There’s still time this season for the Raptors to secure a playoff spot and while that’s definitely the plan for the coaching staff and players, there are several reasons for why this season has gone awry. Toronto played and will continue to play every game on the road. Coaches and players were exposed to COVID in early March, in addition to dealing with constant injuries, and are still reeling as a result. But as usual, the development of the team continued to forecast that brighter days are ahead: Malachi Flynn, specifically, has been astounding.
In nine games, which Flynn has played 30 minutes or more, he’s proven that he’s capable of contributing on both ends of the floor. Six of these have come against sub-500 opponents, but it’s important to keep in mind that Flynn is still a rookie. He’s an older rookie at 22, but nonetheless, when given the opportunity, he’s shown his ability to impact the game:
In a matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that boasts an incredibly gifted backcourt of Darius Garland and Colin Sexton, Toronto needed the most out of Flynn and Gary Trent Jr., which is exactly what the Raptors received. Trent scored a career-high 44 points which overshadowed Flynn’s career night as he tallied 20 points and a career-best 11 assists on an efficient 57% shooting.
Looking at the games in which he’s played at least 30 minutes, his numbers are proof of his ability to impact the game and help the team win. Afterall, the Raptors have a winning record whenever Flynn is utilized for 30 minutes or longer.
The offense is a reason for optimism but coming out of college Flynn was known for being a ‘cerebral defender’. His three blocks against the Washington Wizards are impressive. But watch his footwork as he accompanies Ish Smith on his way to the basket, almost like they’re buddies racing each other. Flynn won that battle with a clean strip:
A few possessions later, his instant reaction to his own turnover is admirable. He’s outnumbered against two Wizards, yet still rushes back to avoid giving up an easy fast break. The difficulty in his defensive effort lies within his ability to control his body mid-air and it’s mesmerizing:
He’s completely draped himself all over Raul Neto like butter on pancakes, forcing him into a layup with limited visibility of the basket. Flynn wastes no time, immediately turning his attention to the loose ball, grabbing it and bringing it up the court.
Flynn is still far from a finished product and he might not reach his potential for years. However, as seen in the videos above, his tenacity on both ends of the floor, fit perfectly with not just Toronto, but every and any team. His ability to knock down threes and play feisty defense begs the question: How did he fall to 29th on Draft day? Likely due to size. Grow him a few inches and I’d put my money on him being a lottery pick.
As seen in his stats across the nine games, he’s a prototypical player for the game today, shooting threes and playing efficient & tough defense. As if he wasn’t already finding his groove with Toronto, based on Flynn’s ability to execute on both ends of the floor, experts compared him to a current Raptors player before the draft: Fred VanVleet.
The likeness between the two is evident. Whether it’s their pesky defense or their calm demeanours, there’s a synergy in the way they play. Maybe it’s because they’re both small guards and what they lack in athletic ability is made up for in their awareness and basketball IQ. As previously mentioned, Flynn was a defensive specialist in college, who could score and help teammates grow.
After declaring for the draft, the comparisons to Fred VanVleet had already started. That’s high praise, considering VanVleet’s a player who has proven to be instrumental to the Raptors success over the last three years.
Both are proven help defenders, keeping their man honest while pouncing on the weak side when the opportunity presents itself, such as in this video:
They both make scrappy plays and have no problem going toe-to-toe with the behemoths of the league:
So, the comparisons are valid and ultimately favourable for Toronto. Drafting a player with similarities to an established leader of the team is only going to further their progression towards a playoff spot. Why? Because these guys aren’t interested in losing. Winning a championship early in their careers was a blessing and curse because they’ll have a ring whenever they retire, but at the same time guys like Fred, Pascal, and OG will never want to be a part of a tanking process. Malachi’s hasn’t won anything yet, but he’s already shown maturity, understanding that it’s up to him to make the most of opportunities when Kyle and/or Fred are out:
Upon declaring for the NBA draft, Flynn admitted he watched a lot of tape on VanVleet due to their similar stature. The decision to focus on VanVleet may end up paying dividends for Flynn since the former plays an integral part in every Raptors game.
Flynn’s demeanor is quiet, yet confident. Given the heavy minutes allotted to VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, and because he’s a rook, Toronto could only spare a few minutes or give garbage time to Flynn. It wasn’t until injuries and COVID protocols kept more than a third of the team on the sidelines. As a result, Nick Nurse was forced to rely on Flynn for heavy minutes.
Another reason that Flynn is so crucial to the Raptors is due to Kyle Lowry’s looming free agency. The blow of losing Lowry’s on-court contributions is softened by the emergence of Flynn. I’m not in any way saying that Malachi Flynn will unseat Kyle Lowry or take his place in Toronto sports galore.
However, the Raptors and Lowry were front and center at this year’s deadline and based on what path Toronto takes, Lowry’s plans may not align with that of the organization. If Malachi were to become a key part of next season’s rotation, the only obvious void to fill would be at the five.
While Lowry’s future destination is unknown, it’s a safe bet that Nurse will stick around for a while longer. These are his thoughts on Flynn’s performance after the loss to Atlanta:
Our very own Louis Zatzman asked Nurse about Malachi’s progression and although he wouldn’t speculate on the long-term future of Flynn, Nurse acknowledged the incredible effort put forth by the rookie:
There’s no question about Flynn’s need for more minutes. He’s proven through his play that he can handle the pressure of being the floor general when either Lowry and/or VanVleet are unavailable. Off the court, he talks about improving and seems MORE mature than most people his age, something that directly pertains to the Raptors when you consider the culture of the organization.
With all of this taken into consideration, Flynn received invaluable experience and the Raptors learned more about the young guard, while getting an idea of how important he could be for the future of the team. As Nurse told Zatzman, he can’t always afford to think about a player’s future down the line. With that being said, Malachi has shown flashes that he has it in him to be an impactful player in the years to come.