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Player Review: Checking in on Malachi Flynn’s development

Malachi Flynn displayed some tantalizing upside during his rookie season for the Raptors — and some limitations.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With Kyle Lowry’s future in Toronto up in the air, Malachi Flynn has been slotted in as a key piece in the next generation of Raptors guards. Much like the rest of the team, Flynn’s rookie season had its fair share of ups and downs. Perhaps unfairly, Flynn performed so exceedingly well in the preseason that his play early on in the regular season may have been viewed under a harsher lens than it otherwise would have been. After a run in the G League and some solid play down the stretch, we got a better sense of Flynn’s place in Toronto after one year in the league — especially after winning Rookie of the Month in April.

With a skill set filled with intangibles, Malachi displayed the appropriate wherewithal required to run a competent NBA offense — albeit in spurts. Through no fault of his own, Malachi was relegated to the bench for large stretches of last season, seeing as the team was attempting to make the playoffs until late in the year. A rookie will often be forced to take a back seat in situations like these, so the decision to sit him in favour of more experienced players made sense.

Overall, Malachi had an encouraging rookie season, showing off brilliant upside, as well as some common issues that often plague young guards. Let’s dive into both Flynn’s positive and negative attributes, and make an assessment on how he will fit with the team moving forward, as well as how he can elevate his game.

First, let’s talk about Malachi’s strengths. It’s no secret that he’s at his best while running pick-and-rolls with competent big men; unfortunately, for much of last season, the Raptors’ roster was undeniably lacking in the soft-handed centre department. Thus, much of Malachi’s pick-and-roll prowess would not be on display until much later in the season. However, during the final stretch of the season amidst several key injuries to Raptors’ guards, fans were delighted to finally witness Malachi’s immediately apparent patience and poise as a ball handler.

Malachi’s general passing and positioning are a treat to watch. His execution is admirable, nearly always making the right play even in otherwise frantic possessions. His ability to find the open man will be pivotal for the Raptors moving forward, especially when coming off a bench practically devoid of established playmakers. And when not making the pass, Flynn showed an ability to generate a jumper for himself off the screen, which is a must-have skill for point guards in the NBA today.

On the defensive end, Malachi is a pest, much like Fred VanVleet. And like FVV, Flynn is undersized, so there are concerns with him when put into switch-heavy situations. Much of the time, however, Flynn seems to possess the savvy of a veteran guard. His quick hands, coupled with correct positioning in passing lanes make for a future defensive nightmare. Once Flynn becomes even more comfortable facing off against NBA-level opponents, I can see him regularly clamping down skilled guards and causing headaches for passers or hesitant players.

The main weakness at this point in Malachi’s young career is the inconsistency of his shot. Flynn started off the year with a nervous aura surrounding his playing time. Coming off a wildly successful preseason, one that even garnered some Rookie of the Year predictions for Flynn, Malachi succumbed to the pressure. His shot refused to fall early on, though I can imagine the outrageously high hopes for Flynn, coupled with Nick Nurse’s short leash, was likely not the most conducive environment for comfort and success.

However, it should be noted that his efficiency improved as last season progressed and he became more comfortable navigating his way through opposing NBA defenses. And, although quite infrequent, Malachi did show off his propensity for hitting ridiculously difficult (and timely) shots.

At the beginning of the season, Flynn displayed a real hesitancy on drives, often avoiding body contact with stronger and taller defenders, opting for tough pull-up jumpers in favour of getting to the rim. By the end of the season, he showed real improvement in that regard, unafraid of contact and often slyly using defenders’ momentum against them to free himself up at the rim.

If Flynn wants to elevate his game to the point where he could eventually become a starter, a good place to start would be adding some muscle to help him finish through contact at the rim. I don’t doubt a season with more leeway for mistakes will aid in Flynn’s development in this regard. It also goes without saying that Flynn needs to improve his shot, though I suspect that will come with time. Generally, Malachi’s form looks solid and as a shorter, younger player I’m not surprised his shot suffered a bit out of the gate. Plus, a return to normalcy should do wonders for Flynn’s comfort on the court.

While Flynn got off to a slow start to the season, he ended up putting together a solid year. Malachi is a smart basketball player, a hard-nosed defender, and a solid pick-and-roll technician. Moving forward, as he becomes more accustomed to the NBA (with an offseason of training to boot), Malachi could become a key piece of the team as-is. I’m excited to see what Flynn can do back in Toronto, hopefully with extended minutes. And if Lowry does leave the team, we’ll see soon enough if Flynn can carry the load.