Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
When the Raptors took Malachi Flynn with their late first round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, there were expectations that he would develop into a solid NBA point guard one day. Despite the non traditional season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Flynn’s confidence only grew while showing flashes of his potential and giving Raptors fans something to be excited about.
Malachi was drafted in a strong rookie class that was loaded with depth at the point guard position – with emerging talents like LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, Cole Anthony, Killian Hayes, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Hampton all being selected before him. Though he struggled to crack the rotation early in the season, Flynn was able to capitalize on his opportunities, proving to be a great pick for the Raptors and projecting to be a key piece of the Raptors’ young core.
Let’s take a closer look at Flynn’s overall performance this season:
The COVID-19 pandemic presented numerous challenges that limited Flynn’s ability to properly prepare for his rookie campaign and ultimately led to his slow start. After being selected by the Raptors 29th overall, Malachi was thrown right into NBA action without any preparation in the NBA Summer League or NBA G-League – and like any typical rookie with lack of experience, he struggled with the transition from college to the NBA.
When the G-League bubble season began in mid-February, Flynn was sent to the Raptors 905 to work on his game where he performed very well, averaging 20.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG and shot 44.2% from the field and 40.9% from deep. With some bad luck, he was recalled from the G-League and then sidelined by the league’s health and safety protocols, missing the 905’s playoff run.
Flynn finished his rookie season in the NBA playing 47 games with the Raps while averaging 7.5 points, 2.9 assists, a 37.4% field goal percentage and 32.1% 3pt shooting percentage. Although these numbers don’t jump off the page, more promising results came in the later months of the season when he began to have an increased role and responsibility.
With Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet missing time due to injury and rest, Flynn stepped up as the lead floor general and had an amazing month of April. He averaged 12.7 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 4.1 RPG while shooting 42.9% from the field and 40.8% from three, including career highs in assists (11) and points (22). The numbers from this month alone showed his offensive potential and helped him earn Rookie of the Month accolades in the Eastern Conference.
It was this late surge in performance that demonstrated the value Malachi brings to the Raptors. He displayed a strong fundamental offensive ability and showed his confidence in a number of key areas for a point guard:
Pick and Roll Offense
Coming out of college, Flynn was highly regarded as one of the best pick and roll scorers in the draft. He ranked in the 96th percentile with 1.06 points per pick and roll possession and 12th in the NCAA in pick and roll scoring.
His collegiate success didn’t fully translate over to the NBA right away as he averaged a decent 36.3% scoring frequency and ranked in the 41.9th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler. These numbers are below average by league standards, but promising for a rookie, which is one of the reasons why the Raptors took a chance on him with the 29th overall pick.
Shot Selection and Confidence
Flynn does not lack confidence in his playing ability, and he certainly did not have a problem shooting the ball. He averaged 7.3 shot attempts with 49% of his shots coming from pull up jumpers. While confidence is a good trait to have, shot selection remains a key area of improvement for Flynn moving forward. Coach Nick Nurse admires his shooting confidence, but wants Flynn to attack the basket for more aggressive finishes.
Nurse wants Flynn to get “out of just playing around the top arc out there.”
As a rookie guard, Flynn will have to adjust to NBA players with greater size and experience. He can focus on improving his ability to attack the rim rather than staying passive outside of the paint and offloading the ball before the offense can create an advantage.
Coming into the league, Malachi had always been a fiercely competitive defender. He had previously won Mountain West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in college during his time at San Diego State, averaging 1.8 steals per game in his senior year. His defensive acumen translated well at the pro level, as he showed his ability to be a great on-ball defender.
Flynn finished the regular season averaging 0.8 steals per game, but during his previously mentioned surge in April, his steal average jumped to 1.5 SPG. He collected a career high 4 steals in a game against the Washington Wizards back on April 5th, showcasing his ability to create turnovers with aggressive on-ball defense.
Right now his defensive game is at a higher level than his offense. This fits in well with the team’s culture and identity, with Nick Nurse and the Raptors’ playing style heavily focused on defense. Despite having a smaller 6’1 frame and 6’3 wingspan, he is very defensively sound as a rookie and can hold his own against some of the league’s best offensive guards. Flynn finished the season with a 30.8 3PT DFG% and a 0.9 steals to turnover ratio, showing he can guard on the perimeter effectively and converts plays off of steals.
Similarly to VanVleet, Flynn’s size hinders his ability to effect shooters or defend multiple positions, but his hustle and basketball iQ on the defensive end make him a smart on-ball defender who can make opposing guards uncomfortable and force turnovers. As he develops over time with the Raptors and gains more strength, he can elevate his defensive game to the same success he had back in college.
Flynn has been described as a confident, well-rounded individual and natural leader by his teammates. He demonstrates this through his charitable actions, recently giving back to his hometown of Tacoma through Operation Warm, where he donated coats to children in need during the winter season.
While Flynn has not had any controversial behaviour off the court, the only real hiccup was a comment made on social media by his father, Eric Flynn. His father has been a prominent voice in the Raptors community and left one post about his son’s playing time in a Raptors community Facebook group.
This may have been a distraction that took away from Flynn’s performance, but ultimately was not very harmful in the grand scheme of things. Eric Flynn continues to be a great voice in the Raptors community and has embraced the city and the team who drafted his son.
Let’s also not forget that he was outshined by fellow rookie Freddie Gillespie in a karaoke version of Party In the USA…
Thankfully, he appears to be more confident on the basketball court than as a singer and dancer.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
If history repeats itself, Malachi Flynn may become another great steal for the Raptors who have been excellent at finding talented late round draft picks. As the team prepares for the post Kyle Lowry era, they did a great job drafting a solid point guard with a strong work ethic and good collegiate foundation on both the offensive and defensive ends. As his nickname suggests, he looks to be another Fred VanVleet in the making.