Bobby Webster said Malachi Flynn was pretty high on the Raptors' board. He said they interviewed him on Zoom a few months ago and then again in Vegas recently. They were impressed with his big season at San Diego State as well as his character. "He checks off a lot of boxes"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 19, 2020
Malachi Flynn says he felt a good connection to the Raptors when they came to watch him workout in Vegas. Thinks he fits as a competitor and a worker.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 19, 2020
Flynn is also an emerging pull-up shooter, which can help put additional pressure on a defence. There’s a gravity to his pick-and-roll approach that will open up more of those passing opportunities. Flynn posted a 47.2-percent effective field-goal percentage on roughly four pull-up jumpers per-game, ranking in the 81st percentile. He was even better on limited unguarded catch-and-shoot opportunities – 19-of-37 – suggesting he has an even higher upside as a shooter than his 36.3-percent mark on 3 suggests. Strong free-throw shooting, a decent volume of 3-point attempts from deeper range and a quick release all suggest improvement could follow, too.
Flynn figures to play with another point guard often, as the Raptors could opt to bring him along slowly with a senior advisor of sorts in hybrid bench units or just thrust him into the mix as part of their usual two-point guard lineup approach. For a team that looked desperate for offensive creation at times last year, Flynn’s offensive package fills a real need.
Even at 6-foot-1, he should be able to play alongside Lowry or VanVleet, and his defensive potential could unlock dual-PG sets as a long-term strategy for Nick Nurse. Despite the size and athleticism disadvantages, Flynn is a high-impact perimeter defender, with a terrific steal rate, toughness and good instincts as a team defender. Opponents tended to size him up thinking they had an advantage, only to get nowhere against him. Sound familiar?
Flynn won’t guard the post like a Raptors guard (at least not yet), but he’s a major results over tools guy at both ends. If NBA speed and athleticism make it tougher on him, he should still provide a defensive floor with his effort and awareness that will help him pick up an aggressive Raptors scheme.
So how does a guy this interesting slide to No. 29? There are perceived limitations on his upside because he’s 22, and he played against younger and weaker competition following a redshift transfer year.
The Raptors haven’t shied away from that archetype in the past, and the massive leap Flynn took with San Diego State suggests real capacity for development and perhaps some upside still to tap into. (That he cites wanting to move to a winning team as a reason for his transfer surely sat well with the Raptors.) He was very efficient on very high usage with very few mistakes. He ranked seventh in the entire country in BPM and ninth in points over replacement per-adjusted game, via Bart Torvik. In short, he was one of the 10 or 15 best players in college basketball, and the Raptors are betting he can take the necessary next steps in their development system, likely projecting him to be a rotation guard sooner than later.
For Webster and the Raptors, things will get more serious from here.
With the draft over, the real work begins as the rest of the league seems to be remaking itself on the fly. For the moment, the Raptors were standing to the side as interested observers, but that could change.
“Yeah, you’ve always got to keep up with everyone else, as far as (trade) volume,” said Webster. “…. As you know, trades will continue the rest of tonight, tomorrow. Free agency starts on Friday. So you’re on it, we’re right in the thick of it. Ton of stuff going on.”
Now is the time for the Raptors to get with it.
The Raptors defended their 2018 championship with arguably the best regular season in franchise history, setting a team record with a .736 winning percentage, albeit over a pandemic-shortened 72-game schedule. But after never quite hitting their stride in a seven-game, second-round loss to the Boston Celtics, the path to getting better — or even picking up where they left off — has its share of pitfalls.
Free agency was always going to be the bigger lever Toronto’s short- and medium-term future. But when it opens Friday at noon, only three of the top-eight rotation players who helped the franchise to a title will still be under contract. VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will all become free agents, momentarily leaving just Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell to hold the fort, along with OG Anunoby, who wasn’t was on the playoff roster in 2019 but has become a foundational piece since.
In that spirit, the Raptors took San Diego State’s Flynn, who is undersized, but smart and competitive. He will now receive all of the comparisons to Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
“I think it’s going to be great for me as a young guy coming into the league with two guys who have won a championship, who have put up great numbers,” Flynn said. “They’ve won. There’s not much bad you can say about those two guys. And they’re a similar size to me.”
“I think he can do it all on the offensive end,” Webster said of Flynn, who was the Mountain West Conference’s player of the year and defensive player of the year after his lone season at San Diego State. “A lot of people are going to talk about pick-and-roll, shooting off the dribble, shoots the 3-ball well, obviously defends at a high level as well. I wouldn’t say he necessarily fits our development system. He’s just a guy we really liked and can come in and play a little bit for us but also develop under the leadership of Kyle and Fred. Those are two good guys for him to learn under.”
As you can tell, the Raptors are confident in retaining VanVleet. That is because not all of the news happening around them is bad for their purposes.
