Battle Royale: Malachi Flynn v. Dalano Banton

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Design credit IG/zach_nph

I know what you are thinking after reading the headline of this article, and to answer your question, no, this will not be a 1,100-word essay examining how a potential shirtless wrestling match between Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn would play out (although, that would make for some interesting conversation). Instead, we’re going to break down which one of these guys would be more beneficial to the Raptors this postseason. I know there’s still plenty of basketball to be played between now and April, but it’s important to understand the types of contributions these two young guards can provide and already have offered this season, so without further ado, let’s begin!

Playoff rosters are generally seven or eight players deep, depending on roster construction and health. As long as the Raptors stay relatively healthy (knock wood), as currently assembled, they boast a deep roster that enables them to give eight guys legitimate playoff minutes. 

Going down the list, it’s clear that VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Trent Jr., and Scottie Barnes, if available, will all receive significant playing time. One of Precious Achiuwa and Khem Birch (if Louis Zatzman has it his way) will probably be seeing minutes as well. 

That leaves us with room for two more players. Chris Boucher, Yuta Watanabe, and Svi Mykhailiuk are worthy candidates for one of those positions, but looking then at the seven guys already playing, it’s clear that the rotation needs more ball-handling. That means the final spot would either go to Dalano Banton or Malachi Flynn. (Or technically Goran Dragic, but hopefully for both parties’ sake, he’s out of Toronto by then.)

So, who would be the more valuable playoff player for the Raptors this postseason?

Malachi Flynn

On the surface, it doesn’t appear as though a guy who’s only played 39 total minutes this season has much of an argument for postseason playing time; however, even great coaches have overlooked players worthy of playing time in the past (remember the time D’Antoni initially missed this guy). Plus, he provides two things this team is sorely lacking: pull-up shooting and primary playmaking.

Through the preseason and the regular season thus far, Flynn is knocking down 40% of his 35 three-point attempts, and in the regular season alone, he’s shooting 33% on pull-up three-pointers (per NBA.com). That sample size is small, but if he can consistently provide average/slightly above-average shooting on moderate volume, that would be a step in the right direction for a team that currently sits in the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting percentage.

Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker all illustrated to us last postseason the value of having a lead ball-handler that’s capable of splashing pull-up jumpers and defanging drop coverage. In the few minutes that Fred VanVleet sits, Flynn can simulate that ability while Banton cannot.

Speaking of ball-handling, Toronto has a handful of guys that are good at connecting a passing thread (Anunoby, Barnes, Siakam) but have hardly anyone (except for VanVleet) that can consistently initiate that thread.

Banton rarely creates from a standstill, instead gathering his assists in the half-court after someone else creates the advantage and then capitalizing as the connector in that situation. In Flynn’s case, there have been several instances where he was able to ignite the passing chain himself by operating in the pick and roll or by using his tight handles to get downhill penetration.

Notice how in the second play, Flynn is able to move Barrett with his eyes. That ability to manipulate defenders as a ball-handler becomes even more valuable in the playoffs when effort and intensity ramps up and opportunities to score by simply “out willing” your opponent become increasingly scarce. 

Dalano Banton 

Basing your offense around scavenging hustle points, running out in transition, and crashing the offensive glass becomes far more difficult in the playoffs as the game slows down (hence why guys like Montrezl Harrell and Ben Simmons tend to struggle). Well, Nick Nurse’s borderline revolutionary defensive approach that enlists nail defenders to help off the corner on drives to the rim may allow this ultra-athletic group to break this playoff paradigm. 

If that is the case, and the Raptors are changing playoff basketball, they’re going to want their second-round speed demon kickstarting the movement.

One of the advantages Banton has over Flynn here (who, to his credit, is also an eager transition participant — both, per Cleaning the Glass, have positive on/off effects on Toronto’s transition frequency) is that his size allows him to function as initiator and finisher in these situations. 

That size has worked wonders for him on the other end of the court as well. As a rookie, he’s already among the best in the league at creating events on defense, currently ranking in the 97th and 77th percentile in block and steal rates for his position, respectively (per Cleaning the Glass).

His penchant for turning into chaos personified on that side of the floor from the guard position affords the Raptors a level of matchup versatility that few teams in the league today possess, and when they’re trotting out a lineup of him-VanVleet-Siakam-Anunoby-Barnes, an obvious weak link doesn’t readily exist, and it becomes difficult for an opposing team to try and matchup hunt against them.

Conclusion 

There’s a common joke among American law school professors that lawyers go to school for three years only to be able to tell clients, “it depends.” I mention this because, in this instance, you’re my client, and as your lawyer, I went through all this legal training to answer your question with an — you guessed it — it depends!

At this stage in their careers, neither one of these guys is at the star/integral-starter level yet, and because of this, their potential impact in a playoff series varies greatly depending on the Raptors’ opponent. If they were going up against the Bucks, they would have to deal with Jrue Holiday — a big, strong guard that likes posting smaller guys up. In that case, they would want someone with a larger and more athletic frame that can stop the gears from turning on the muscle hamster’s wheel. That’s when they should turn to a guy like Banton. Now, if they were up against Trae Young and the Hawks, they would want a strong ball-handler who can make him work on defense. And that’s when they should turn to Flynn.

You could continue playing this game all day if you wanted to. At the end of the day, Flynn helps address Toronto’s weaknesses, while Banton helps bolster its strengths. The point here is that both of these guys can provide value in a playoff setting, and who the more effective player is will vary depending on the opponents’ personnel.