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NBA Draft Watch: Mock Updates and a look at Malachi Flynn

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Some updates from the NBA’s Draft Combine are trickling in, so let’s review while taking an in-depth look at Malachi Flynn, a player the Raptors have their eye on.

Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament - San Diego State v Utah State Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

The NBA Draft is fast approaching, though we remain in the middle of a weird extended Combine period. Draft tidbits have been trickling in, but the pace is starting to pick up, with November 18th just a couple of weeks away.

For the purpose of our target audience — Raptors fans! — we will not pay a lot of attention to what’s happening at the top of the draft. We care more about what could affect the latter half of the first round and Toronto’s 29th pick, in particular. With that, let’s get to some of the latest news.

Draft Combine News

The effect of the six-month layoff forced by the pandemic is starting to pay dividends for some prospects. The extended time has allowed some players to work on their weaknesses and, in a controlled environment, show them off as strengths. Or it’s given players more time just to get in shape.

For example, a player like Tyrese Maxey has been able to show off a much better shooting form in his recent workouts. Obviously, scouts tend to take that footage with a grain of salt, but clips are indeed coming out with prospects looking like Steph Curry. It makes sense: if one of the knocks on a player was their shooting, now’s the time to show off that it’s NBA-ready.

Another example: a player like Kaleb Wesson has gotten more time to get into NBA-ready shape. After coming to Ohio State as a 290 lb freshman, he’s dropped his weight to 254lbs and continues to rework his body. Wesson, by the way, is a person of interest for the Raptors with their 59th pick. At press time here, Tankathon had the Raptors picking him late in the second round.

The Raptors interviewed Tyrell Terry last month, and one of the reasons why he’s not a highly-touted prospect is his size (and, as a result, his body frame and strength). Of course, now he’s apparently gained almost 20 pounds and grown at least an inch taller. It’s not a total game-changer for him, but enough for teams to give him another look as a late-lottery or late-first round selection.

Zeke Nnaji — another prospect the Raptors interviewed — improved his physique too. He’s now almost eight pounds more than his listed weight and looks more toned than when he played in college. Nnaji is one of the few prospects that published his Combine measurements and the reason one is obvious: he’s 6’10” without shoes, which bodes well for his chances in the Draft.

Meanwhile, Tyler Bey’s Combine measurements check out. He previously looked like an undersized power forward with massive and quick hops — but now check him out below.

Devon Dotson tested the waters in the last NBA draft, so his official measurements are (relatively) well-known now. Nevertheless, even for a somewhat known quantity, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has some Dotson-related updates which highlight his key improvements.

Mock Draft Updates

In my table below, each player’s placement is based on their current mock draft or big board position. A mock draft factors the team picking, whereas a big board is based on the best available talent to explain the difference. For example, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has the Oklahoma City Thunder picking Aleksej Pokusevski 25th overall, but he’s 12th on the related big board.

