score 48 points or more in a two-game stretch since Tim Duncan did so in 1998. The young swingman has been growing more and more comfortable on the court with each passing game and has started showing fans what made him such a highly-touted prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. It may be easy to forget with how well Sochan has been playing lately, but Branham immediately came to Jay Bilas' mind when he was asked about that draft's biggest sleepers.
Branham has struggled from the beyond the arc this season, only hitting 29% of his 3.3 three-point attempts per game, but don't let that number fool you. He came quite close to hitting the coveted 50/40/90 shooting splits in his lone season at Ohio State University, and has all of the skills, touch, and athletic tools to be that kind of a scorer in the NBA. If you're asking me, it's Branham's impressively polished in-between game, particularly out of the pick-and-roll, that has given him the edge over the past two games. But Coach Popovich says he likes "everything" Branham has done in that stretch.
Branham's three-point shot should become efficient over time as he continues to refine his quick mechanics and put a bit more arc on his release. But if he can prove that he'll consistently create separation between himself and defenders, shoot efficiently around the rim, and play smart defense, there's no doubt in my mind he'll be widely considered as another draft steal by the Spurs.