Is there a sliver of opportunity for Malachi Flynn?

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There was a time, at the beginning of the Tampa Season, where fans joined hands to clamor for more minutes for Malachi Flynn, the Raptors prized first round pick. His polish in the pick n’ roll, advanced defensive pedigree for a young guard, and aesthetically pleasing jumper made him appear to be a sort of salve for the Raptors woes. Juxtaposed with Terence Davis’ legal situation, made a large section of the fanbase even hungrier for Flynn minutes. It never really came around in a meaningful way.

Flynn’s numbers were poor across the board. There wasn’t a single spot on the floor where volume met efficiency, and if you were a Flynn-truther, you had to appeal to small clips and snippets that you thought might exhibit his teeming potential.

It’s been a couple years since the Raptors have profiled as a positive pick n’ roll team. There are certain 2-man setups that work, but on the whole they don’t run it often – and that’s because they don’t have a typical pick n’ roll engine. They’re also low volume in that playtype. When Flynn was drafted he was the consensus best pick n’ roll player in collegiate basketball. He was dynamic, got to his spots, hit rim-runners, and controlled the flow of offense, and with efficiency.

Flynn was in the 41st-percentile as a pick n’ roll scorer in his rookie year. That’s not bad, but considering that was his standout skill (defense coming in as a close second) coming out of the draft, it disappointed. You can definitely quibble about how limited his ‘pnr’ partners were, but his output wasn’t cutting it. And even as the Raptors tried to fashion him off ball a little bit, his catch and shoot numbers didn’t ratchet up accordingly, and the likes of DeAndre’ Bembry, Yuta Watanabe, and Rodney Hood became more fashionable rotation selections because of what they brought elsewhere.

To say that Flynn has been lost in the shuffle this season almost seems like you’re underselling it. Those pick n’ roll numbers? His possessions in that playtype this season are so sparse that second spectrum has no public-facing data for it. Eric Paschall, the 13-minute a game power forward for the Jazz – he met the minimum possession requirement that Flynn didn’t.

The Raptors no doubt found themselves facing a tough decision: Do we sink more possessions into Flynn’s development to see if there’s more there than what we’ve already seen? And why would we invest those possessions into him, if they can go toward Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, or Dalano Banton? All of whom desperately need touches to progress as well. Their takeaway was that Flynn wouldn’t receive many minutes in their new style of play, and if he did, the offense wouldn’t reflect any part of what makes him successful.

That’s hard. That’s really, really hard. 

I’m not saying I disagree with their position. The aforementioned trio of youngsters have all given more cause to receive possessions, and they’ve done it on their own merit.

The landscape for the Raptors is different right now, though. OG Anunoby is injured. The firm of Barnes & Banton have both been firmly identified in the NBA’s scouting report index. The free-wheeling self-creation that they enjoyed in relative obscurity has changed. If you’re of the mind that you’d rather see those two fight uphill against different defensive looks, that’s fine, and (to me) probably correct.

But, the underappreciated aspect of Anunoby’s absence isn’t the defense. I think we all understand the seismic difference on that end. It’s his offense. Anunoby creates more points than Gary Trent Jr. He’s a hub of several different playtypes – as a screener, spacer, ball handler, whatever.

This is where my mind wanders to many different guards around the NBA. The ones who were cut from rosters, bounced around the league, all of that, before they found a home where things worked. And more often than not, you can’t pick out a specific stylistic change they’ve made, it’s just a better context and a couple quotes about maturity.

Anunoby is out. VanVleet is questionable. Thaddeus Young is the most helpful rolling big that Flynn has shared an NBA roster with. There is a version of events where the Raptors very carefully tip more pick n’ roll possessions toward Flynn as they search for more offense. Be it partnering with Young, or Boucher, there’s an opportunity for him to use the pick n’ roll, guile, and some clever passing and shot-making – to reclaim relevance in an NBA rotation like many guards before him.

This is likely Flynn’s last good chance at cracking the Raptors rotation, for this year and maybe beyond. A feat that’s eluded him for his whole career. I guess we’ll see.

Have a blessed day.

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