Since Malachi Flynn joined training camp at the beginning of December, much has been made about the rookie’s comparison to Fred VanVleet. They share a similar backstory to start— point guards who matured in college and went overlooked by basically the entire league in the draft.
On the court, though, there wasn’t an expectation for Flynn to come in and be a rotation piece right away. Through two preseason games, it might be time to smash those expectations.
Flynn was once again the Raptors’ leader in plus-minus among those playing 18 minutes or more on Saturday — marking a +13 — as he scored 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting in a 112-109 Raptors win over the Hornets. The rookie added three assists and two steals; what stands out through two games, though, is his confidence at the NBA level. Yes, there are the enormous caveats that this is the preseason and this is against the Charlotte Hornets, but not many late first round picks are coming in and making (or taking) shots like this in crunch time.
That's confidence right there pic.twitter.com/mBiYhbY6tW— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 15, 2020
Flynn has also been intriguing in pick and roll too, with both barrel-chested Aron Baynes and Alex Len capable of giving the youngster space to make the right decisions. He has done so several times through the first 96 minutes of Toronto’s season.
He doesn’t quite have the confidence (yet) of one Fred VanVleet, though — as the other side of the point guard coin showed off on Monday as well. VanVleet led all scorers with 23 points on 12 shots, pouring in five threes — some of the circus variety.
Freddy V doin' what he does, man— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 15, 2020
21Pts | 5 3pm | 3 Ast | 3 Stl pic.twitter.com/t3IOZiAryK
VanVleet also gave some much needed energy to what’s been a lethargic starting five so far this preseason — not that I can blame them given the competition and the many things off the court to sidetrack them (like, say, finding a home to live in). Fred was working the refs from the get-go, picking up a technical at one point, and had a team-high four assists to set other guys up. Just a bit of fire to spice things up in meaningless basketball.
The Raptors also got good contributions from Terence Davis (14 points) and an efficient 5-for-7 in 23 minutes from Pascal Siakam. Turnovers made this an ugly affair overall, though, especially as the benches emptied in the fourth quarter, as the two teams combined to cough it up 47 times.
The Hornets were led by 15 points each from Terry Rozier and Jalen McDaniels.
For the second straight game, Toronto’s starters came out of the gate relatively slow-footed. The offense hasn’t looked sharp in the half court yet, although it rarely does without Kyle Lowry cobbling possessions together. It’s too early to make any sort of definitive statements here — but it was enough to give the Hornets another early lead, as they ended the first quarter up 30-22.
Flynn’s presence immediately picked up the Raptors in the second, though, as Nurse also found some time for DeAndre’ Bembry to play in OG Anunoby’s spot with the starters. Late in the half, Bembry’s energy swung a few possessions in Toronto’s favour — including the steal that led to Fred’s buzzer beater seen above.
In the third quarter, the starters got some spot minutes but it was mostly turned over to the bench. Flynn and Davis were able to make some shots to wrestle the lead back. Beyond that, neither team was sharp enough to really change the story of the game. Charlotte made a very late push thanks to sloppy play by Stanley Johnson, but a Henry Ellenson three and some good last-minute defense by Alize Johnson was enough to seal the win.
The Raptors now head “home” to Tampa, where they’ll finish their preseason against the Heat on Friday night.