Was drafting Malachi Flynn still the right move?


In the recent history of the NBA Draft, the No. 29 pick has produced some viable rotation players – especially if you’re the San Antonio Spurs – but little in the way of true ‘home run’ selections. Malachi Flynn may not have been a home run, but he sure felt like a safe bet to be a contributor considering how he was the Mountain West Player of the Year.

That may well still be the case, but Flynn hasn’t shown it yet. Expected to be a heady, high character competitor in the same vein as fellow point guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, Flynn has instead looked overwhelmed and uncertain in brief spurts of floor time in which he’s failed to assert himself. This is almost nothing like the player Toronto saw at San Diego State.

We haven’t even neared the halfway point of Flynn’s rookie season, so let’s not suggest that it’s time to give up on the 22-year-old. Still, his recent demotion to the G League proves he is much rawer than Masai Ujiri anticipated. It’s time to check in with some of the players still available at No. 29 and seeing how they’ve been faring with their new clubs.

Raptors rookie Malachi Flynn is off to the G League, while these three rookies are starring

Desmond Bane, SG, Memphis Grizzlies

There are some early signs that Bane’s last name might prove all too fitting for the Raptors, as he has blossomed after being picked directly after Flynn to close out the first round. Although Toronto was linked to the four-year TCU star in the lead-up to the draft, the No. 30 pick ultimately wound up in Memphis, where he’s getting noticed for his high basketball IQ and NBA-ready three-and-D game.

The primary knock on Bane was a perceived low ceiling based on his status as a college senior. However, while Flynn technically declared for the draft after his junior season, a season spent sitting as a redshirt transfer meant that he was in school for four years. In fact, he is a month older than Bane.

While both players should, theoretically, be ready to contribute right away, it’s Bane who is scoring more (9.1 to 2.3 PPG) and shooting better (49 percent from the field and 51 percent from three compared to 29 percent from the floor and 23 percent from deep).Bane has earned the trust of coaches and teammates, even potentially forcing his way into the Grizzlies’ starting five.

Xavier Tillman, C, Memphis Grizzlies

To find another late pick making an early impact, you don’t need to look far. Bane’s teammate Tillman is also making an early mark despite his second-round status, taking advantage of a thin frontcourt in Memphis to carve out a role. The power forward out of Michigan State has remained efficient even as his minutes have increased into the mid-20s, scoring 8.5 points on 55 percent shooting.

Where Tillman could really be helping Toronto right now is on the boards. A big, strong interior presence, the No. 35 pick is averaging about four rebounds per game, a number that is on an upward trajectory with more playing time. As it stands, he’d rank sixth in rebounding on the Raptors, a team that currently ranks 26th in the league in rebounds per game.

Theo Maledon, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Heading into the 2020 Draft, Maledon was seen as an intriguing long-term project at the point. The long French teenager didn’t particularly stand out for hometown club ASVEL Lyon, but he reportedly turned heads in workouts and left an impression thanks to his size and raw potential.

To date, Maledon’s promise has come along much faster than anticipated. Acquired by the Thunder as part of the Al Horford blockbuster, the No. 34 pick had already been working his way up the depth chart when an injury to George Hill opened up a starting opportunity at the point. 

Maledon is making the most of it, making big shots in key situations and going off for 24 points on 8-9 shooting against Brooklyn last Friday night. Not only is Maledon, who looks like a long-term building block for Oklahoma City, thriving while Flynn is struggling, but he’s making the pick look worse by starring in the same role that Malachi Flynn is floundering in.

Where does Toronto Raptors draft pick Malachi Flynn go from here?

For as many disappointments as this Raptors season has brought forth, the team has proven to be rife with players who can step up when called upon and put in the right situation. Stanley Johnson, Yuta Watanabe, and DeAndre’ Bembry have all succeeded in specific, Nick Nurse-driven roles, and it’s hopefully only a matter of time before Flynn gets his moment.

Until then, all the positive feelings surrounding Flynn in the immediate aftermath of the draft will remain understandably muted. With Lowry facing an uncertain future with the organization as the trade rumors swirl, the pressure is already on the rookie to prove himself as more than a miss on Ujiri’s draft record.