Mock Draft Aggregate

Prospect Bleacher Report ESPN ND.Net Tankathon Ringer SI Athletic Rookie Wire CBS Sports KB CBS Sports GP
Prospect Bleacher Report ESPN ND.Net Tankathon Ringer SI Athletic Rookie Wire CBS Sports KB CBS Sports GP
Aaron Nesmith 29 13 13 12 18 13 13 18 10 12
Aleksej Pokusevski 11 18 24 19 25 19 18 26 25 UR
Tre Jones 43 30 43 28 UR 35 27 35 UR 20
Desmond Bane 22 34 UR 26 20 30 21 21 18 UR
Theo Maledon 39 24 16 23 UR 18 24 38 19 21
Leandro Bolmaro 33 22 28 25 26 26 26 41 23 26
Tyrese Maxey 8 15 20 22 22 16 20 17 17 18
Jaden McDaniels 30 23 21 32 23 22 23 32 29 25
Robert Woodard II 35 26 UR 31 30 43 30 UR UR UR
Isaiah Stewart UR 27 31 24 27 25 25 14 26 22
Cassius Winston 27 29 50 37 UR 37 34 36 28 28
Malachi Flynn 20 31 44 29 24 27 28 24 UR 29
Xavier Tillman 40 32 UR 38 UR 32 29 48 22 UR
Jalen Smith 18 19 14 17 13 24 17 20 16 UR
Tyrell Terry 14 40 12 21 15 17 31 10 UR UR
Elijah Hughes 44 44 33 50 UR 51 32 43 UR UR
Zeke Nnaji 34 36 29 35 29 33 33 33 UR 30
Daniel Oturu UR 37 35 42 UR 39 35 56 UR UR
Isaiah Joe 28 48 38 39 UR 36 36 34 UR UR
Cassius Stanley UR 52 41 40 UR 42 37 25 UR UR
Immanuel Quickley 49 42 34 52 UR 38 38 55 UR UR
Nico Mannion 37 25 23 33 UR 34 39 30 UR 24
Tyler Bey 31 28 32 27 UR 31 40 53 UR UR
Udoka Azubuike UR 33 40 36 UR 47 41 UR UR UR
Sam Merrill 46 58 UR 51 UR 46 42 UR UR UR
Devon Dotson 38 47 30 43 UR 44 43 23 UR UR
Jordan Nwora 47 45 49 44 UR 40 44 UR UR UR
Jahmius Ramsey 24 35 26 34 28 29 45 37 27 UR
Payton Pritchard 32 38 45 53 UR 48 46 47 UR UR
Skylar Mays 23 46 UR 49 UR 45 47 50 UR UR
Killian Tillie 41 54 UR 45 UR 49 48 31 UR UR
Vernon Carey UR 43 15 30 UR 23 49 29 UR 27
Jay Scrubb UR 76 52 UR UR UR 50 46 UR UR
Grant Riller 21 39 47 46 UR 41 51 28 21 UR
Mason Jones 45 73 UR UR UR 59 52 39 UR UR
Paul Reed UR 53 36 48 UR 50 54 54 UR UR
Josh Hall UR 60 UR UR UR 55 58 UR UR UR
Paul Eboua UR 64 UR 58 UR 52 59 UR UR UR
Nate Hinton 48 57 46 UR UR UR UR UR UR UR
Filip Petrusev UR 59 39 UR UR UR UR UR UR UR
Karim Mane UR 61 57 UR UR UR UR UR UR UR
Markus Howard UR 62 56 54 UR 60 UR UR UR UR
Ashton Hagans UR 68 48 55 UR 57 UR UR UR UR
Kaleb Wesson UR 69 UR 59 UR 53 UR 59 UR UR
Mamadi Diakite UR 80 59 UR UR UR UR UR UR UR
A snap shot of the prospects that are of interest for the Raptors based on who they interviewed and worked out — and who might be available.

Players on the Rise (or Falling)

Aleksej Pokusevski continues to inch closer into late-lottery range. He was within the Raptors’ pick range a few months ago, considered as being “two years away from being two years away.” Now though, Bleacher Report has him as the 11th-best prospect on their big board, which means he may be out of Toronto’s reach.

Desmond Bane and Malachi Flynn have shot up from the mid-second round to become potential late-first round picks due to their “NBA ready” game. Meanwhile, Tyrell Terry’s range is now at late-lottery to the early second round, after being considered with a late first-round ceiling. Similarly, Theo Maledon was previously hovering around the mid-first round but is now getting closer to the Raptors’ range. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has him going to the Dallas Mavericks as the first pick of the second round.

Of note for Toronto: Nico Mannion’s range was in the twenties (but before Toronto’s pick) in most drafts until recently. Now he’s in the early second round of most mock drafts — could the Raptors be interested in him now? Likewise, Daniel Oturu’s stock is dropping fast, with his ceiling a month ago as a late-first/early-second rounder now having shifted to middle-of-the-pack in the second round.

Ah, but apparently Oturu had an impressive workout recently. The mystery continues!

Profile: Malachi Flynn

What we do know for sure: the Raptors used one of their ten workouts to get a closer look at Malachi Flynn. He had an All-American season at San Diego State after transferring and redshirting for his first year. Flynn is projected around the early second-round range in most mock drafts — though perhaps the Raptors see him differently. To me, he is one of those prospects who I think would have benefitted from appearing in the March Madness tournament. As it stands, Flynn might be one of the best-kept secrets in this draft.

Why Malachi?

What I love about Flynn’s game is that he’s so dangerous in the pick-and-roll (PnR). He knows how to attack at every angle and can make that split-second decision between whether to continue dribbling or hit the open man. As an added bonus: Flynn is capable of making the quick one-handed straight or bounce pass (with either hand!) and sometimes uses the ol’ Jason Kidd “look away” to throw off defenders.

In all, Malachi is a good PnR player because he’s not shy to attack and look for his own shot. He’ll keep defenders guessing by changing things up by pulling up behind the arc, stepping into a midrange jumper, or driving to the basket. These are must-have skills for a guard coming into the NBA now.

Among the point guards in this class, Malachi’s probably got one of the best touches in the mid/short range. He’s quite capable of pulling up at the nail; or, if he doesn’t get past his defender, his soft touch for a floater has been doing the trick for him too.