For one thing, nobody knows how the news of the Bogdanovic mishap will affect the Bucks on the court, or their ability to impress Antetokounmpo in order to convince him to sign a contract extension before next season. Focusing more on the present, VanVleet now has one fewer likely suitor. By taking Trevor Ariza’s $7.2-million contract off of Houston’s hands, cutting down on their available cap room, and then by drafting point guard Killian Hayes, the Pistons are not as much of a fit for VanVleet. Flynn is more likely to develop behind both Lowry and VanVleet, and occasionally beside one or both of them, rather than replace one of them.
That leaves the Knicks as the only obvious candidate with a need at point guard and the cap space to bid on him. It is always possible for other suitors to emerge, especially now that the Raptors, among other teams, have shown how effective lineups with multiple guards can be in heavy minutes.
“I think we’ve said it publicly, privately and every which way. He’s our top priority. He’s our biggest priority for the off-season, bringing him back,” Webster said on Tuesday. “We’ve had a great run for four years. We fully expect that to continue and everything’s been positive.
“We’ve been out of business here for nine months, so we fully expected (a lot of transactions) to happen.”
And if the Raptors aren’t at the centre of things right now, they aren’t worried. The Kawhi Leonard trade was the exception, not the rule. This is what the Raptors do. They lurk.
For fans worried about what the Flynn selection means for VanVleet, who will become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. The Raptors have made it clear – re-signing VanVleet is their top priority of this accelerated off-season, and they remain confident that they’ll be able to reach an agreement with the rising star.
Does Flynn give them some insurance at the position in case VanVleet decides to sign elsewhere? Sure. Could he end up being the future successor to Lowry, who turns 35 this season? Of course. But he wasn’t drafted as an immediate replacement for either guard.
Nick Nurse’s system is predicated on movement and the ability to read and react. As such, the Raptors’ head coach likes to have multiple playmakers on the floor at a time.
Not having a third point guard on the roster last season proved troublesome at times, especially when Lowry or VanVleet missed time due to injury and Nurse was forced to cobble together a makeshift backcourt rotation, with , Terence Davis or playing out of position. It was clearly something the team was looking to address going into the draft.
The Raptors can envision Flynn playing alongside either guard, and with Lowry and VanVleet starting together, he could have an opportunity to earn a meaningful role off the bench right out of the gate. All the while – and assuming VanVleet returns – Toronto’s rookie guard can learn from two of the NBA’s best players at his position.
“He’s a modern NBA point guard,” Webster said of Flynn. “I think he can do it all on the offensive end. A lot of people are going to talk about pick-and-roll, shooting off the dribble, shoots the three-ball well, obviously defends at a high level as well. I wouldn’t say he necessarily fits for our development system. He’s just a guy we really liked and can come in and play a little bit for us but also develop under the leadership of Kyle and Fred. Those are two good guys for him to learn under.”
Toronto, like the league’s 29 other teams, wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into an especially unpredictable draft. There was little consensus up top, where bruising guard Anthony Edwards (chosen by Minnesota), talented big man James Wiseman (selected by Golden State) and dynamic playmaker LaMelo Ball (who went to Charlotte) rounded out the top-three. However, it was even more wide-open late in the first round.
Still, despite a few selections that surprised them, the Raptors got their man. Although the restrictions on this year’s pre-draft process prevented teams from working prospects out in their own gym, Toronto was impressed with what they saw from Flynn at San Diego State this past season.
How Flynn fits in for the Raptors of 2020-21 is obvious. They’ve got two point guards on the roster right now: the almost 35-year-old legend Kyle Lowry, who’s under contract for one more season, and almost 27-year-old Fred VanVleet, who is a free agent at this very moment. While there are needs elsewhere on the roster (e.g. at centre), it makes sense, given the value placed on the point guard position, to start developing a succession plan.
In that spirit, the move here from the Raptors is to get a point guard in their development system to combine with some of the other younger projects/players they’ve got on the roster (Paul Watson, Terence Davis [for now], Dewan Hernandez, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, etc.) as their roster slowly turns over. Flynn definitely fits the bill there. While it makes sense to have Lowry lead them for now, and for VanVleet to take over from there, decisions involving those two players may not be Toronto’s to make in the long term.
Jack Armstrong and Josh Lewenberg join Jay and Dan in the Coors Side Seats to share their thoughts on the Raptors drafting point guard Malachi Flynn 29th overall and discuss which team they think made the best pick in the top three of Wednesday’s NBA Draft.
And for a franchise that values culture and fit as much as the Raptors say they do, that was the final piece that set the Washington native apart from other potential picks.
“It was good to see him after a six- or seven-month layoff,” Webster said. “Got a chance to speak to him. Spoke to him on Zoom earlier in the pandemic. Someone we felt very comfortable with, obviously, his character … A lot of the things that you guys know we like in our players, he checked a lot of those boxes.”
Flynn was the defensive player of the year in the Mountain West Conference and averaged 17.6 points — on 44 per cent shooting and 37.3 per cent three-point shooting — and 5.1 assists per game.
