When Malachi Flynn was drafted by the Toronto Raptors back in November the comparison everyone jumped to was Fred VanVleet.
In some ways, it was a lazy comparison. Both are somewhat undersized point guards who were seniors in college and come from mixed-race families. But if you look a little bit closer at the way Flynn has developed this season it’s easy to see their similarities on the court.
On Friday night, the Raptors 130-77 blowout of the Golden State Warriors allowed Flynn to really show how far he’s come this season with limited time to develop. In 31 minutes, the most of his career, he scored a career-high 16 points, and tallied five assists, five rebounds, and came away with a pair of steals. It was, by all accounts, his best game as a pro.
“I think the biggest thing was we need him to get downhill and get aggressive towards the rim and those are the best plays that he made,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Flynn. “He took it down there and made some layups, created them for himself, and really made good decisions tonight.”
Flynn’s best attribute coming out of college was his handling of pick-and-roll duties. He ranked in the 96th percentile in college in pick-and-roll scoring, according to Synergy, generating 1.06 points per possession. On Friday, you saw some of that skill in a way that looked an awful lot like VanVleet running the point.
On both of those plays, he used the big to force the switch and just toyed with James Wiseman for buckets.
If Flynn’s offence is showing shades of VanVleet, it’s his defence that’s really progressed in VanVleet fashion. Much like his 27-year-old mentor, Flynn is showing he knows exactly when to step in, help off his man, and strip an unwitting offensive player.
While VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have certainly helped Flynn this season, the Raptors rookie didn’t want to give VanVleet all the credit for his VanVleet-esque defence. It’s something he said he’s had with him since his college days.
Right now, Flynn’s defence is a little ahead of his offence. He’s showing an ability to get dirty on defence, fight for loose balls, and grab long rebounds. Those things, Nurse said, are the building blocks of a good basketball player. From there, it’s just about getting more comfortable on offence.
Friday night was an important step forward for Flynn and with Lowry out for the next little while and the season slipping away from the Raptors, Flynn should finally be in store for some more development this year.