Flynn has also showed his shooting range and prowess at the NCAA level. He shot 37.3 percent on 6.4 three attempts per game in his first (non-redshirt) year for San Diego State. He had a breakout year, leading the team to a 30-2 record before the pandemic happened. Even Kawhi Leonard wasn’t doing that in his time with the Aztecs.

Going back to Malachi’s shooting, he can create his own openings by leveraging his handles and step-back variations. He’s quite capable of pulling up from the perimeter against a drop coverage. Flynn’s range seems to be better than Fred VanVleet’s was when he came into the NBA, as he looks comfortable now letting fly from beyond 25-26 feet. Malachi also looks capable as a catch-and-shoot player from the perimeter, even when he’s on the move.

Defensively, Flynn isn’t necessarily a stopper, but he competes well, and uses his hands in much the same way VanVleet does, trying to poke the ball away. He’s got pretty good anticipation and quickness to jump passing lanes and provide weakside help — which is a must for a Raptors player nowadays. If Flynn is not getting his fingerprints on the ball, he works really hard applying pressure on the ball-handler and fights harder to stay in front of them once they’re inside the arc. Those attributes got him the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Areas of Concern

As a Raptors fan, you should be familiar with undersized point guards who struggle to consistently score in the paint. Flynn shares some of the same issues that VanVleet goes through now and then (and that have dogged Kyle Lowry a bit as he’s gotten older and/or more worn down). In short — no pun intended — Flynn sometimes struggles to score in traffic, especially against longer, athletic defenders he can’t shake.

Malachi’s size and length limit his ability to finish in traffic. He has to rely on his handles and his guile to get that half-step advantage to create some separation. Unlike VanVleet (and especially Lowry), he doesn’t have the strength to absorb contact on his drives to the basket and often settles for floaters if he’s within range and unable to beat his man. Fortunately for him, he’s got enough of a hop to allow him to glide to the basket and get that shot up.

Right now, Flynn does not look as effective going to his left, which better opposing defenses forced him to do last season. Once forced left, his options were often: take a midrange shot or try for a floater (assuming an easy path for a layup didn’t appear). Both shots look good if he’s got enough daylight — but that’s a big “if” for a player trying to make it in the NBA.

Unlike many draft evaluators, I don’t see Malachi’s “strength of competition” at the Mountain West Conference as a negative. Sure, the talent level is not on par with bigger conferences, and we do have to see how he’ll play against better guards and bigs that could react better against to his PnR game. But at the same time, you have to look at who he’s playing with. Flynn’s Aztecs lacked size and talent, but they were a well-disciplined, well-coached, hard-working bunch. I’m as curious to see Malachi play with higher-level teammates as against higher-level opponents.

Raptors Fit

The bottom line for the Raptors: they’re usually looking at players who have a high basketball IQ, are skilled in various ways, possess a few intangibles, and, most of all, are driven. Flynn checks all those boxes — he’s a heady point guard that’s known as an excellent PnR passer and scorer. His ability and willingness to shoot and make plays on the perimeter in various ways make him an intriguing prospect for Toronto.

The Raptors need a point guard regardless of VanVleet’s free agency. Flynn should be capable of filling in the backup or third-string spot. He’s was a solid floor general for the Aztecs, and he’s capable of running the offense and setting his teammates up. He won’t be put in a situation often where he has to create something with the shot clock winding down, so his efficiency with the ball should get better.

Defensively, Malachi will be at home with the Raptors. The Aztecs play a “pack line” defense that shares some philosophical elements with Nurse’s defense, e.g. stunting a lot, making the offensive player feel uncomfortable. His ball pressure, defensive IQ, awareness, and ability to quickly closeout to the perimeter shooter should allow him quickly pick up the team’s defensive philosophy.

Obviously, Malachi needs to address some of his weaknesses to reach his potential in the NBA. He has to get stronger so he can take hits and finish around the basket. Meanwhile, can Flynn shoot even better from the perimeter and keep increasing his range (as he showed in his lone year at San Diego State and in his recent workouts)?

Perhaps we haven’t seen Malachi’s full offensive package yet given his collegiate experience. He was often playing in a more rigid offense predicated on a few basic principles — namely hunting for perimeter shots using wheel actions, pick-and-rolls, and post-ups — before looking to Flynn with the clock winding down. With his handles and passing, Flynn is capable of keeping possessions alive though — like what Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Kyle Lowry love to do — while hunting for an opening. It’s a mindset that could serve him well in the NBA.