Rookie Flynn winning battle against time
Without true off-season, 29th draft pick impresses coach and teammates
The one thing Raptors rookie Malachi Flynn needed the most was the one thing he simply didn’t have.
No Summer League following the NBA draft. No informal workouts with his new teammates for a month or so before training camp began. No full training camp and exhibition season to give him more of a first-hand look at how fast, how competitive, how good NBA basketball really is.
It was not his fault — the truncated summer and abbreviated preparation time can solely be blamed on the residual global pandemic wreaking havoc with every facet of everyone’s life — but he’s got to somehow overcome it.
It won’t be easy and it won’t always be smooth, but so far, indications are that the young point guard is making giant strides in a very short period of time.
“He’s been very, very good,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Flynn on Thursday. “Very, very good.
“He’s got a great head for the game, kind of a baller, really knows how to play, understands a lot out there and he’s got some fearlessness to him. He’s got a shooting component, he’s got a finishing component to his offence.”
Not bad for the 29th pick in the NBA draft who did not have the benefit of a true off-season to prepare.
“He’s got a lot of game to him,” veteran Raptor Norm Powell said. “He’s not afraid to bring the ball up. He’s not afraid to get guys in position. You can see that he is very smart. He’s had some great passes and in those few days of camp made some big shots in scrimmages and in games.”
Flynn has taken it upon himself to soak up as much information as he can, despite the timing issues he’s battling. He’s got two veteran guards to learn from in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet and he’s trying to cram in as much time learning at their feet as possible.
He’s already become a regular at the early morning, individual work sessions VanVleet and Lowry put in daily. That’s the kind of time commitment and work ethic his new teammates notice.
“He’s always talking to Fred in the morning in how he can improve his game in areas that he can get better, so he doesn’t have that big gap of learning things like the new guys coming in are going to have because they didn’t go through the summer league process and all that,” Powell said.
Flynn’s role is likely to be limited in his first season. He’s well behind two veterans, one a sixtime all-star in Lowry and the other, VanVleet, who is emerging as the team’s leader.
That’s the time benefit Flynn does have: He won’t be forced or asked to play very much, if at all. He can soak up experience and get reps in practice and not have to worry about screwing up too much.
“(Fred’s) a really good player, and I’ve seen what he’s able to do over his career so far so just being with a guy like that, and just trying to think of different things, it’s always good for a younger guy,” Flynn said.
“It’s not like I can just come in and act like I’ve been here. I’m just trying to soak up knowledge, and he’s one of the guys that I can get it from.”
Coach Nurse said it’s one thing to see a young player like Flynn in practice and quite another to see him in a game.
Flynn should get significant playing time when the Raptors open the pre-season with games Saturday and Monday in Charlotte and that will be telling.
Still, the coach does say Flynn ticks off two very important boxes.
“One is competitiveness, right? Like how are they going after it, how do they value winning or finding ways to win or doing the little things required to win, how much do they fight to win? All of that to me is competitiveness,” Nurse said.
“And then the second one is knowing how to play. From what I’ve seen in five days from him, I’d rank he’s got both of those things.”
Both extremely important, both traits that tend to be common among the better Raptors.
“He’s a player and he likes to compete and that’s what we need — scrappy guys like that,” Powell said.