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Although his rookie campaign probably didn’t start the way he would have liked, Malachi Flynn ended with a bang to really solidify the mean of “it’s not about how you start, but how you finish.”
After being selected 29th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, Flynn was immediately behind the eight-ball in his rookie season. Not only did he not have the benefit of playing in Summer League prior to his rookie season (no rookie did), but he wasn’t even able to have the full benefit of the Toronto Raptors resources and training as the team had moved to Tampa.
The Raptors – and Flynn – did their best, however, and got him some playing time in the G-League bubble, allowing Flynn to get the playing time and reps that he wouldn’t have been able to get on the Raptors main roster. What did benefit Flynn was that the Raptors had the worst luck with injuries and COVID protocols last season, so with the team not trying for a push to the play-in tournament, that meant Flynn got more chances to handle the ball, lead the offence, and develop in actual NBA games.
When Flynn got the chance to rock and roll in Summer League this summer, he made the most of his opportunity. There are a lot of expectations around Flynn this season after the departure of Kyle Lowry. Obviously, no one is expecting him to be Kyle Lowry right away (or ever), but there will be more on his plate in terms of scoring and playmaking.
If there’s one thing you can’t take away from Flynn, it’s that he’ll always be trying to get his shot and won’t be discouraged if he’s in a scoring slump. That’s part of the reason why he was able to finish the season strong after a tough start to his rookie year.
In his first 23 games, Flynn only played a little over 10 minutes a night, took just 3.2 shots per game and averaged only 2.3 points per game. That could shake the confidence of many rookies and cause them to be hesitant when they get their chance. Not Flynn, however!
In his final 24 games, Flynn averaged 12.5 points and took over 11 shots per game in 28.7 minutes a night. Per 36 minutes, he was over 13 shots attempts. It wasn’t always the most efficient (more on that later), but he made sure to shoot through any shooting issues he may have had.
That aggressiveness continued in Summer League, where Flynn looked more comfortable. He took nearly 15 shots per game (7.2 three-point attempts) and scored over 16 points per game in similar minutes to his final 24 regular-season games.
Flynn needs to remember to stay aggressive this season, even if things get tough in a bigger role than he may have been expecting. His father might think he’s ready for a big role (or he did last season!), but there will be rough patches for the sophomore guard. He just needs to stay consistently aggressive.
Steady and Poised
One of the positives from Flynn’s rookie year was that he never seemed rattled in the moments when he got his chances. Part of that was staying ready, but also being able to hit big shots even if the games didn’t necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things.
Flynn had multiple games where he was a big source of offence late in games for the Raptors, especially so when they had their primary starters sitting for so many games.
Another aspect of being poised is not turning the ball over, and his eight percent turnover rate was in the 91st percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning the Glass. That number went up slightly to 8.6 percent in that 24 game sample on its own, but so did his usage. If he can keep that low turnover number while also maintaining an assist rate above 23 percent, that’s a huge step for Flynn.
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Areas to Improve
Although it was great to see Flynn stay aggressive, he’ll need to make sure he’s not taking bad shots or forcing things too much when the games actually matter. His effective field goal percentage was 48.9 percent in the final 24 games of the season, nearly five percent below league average last season. He was an abysmal 34 percent on mid-range shots in that sample and 58 percent on shots at the rim, 10th percentile and 47th percentile respectively.
He’s a player that can get his own shot very well for his size and that has gone back to college, but he’s going to need those shots to fall.
The obvious caveat is that he’s a rookie and the games he played in didn’t matter for the most part. In year two, with more responsibility and better players around him will definitely help him out, but it’s still something he’ll need to work on.
This isn’t really something he needs to improve, but it’s something that he’ll need to do more of as a second-year point guard. Whether Goran Dragic is there or not, Flynn is a long-term piece for this team and in his second season, he’ll be asked to be a leader for a young second-unit that will feature rookie Scottie Barnes and sophomore, first-year-Raptor Precious Achiuwa.
There will be obvious growing pains for all the young Raptors, but Flynn will need to maintain that poise and be a leader for them. He was a four-year college player (only played three seasons due to transferring) and came in with the reputation for being a natural leader. Again, he doesn’t need to improve here, but it’s something he’ll be asked to do a lot more as part of the added responsibilities thrust upon him this season.
Bigger Defensive Assignments
Flynn has the reputation of a solid defensive guard and he’ll be asked to guard a lot better offensive players than he saw in his rookie season. Even as a rookie, he showed some solid defensive prowess and that will be put to the test in Year Two.
Per 36 minutes, Flynn averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.3 per game in his final 24 games of last season. Per 40 minutes in college, Flynn average over two steals in his final college season and 1.9 per game in his sophomore season. He was even Defensive Player of the Year for his conference in college!
He has that pick-pocket ability that’s reminiscent of Fred VanVleet and it’s another area where he doesn’t need to improve, but just be ready for bigger assignments that he’s rightfully earned from being a fantastic defender.