The Raptors 905 got started last week, and we finally got to see Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris play some meaningful minutes. Given their time away from the court as of late, the backcourt had a bit of an underwhelming start, with both players re-adjusting to the speed of the game. If nothing else, it made sense that Nick Nurse was not playing them at the NBA-level just yet.
For Harris, this is his first extended run since the pandemic prematurely ended his season at Nevada. It’s a little bit different for Flynn, as he was pencilled in as the third point guard on the Raptors roster. Typically, a team’s third guard is in-and-out of the rotation, but Flynn hasn’t appeared in any meaningful minutes since the eleventh game of the season against the Indiana Pacers.
Player-retention is challenging in the G League, but somehow the 905 brought back Dewan Hernandez. The Toronto Raptors’ former second-round pick only lasted one season, and missed most of his rookie year with injuries. Meanwhile, another familiar face is Henry Ellenson, whom the Raptors organization seems to have had an eye on for years. Perhaps his shooting at his size still makes him an intriguing prospect.
For this week, we’ll focus on the debuts of Flynn and Harris. But first, a special note: This article does not include the Raptors 905 vs. Santa Cruz Warriors game yesterday, which will be covered next week. It’s too bad, because Flynn killed it.
Flynn’s Numbers Last Week:
16 PPG, 35.3% FG% (6/17 FGM/A Per Game), 32% 3P% (8/25 3PM/A Total)
4.7 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 0.3 BLK 2 TO, +2 +/-
Malachi Flynn had a rough start to his G League campaign, as his first three games showed a mixed-bag of poor defense, bad shooting, and only glimpses of potential. Part of the disappointment here is one of expectation. Flynn came out of San Diego State touted as an NBA-ready prospect. If he was a less-heralded 19- or 20-year-old rookie, the growing pains would be more understandable, but he did not look ready to be Toronto’s backup point guard (particularly if Fred VanVleet had signed elsewhere).
An adjustment to the speed of the game appears to be Flynn’s biggest issue. It’s been evident during his Raptors stint — he would stumble half the time he tried his power crossover move, for example. It could also just be Flynn’s nerves, but in all it’s affecting his timing and offense considerably so far. Likewise, he’s been streaky behind the arc, with a certain level of recalibration on every three-point attempt. Flynn’s mid-range and floater game have been off as well. He’s struggled to shoot over his defender, or been upable to get the ball smoothly into his shooting pocket with a defender harassing him.
Despite all those negatives, there’s a lot to like in Flynn’s game for the 905. His shiftiness with the ball allows him to break down his defender and get into the paint easily, collapsing the defense in the process. At some point, he should be able to leverage this skill-set and make better and faster decisions to find solid passes or lanes to the rim. What’s missing so far is Flynn’s quick burst energy that was on display at San Diego State. It’s an important aspect of his game — something he has instead of Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet’s physicality to get separation from defenders.
Flynn is used to handling the ball, with the offense revolving around him. With the Raptors, it’s an adjustment for him to not have the ball at all times and still be effective. It’s been a tough balancing act in trying to know when to take charge of their offense, play off-ball, and also look for shots. That said, Flynn has yet to find his consistency on offense, his game against Erie Bayhawks appearing here as Exhibit A.
Against the Bayhawks, Flynn looked like the best player on the court for the first half. He was hitting his shots and constantly breaking down the defense. However, the Bayhawks game-planned for him in the second half, taking the ball away from him in the second half. As a result, Flynn became non-existant in the 905’s loss.
Flynn’s defense so far has also been a work-in-progress, which is not quite a surprise for a rookie player at the pro-level. In this, he often dies on screens and struggles to keep in front of his man on drives to the basket. If we are harsh on Matt Thomas — now out of the Raptors’ rotation — for these issues, we have to keep it consistent when Flynn plays the same way.
The Raptors’ defense often has their guards at the backline of their defense, for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s still foreign territory for Flynn, as the Raptors’ guards all know how to play “big” in such situations — e.g. tagging a man on boxouts, fighting for rebounds, and providing help are all things he’ll need to improve. Right now, Flynn is more of a passing lane hawk, so being a better on-ball and team defender might take some time.
Harris’ Numbers Last Week:
11.6 PPG, 36.7% FG% (3.7/10 FGM/A Per Game), 45.5% 3P% (5/11 3PM/A Total)
2 REB, 3.3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK 1.3 TO, +6 +/-
When it comes to Jalen Harris, we’re looking at how his game can translate — to at least the G League level for now. Can he consistently knock down his perimeter shots? How about his shot creation — can he break down bigger and better defenders and get buckets? And of course, we have to ask: can he defend at the pro-level?
Harris was not known as a defensive anchor at Nevada. Since he had to provide his team with scoring and playmaking, it earned him a bit of a pass at the other end of the floor. But now at the professional level, and auditioning for a coach that prioritizes defense, Harris has to show he can keep up on defense.
Three games into the G League season, things look promising for Harris. He shot 45.5 percent behind the arc on 3.7 attempts per game, and if not for an off-shooting game against the G League Ignite team, we might be looking at an even better percentage. Harris showed range and the ability to hit his threes even with a defender closing out.
Defensively, Harris has performed above expectations. His active hands resulted in steals and several deflections. He read the opposing team’s plays well, allowing him to rotate into useful help situations, while even providing a bit of rim protection as a weakside help defender. Unlike Flynn, he’s done a much better job staying in front of his man defensively too.
Harris’ offense outside of his three-point shooting is still a work-in-progress though. He has demonstrated that he can break down his defender now and then, but he’s still adjusting to shooting over taller defenders on his forays to the basket. Harris is only shooting 35.3 percent at the rim, which is just not going to get it done at the NBA-level.
Even with some hot shooting from deep, Harris won’t be getting any playing time ahead of Norman Powell, DeAndre’ Bembry, or even the soon-to-return Patrick McCaw. But he’s trending in the right direction.
While the 905’s main prospects were a bit up-and-down for the past week, it’s hard not to notice how poorly constructed the team’s roster is this season. In fact, this is the second consecutive year in which the team just has way too many small guards and not enough frontcourt players on the roster. The 905 had the formula down two years ago — when Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd were killing it in the G League — but it’s been tough to recreate since then.
Perhaps it’s an experiment the organization is trying out. The G League is, in reality, a space in which to experiment — and the 905 have clearly done that in the past, using the squad and league to develop skills. However, right now we have to wonder if the experiments may be at the expense of the development of their prospects. Will playing four small guards with a forward who is not known as a rim protector or rebounder really be in the Raptors’ future?