After what seems like months of anticipation for the Toronto Raptors to make their first first-round pick since 2017, the Raptors selected Malachi Flynn with the 29th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, the most Raptorsy player in the most Raptorsy draft.
Flynn is a 22-year-old undersized point guard who spent his senior year at San Diego State where he averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 37.3 percent from deep and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Flynn is a modern point guard and one of the best pick-and-roll players in the draft. He ranked in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season and shot 68.2 percent at the rim. He’s also a great shooter, posting a 47.2-percent effective field-goal percentage on roughly four pull-up jumpers per-game, ranking in the 81st percentile, and knocked down 19-of-37 of his open threes. You can read a more in-depth scouting report on Flynn here.
He’s also an underrated defender despite being just 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds. In other words, Flynn is a skinnier version of Fred VanVleet, though he projects as a better at-rim finisher and pick-and-roll playmaker.
So why did the Raptors draft another VanVleet at 29 when there were several other good players on the board, including wings like Desmond Bane and bigs like Xavier Tillman? And what does the pick say about their future plans?
People have speculated that this pick means either Kyle Lowry or VanVleet will be shipped off ahead of the 2020-21 campaign in order to make room for a guard-heavy roster, but I don’t think that’s the right read on the situation. The Raptors have needed a third point guard for some time — a guy who can come off the bench and run a unit while giving Lowry and VanVleet some much-needed rest, whether that means sitting or playing off-ball. No more Jeremy Lin or Patrick McCaw — and Flynn is a guy who can immediately do that.
More than anything, though, picking Flynn shows that the Raptors want to continue playing the style Nick Nurse has been leaning into over the last two years: small ball with emphasis on skill and defense at every position. The Raptors aren’t afraid to play two or three-guard lineups with multiple ball-handlers, and the Flynn pick suggests they will lean even heavier into that.
With so many guards now on the roster —including their second-round pick Jalen Harris — and without a proper G League season due to the pandemic, the Raptors seem likely to move on from one or two of McCaw, Norman Powell, and Terrence Davis II (Davis was charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend in late October and should be cut from the team immediately). People speculated that they might try to use one or more of these assets to move up in the draft, but even though the draft has come to pass, there are still trades waiting to be made and free-agent targets to be had.
Assuming the Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, which has always seemed the most likely scenario and the one I will be operating under, the Raptors will need depth on the wing and center positions. They could trade for a scorer like Kelly Oubre Jr. who is entering the final year of his two-year, $30 million contract and is reportedly on the trade market, or they could go after someone like Victor Olidipo if his trade value has plummeted as much as some people think it has.
In terms of free agents, things get tricky because the Raptors want to retain as much cap space for 2021-22 as possible. Still, that doesn’t mean they should stand pat: if they can get someone good on a reasonable deal there is no reason they can’t flip said player down the road if (when) a big-time free agent is finally ready to come to Canada.
I don’t think it makes sense to spend much money on a backup center when you can usually get a replacement-level one for the minimum and when the Raptors have OG Anunoby to play there when it matters most. I think the Raptors need a scorer like Goran Dragic, Joe Harris, or even Bogdan Bogdanovic.
There is no doubt that the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets all got better this offseason, but the Raptors running it back with the additions of Flynn and a free agent or trade target scorer would put them in a great position to compete with the top of the East. Their young players are primed to take another step forward and their organizational stability will matter in an unprecedented season.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Raptors hold onto their assets and try to trade a disgruntled star like they did in 2018 with Kawhi Leonard. It’s a superstar-driven league, after all, and the Raptors could be special with the biggest beard in basketball.