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Player Review: Malachi Flynn, the Raptors’ Emergency Alternate

Malachi Flynn made strides, but it wasn’t enough to break the sour treatment from Nick Nurse.

For the second consecutive season, Malachi Flynn found himself on the outside looking in, unable to break into coach Nick Nurse’s rotation while getting the EBUG (Emergency Backup Goalie) treatment.

Flynn made strides this season, but it took injuries from several key players before the minutes opened up for him, but unfortunately, those minutes quickly went away once the team got healthy. Despite the improvements, Flynn remained a borderline rotation player for most of the season and lost whatever minutes he could have had to the new flavour of the month.

Season Recap

Flynn’s strong summer destroying all comers at the Crawsover pro-am tournament carried over through the training camp, even earning a rare praise from coach Nurse, saying, “He was really outstanding today in practice.” The momentum carried over through the start of the preseason. Flynn was decisive and was hitting his pull-up three-pointers against Utah Jazz, only to injure his cheekbone that cost him the rest of the preseason and a little bit of the start of the season.

Flynn was available to return for the season opener, but he didn’t see his first action until the third game, showing off his refined catch-and-shoot game. However, it’s quite clear that he and Dalano Banton shared the 8.5th person on the rotation spot, and depending on the matchup, either one couldn’t have more than one 4-5 minute shift per game.

He finally got an extended look when injuries and illnesses started to pile up for the Raptors, where he averaged around 21 minutes per game off the bench. Flynn averaged 11.4 points, 2.2 assists while going for 11-for-22 from behind the arc during that stretch. As a reward, Nurse would either DNP or give him garbage time minutes over the next ten games.

Much like clockwork, the Raptors started to populate the injury report, and Nurse had no choice but to turn to Flynn. He played almost 20 minutes per night over the next 15 games, but his production was often more down than up, averaging 5.3 points, 2.1 assists, and 32.1% shooting from behind the arc. Predictably, Flynn would either get DNP or semi-garbage time over the next ten games.

OG Anunoby’s injury opened up another path to playing time for Flynn, where he saw around 13 minutes per game. He barely made a dent during this period, averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 assists, but improved to 36.4% shooting from behind the arc.

With the team getting their health back post-all-star break (or dare I say trade deadline), Flynn racked up 11 DNPs over the next 22 games while barely getting anything other than garbage time minutes from this point on. He got extended playing time on the last game of the season, as he played his second-best game, putting up 20 points and four assists against the Milwaukee Bucks’ Wisconsin Herd roster.

Playing Time Situation

Flynn earned 29 DNPs while playing at least 10 minutes in 25 games. He also had anywhere from 7-10 more games where he could have played more if he played well enough during his shift or if Nurse trusted him a few minutes longer.

Nurse decided to run the offense through Pascal Siakam to start the season, and that meant Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes shared the backup point guard and secondary creation reps, leaving Flynn and Banton to compete for scraps for whatever minutes or backup point guard reps that can be had.

Flynn primarily played off-ball this season, relying on kick-outs, and reinvented his game as a catch-and-shoot threat from the perimeter. He scored 1.9 points off catch-and-shoot while hitting 37% from the perimeter.

Flynn had 15 games where he shot two or more trifectas while shooting at least 40% from behind the arc. He played approximately 21 minutes per game when he hit a couple of three-pointers per game. There was a point in the season where Flynn almost shot 50% from behind the arc, but he failed to sustained it when his minutes went up.

Flynn averaged 26.4 touches per game, around 1400 total touches, which is good enough for 11th in total touches on the team. Even Thaddeus Young had more touches than him. For comparison, some of the backup guards, like Jevon Carter (38.5 touches), Jalen Suggs (43.1 touches), and Cam Payne (49.6 touches), had significant numbers over Flynn.

Flynn got his minutes, no doubt. But whether he was utilized to his strengths while on the floor is debatable. Before the season, I wrote his preview and mentioned that he needs to be more like Payton Pritchard, who excels in catch-and-shoot around the perimeter, despite not being utilized as a point guard. Flynn could do this to some extent, but not significant enough to warrant more playing time.

Additionally, his Mountain West DPOY hasn’t translated well in the NBA, partly because Nurse’s defensive scheme and the lack of traditional big exposed small guards like him. But in reality, Flynn hadn’t leveraged his defensive IQ and quickness to help him stay on the floor defensively and was mostly utilized defending speedy guards when Nurse really, really, really had to, like the Cleveland Cavs and the Atlanta Hawks games, where Flynn showed his value.

Last season, Nurse’s excuse regarding Flynn was, “He just wasn’t impacting, wasn’t making shots, wasn’t playing what I thought we needed.” This season, Nurse is justified to say that whatever improvements Flynn made wasn’t enough, at least to his standards.

Outlook

Flynn has to go. The Raptors mismanaged his development, and he’s done everything to remain professional. While it’s not his fault that he’s not 6’9” and that the outgoing head coach treated him like Uncle Vernon Dursley from Harry Potter, he hasn’t really made it difficult for the coaching staff to staple him to the bench.

With one more year under contract with the Raptors, there’s a chance that Flynn’s stay in purgatory will go beyond this outgoing season. He needs a fresh start and won’t fully regain his confidence if he remains in the place of his trauma. A coaching change might open up a lane for Flynn, but that feels unlikely, as the prospects available for the Raptors’ upcoming draft pick are primarily guards.

Flynn could be a trade candidate, whether as a throw-in for a bigger trade package or in exchange for a future second-rounder for any interested team. There’s also the potential of a “second draft” swap, much like the Malachi Richardson/Bruno Caboclo swap.

At this point, it might be better for both sides — Malachi Flynn and the Toronto Raptors to move on from each other.

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