“He’s a modern NBA point guard,” Webster said. “I think he can do it all on the offensive end. A lot of people are going to talk about pick-and-roll, shooting off the dribble, shoots the three-ball well, obviously defends at a high level as well.
“I wouldn’t say he necessarily fits for our development system, he’s just a guy we really liked and can come in and play a little bit for us but also develop under the leadership of Kyle and Fred.”
Flynn spent two seasons at Washington State before transferring to San Diego State.
“I think Toronto would be a great fit for a guy like him,” SDSU assistant coach Chris Acker told Sports Illustrated before the draft. “He’s a blue-collar guy … I think people are gonna really, really fall in love with him.”
Harris, the second-round pick, is known as a prolific scorer — he averaged 21.7 points per game in his lone season at Nevada. The native of Texas, who suffered a broken back during his high school years, played two seasons at Louisiana Tech before transferring to Nevada.
Webster said this week he estimated the team spoke to about 70 players, almost double the usual number of workouts or interviews they would have conducted. It’s impossible to say how it will work out.
“It was a unique draft.” Webster said. “We weren’t really sure what was going to happen between 10 and 40. I’ll run back into that room, and I’m sure there’ll be a different set of guys that go off the board.
NBA analyst Jack Armstrong and Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg join Kate Beirness to share their thoughts on who made out the best in the top three picks of the NBA Draft as well as the Raptors’ selection of point guard Malachi Flynn.
The junior out of San Diego State (he spent his first two years at Washington State before transferring to San Diego) was the Mountain West Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year.
More of a scoring guard at Washington State, Flynn became a more all-around guard at San Diego, showing off a more versatile game in his junior year.
Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said Flynn was on their radar early and a late visit with him recently in Las Vegas sealed the deal.
Webster said the 29th pick was in play but when Flynn, their target all along, was still there, it was an easy decision for the Raptors.
Flynn will fit in nicely with his new head coach as he is the youngest of seven in his family. Nick Nurse, of course, is the youngest of 12 in his own family.
Webster was asked about the any comparisons to the two incumbent point guards in Toronto in Lowry and VanVleet.
“Yeah, obviously it’s early and those guys are incredibly accomplished,” Webster said. “I think as you guys meet Malachi, he’s a serious kid, he’s professional, he’s about the hard work, he’s about winning, so I think those would be the natural comparisons. But I think, obviously, even he’ll probably say he’ll have a long way to go to do what those guys have done, but clearly he has the things that we value in guys that we’re bringing in.”
The Raptors have another developmental piece in the hopper after taking 6’5 Nevada guard Jalen Harris with the second-to-last pick in the draft.
There were sexier names on the board, in particular DePaul’s Paul Reed and Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie, but Harris has some impressive senior year numbers behind him and, as you might expect from the Raptors, a long college career on the resumé .
Harris, 22, sat out the 2018-19 season after transferring to Nevada from Louisiana Tech following his sophomore year, but in his lone year playing for the Wolf Pack, he posted 21.7 points, 6.5 boards and 3.9 assists on 56.0 True Shooting while taking on an enormous offensive workload. Per Jay Bilas on the ESPN broadcast as I write this, he’s a dude who can score a bucket.
You never draft for need with the 59th pick. It’s usually always an upside play. But the choice of another guard here does raise an eyebrow for a couple reasons. First, the Raptors leave the draft without taking a big man, despite their two best bigs both entering free agency on Friday. Also, a bucket-hunting guard with multiple years of college seasoning would seem to have a little overlap with Terence Davis, whose future with the franchise is up-in-the-air following his domestic violence charge. The team’s roster construction should not have any bearing on how they approach Davis’ future — they already have enough cause to walk away from his unguaranteed contract, and if they do the right thing, they will. Harris being around makes than an even easier decision than it already is.
Bryan Hayes, Jamie McLennan and Jeff O’Neill are joined by Raptors general manager Bobby Webster to get his take on all the rumours around NBA free agency, how he and Masai Ujiri approach things, and the move towards players dictating which teams they want to be traded to.
1. Can anybody pry VanVleet or Harris away?
Fred VanVleet and Joe Harris are crucial parts of their respective teams. They’ve both said on the record they prefer to re-sign, and if nothing crazy happens that should be the outcome.
But how crazy would another team have to get to make the Toronto Raptors or Brooklyn Nets flinch? The New York Knicks have had a point guard problem for eternity; to solve it, maybe they’d be willing to offer VanVleet a bit more than they would otherwise, especially if they’re also trying to scare off the Detroit Pistons. If the Atlanta Hawks are trying to make a playoff push, then Harris would fit in beautifully. Given that VanVleet can guard bigger players, he could work there, too, starting next to Trae Young and running the second unit.
The Raptors don’t have much wiggle room if they want to enter next year’s free agency with a max slot and try to lure Antetokounmpo. The Nets are looking at a hefty luxury-tax bill, regardless of whether or not they make a blockbuster trade. Let’s see if anybody goes nuts.
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