When Malachi Flynn was selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, he was a relatively unknown commodity. There was no NCAA March Madness tournament due to COVID-19, and so he was never able to carry his San Diego State Aztecs to play on a greater stage under brighter lights. Luckily for Raptors fans, the lack of exposure made Flynn available late in the first round, and landed him in Toronto.
Shortly after being drafted, his accolades would become conspicuous. As the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, fans became eager to see their initial first round pick since OG Anunoby take the court, and that was only compounded by Flynn’s draft night comparisons to Fred VanVleet.
Tonight, Malachi Flynn showed up – both literally, and metaphorically. In 20 minutes of action during his preseason debut, he recorded nine points, two rebounds, four assists, and a steal. While his figures may not pop off the stat sheet, he was one of the Raptors brightest spots for several other reasons. Below are the three biggest takeaways from Flynn’s inaugural performance as a Raptor.
As aforementioned, Flynn won his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award last season, and so it was no surprise that despite being an undersized and wiry guard, he excels on that side of the ball. Typically, players of his size and stature find their biggest defensive contributions coming off the ball; through good off-ball positioning, jumping passing lanes for steals, providing help on time, making smart and quick rotations, and being unafraid to switch onto bigger players. While Flynn certainly embodies all of those factors, another aspect that stood out was his lateral quickness. Whether he was matched up against Lamelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, or Terry Rozier, he didn’t allow any easy penetration, and showed off his understanding of angles to fight over screens and keep his body in front of the ball.
Often, players who spend all four years in college are less attractive to NBA teams at the draft, since they are perceived to have less potential relative to their counterparts. Though it’s not an unreasonable evaluation, the Toronto Raptors have not shied away from taking the best player on the board, regardless of how old they are. Despite (arguably) having a lower ceiling than if his body were three years younger, Flynn comes equipped with a much higher basketball IQ having spent all four years in college. That was evident on the floor today as he demonstrated a certain calmness which is atypical of a rookie in his first game. Flynn was not forcing anything, he played fundamentally well, had great chemistry with Matt Thomas in particular, and demonstrated that he’s capable of running Nick Nurse’s offense at a high level.
In this seven year run of unprecedented Raptors success, it’s become a staple for Raptors star players to possess a degree of fearlessness. If Flynn’s impressive performance in his first time seeing an NBA court didn’t exhibit his courage clearly enough, his post-game press conference certainly did. When asked about Thomas missing a wide open three-pointer in the corner, which would have completed Flynn’s highlight play and racked up his fifth assist of the game, Flynn responded, “You don’t need to say nothing to shooters like that… He’ll make those for me.”
Not only does Flynn have confidence in his own game, but he is oozing enough swagger to spread to his teammates. A rookie who can lead is a rarity – especially on a team perennially as good as the Raptors have been – but Toronto has assuredly found another diamond in the rough with Malachi Flynn.