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.
Hearing Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson is down to 254 lbs from 270 lbs, notable development given questions about his movement. Stretch big man shot 42.5% from three, 44% on pick-and-pops.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) October 26, 2020
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.
Zeke Nnaji combine measurements/testing:— Matt Babcock (@MattBabcock11) October 22, 2020
6’10” without shoes
33.5” no step vertical
38.0” max vertical
3.20 seconds 3/4 court sprint
10.95 lane agility
2.74 shuttle pic.twitter.com/l0oIlRWtyH
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.
Per source, Tyler Bey’s combine measurements:— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) October 31, 2020
6’6” without shoes
6’7” with shoes
8’9.5” standing reach
37.0” no step vert
43.5” max vert
5.0% body fat pic.twitter.com/se0yzsPr2E
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.
Kansas' Devon Dotson ran a 3.02 three-quarter court sprint, the fastest time at this year's NBA Combine and the second fastest time in the past decade after Donovan Mitchell (3.01). Also had the best lane agility time (10.44) at the Combine and measured a 40 1/2" vertical leap.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) November 2, 2020
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|
|Robert Woodard II||35||26||UR||31||30||43||30||UR||UR||UR|
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.
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.
Malachi Flynn shooting drills, pull-up and long-distance NBA 3s.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) October 30, 2020
Subtle but such good rhythm with footwork getting into pull-up. During season, hit 34 threes beyond 25 feet and 7-16 attempts deeper than 28 feet. pic.twitter.com/OS1tImXWOk
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.
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.