The Toronto Raptors didn't play coy during their pre-draft media availabilities. Sure, they gave the usual non-answers and vague responses you'd expect from a front office, but ultimately they said they were going to draft a guy who fit into their system.
So it should come as no surprise when the Raptors drafted San Diego State's Malachi Flynn with the 29th pick in Wednesday night's NBA Draft. The 6-foot-1, 185 pound Flynn is, after all, in many ways a mirror image of the kind of player Toronto has become so fond of lately.
"He's cut from the same cloth as so many of the guys we've had success with," Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said Wednesday night.
The parallels between Flynn and Fred VanVleet are striking. Both were underrecruited high school prospects, a little undersized, who found success in college leading mid-major programs to the top of college basketball and entered the draft as academic seniors.
"It's funny, early on in the pre-draft process, doing a lot of background on [Flynn] and talking to his agent and whatnot early in the process, they kept saying, I'm telling ya, he's just like Freddy, he's just like Kyle," Tolzman said. "He's just one of the guys that's always kind of looked over, underdog story, big-time competitor, has put in the work over the last few years to really take his game to another level, and he seems to be about the right thing in terms of working to keep getting better and better every year."
For Flynn, success came in San Diego where he played his redshirt junior season after transferring in from Washington State. He was the lead ballhandler for the Aztecs last season, leading the team with a team-high 17.6 points on 44% shooting, 37% 3-point shooting, and 5.1 assists per game.
"He’s a modern NBA point guard," Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said. "I think he can do it all on the offensive end. A lot of people are going to talk about pick-and-roll, shooting off the dribble, shoots the 3-ball well, obviously defends at a high level as well."
It's in the pick-and-roll where Flynn was the most deadly last year. He ranked in the 96th percentile in pick-and-roll scoring, according to Synergy, generating 1.06 points per possession. In the halfcourt, he was equally adept, ranking in the 92nd percentile, generating 1.04 points per halfcourt possession, an area of the game the Raptors struggled with at times last season.
"The ball was in his hands 90% of the time and for him, it was just about making the right play and the right read," SDSU assistant coach Chris Acker said prior to the draft. "He began to evolve into that guy that would always make the right decision."
In Toronto, things are going to be a little different for Flynn. He's joining a team that will likely have two lead guards ahead of him in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, assuming VanVleet re-signs, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn from two of the game's best. On the court, he'll presumably help lead the Raptors' second unit while occasionally playing off-ball alongside either Lowry or VanVleet.
"His ability to shoot the basketball is why I think no matter what system he plays in he's going to thrive," Acker said. "Him off the ball is just as lethal as him on the ball just because now he's in a closeout situation and now somebody is making plays for him as well."
As a shooter, Flynn ranked in the 85th percentile in spot-ups last season and his 37% 3-point percentage came on 6.4 attempts per game.
"I think the ability to shoot the ball, I think that translates to all levels," Flynn said of his game. "The ability to make the right play, take care of the ball, make the right decisions with space, I think those two will be the biggest things that will help me translate."
What's particularly interesting about Toronto's pick is that the team doubled down on an archetype the front office clearly likes, understandably so. If Flynn can find anywhere near the kind of success Lowry and VanVleet have had in Toronto, he'll be among the best players selected in the draft. But the Raptors' lack of size has occasionally created problems for the team, notably against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2019 playoffs and at times against Boston in the 2020 playoffs. Drafting another 6-foot-1 guard certainly didn't alleviate those issues.
For Tolzman, there's always a debate about what skills a player can add to a team, and while Flynn is in many ways similar to what the Raptors already have, Tolzman said he does see significant differences between Flynn, Lowry, and VanVleet.
"He’s nowhere near the brute force type guy that Kyle and Fred have been for us past few years," Tolzman said. "He’s a little bit maybe shiftier, shoots the ball very well.
"They’re similar but, honestly, you’re talking about two of the top guards in the league for you to have any similarities to them is a compliment."