After dropping 54 points at the Ball Don’t Stop Pro-Am game, the buzz surrounding Toronto Raptors point guard Malachi Flynn may be rounding into something of substance. While it’s still only an amateur showcase designed for pros to generate highlights, this is the second time this summer Flynn has blown up.
So what? Flynn can beat up on amateurs all the live long day, but what does that have to do with his emerging career? What it does is force the Raptors front office to take another look at him and his abilities. They must analyze the new role he could play in this upcoming 2022-23 season.
The Raptors front office had two missions entering this offseason, as they had to get some extra size in the paint and find a solid deputy for Fred VanVleet. The Raptors completed the first task via the NBA Draft, taking Arizona’s seven-footer Christian Koloko.
As it stands in late August, it seems unlikely the Raptors will be making any moves towards acquiring a backup point guard when Fred VanVleet sits. Could this be, in part, because Toronto has renewed confidence in Flynn and his ability to contribute to a championship club?
Toronto Raptors: Malachi Flynn could help relieve Fred VanVleet
Last season the team’s lack of guard depth forced VanVleet to play an absurd amount of minutes, particularly for a player of his size (or lack thereof). Since 2010, there have only been a handful of players 6-1 or smaller (Kyle Lowry and Rajon Rondo among them) who have played more than 37 minutes per game.
Playing undersized guys heavy minutes is practically a death sentence. The most notable example in the modern era was Allen Iverson, who averaged 41.8 minutes a game between 1996 and 2008. Those minutes rose to 45.1 in the playoffs, and it may have precipitated an early end to his career.
All this is to say that the Raptors cannot continue to ask VanVleet to shoulder the load he did this past year. So if the help isn’t coming from a trade or free agency signing, where is it coming from? Perhaps from inside the Raptors’ own house?
Flynn was expected to come into the NBA as a more complete product than the next rookie. Walking in at age 22 after multiple years of college hoops, Flynn studied under the wings of two savvier points in the league, Lowry and VanVleet.
It’s been a rocky road since then. While he was Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in 2021, he has since struggled to get rotation time consistently. That doesn’t mean he’s been totally bereft of quality offensive performances.
2022 saw a more confident Flynn. While he lost ground in the department of consistent minutes, there was a four-game stretch in late winter when Flynn was asked to fill the shoes of an injured VanVleet. In those games, Flynn averaged roughly 35 minutes, 16 points, six assists, and four rebounds per game on 57% shooting.
While that may only be a small sample size, it’s the only example of consistent rotation minutes we’ve seen Flynn play. He has his ups and downs like any other guard in the NBA, but the Raptors won’t know what they have in him until they give him the opportunity.
What would a backup PG role look like for Malachi Flynn?
With Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes evolving into point-forwards in their own right, the Raptors’ backup point guard would be more of a 3-and-D role than that of a more traditional playmaker. Is Flynn the man for the job?
Early last season, Nick Nurse was hesitant to play Flynn because of the presence of Goran Dragic and local phenom Dalano Banton. With a roster positively stuffed full of forwards, why wouldn’t Nurse play Flynn more?
With VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. locked into the starting five, could we be witnessing the birth of a Flynn/Banton bench backcourt? With Banton demolishing G-League and Summer League competition for months and Flynn going on a heater this summer, testing the waters with these two young guys should be worth considering.
It’s put up or shut up time for Flynn. His rookie contract becomes eligible for an extension soon, and if he wants to sign another deal in a better situation, he needs to prove his worth as more than just a fringe point guard.
There won’t be a better opportunity to prove himself. The Raptors won’t have a PG job opening forever, and the clock is ticking on Malachi’s viable “development” time before he hits his NBA prime. The time is now or never for Malachi Flynn, but I believe he’ll show us all that he’s got what it takes.