Skip to main content

Maybe it's easiest to just think of the Toronto Raptors as a jazz band.

It's how Raptors coach Nick Nurse, the conductor of the band, said he likes to think of basketball in his book Rapture. When things are working, there's a freeness on the court, the notes blend together, changing tempos and rhythms, as the ball zips around perfectly in sync. The team should gel, with the starters setting the tone early before the tempo picks up when the bench comes in. It should be an organized chaos, a beautiful medley as players whiz around, each with an assigned duty on both ends of the court.

"Listen, what we do is not fancy," said Raptors 905 coach Patrick Mutombo. "It's very simple. Defensively, we like to pressure the ball, we protect each other. We get out and make people miss, we rebound. Offensively we want to be able to play with pace, get into the paint, play unselfish. That's not very fancy."

The Raptors have built a roster to do those things. They want rangy and versatile wings and tough guards that should blend together to create a defensive juggernaut that swarms opposing stars, creates turnovers, and runs in transition.

And that's where things seem to have gone awry for 2020 first-round pick Malachi Flynn. He's a classical pianist in a jazz band. His tempo is slower and more methodical in a band that's looking for the opposite. They want ball pressure and chaos creation and right now that isn't Flynn's game.

“We need some constant ball pressure from him. I think he has to be an energy ball pressure guy all over the floor," Nurse said of Flynn following Tuesday's practice. "When he hits the game, he should be picking up full court, and he should be trying to turn guys in the backcourt, and he should be trying to be a bit of a pest back there. ... I just want him to be a little bit more of a disruptor on it."

But, right now, that's not who Flynn is. He's cool, calm, and collected on the court. When the Raptors 905 fell behind 20-0 in the first few minutes of Monday morning's game, Flynn was unfazed. 

"To me, it made it more fun, to be honest. We were down 20-0 and there was never a doubt in my mind that we would win," he said post-game. "It was just like, damn, we’re really down 20-0, but somehow, we’re going to win. That never wavered throughout the entire game."

He's the opposite of 2021 second-round pick Dalano Banton who totally changes Toronto's pace the moment he steps on the court. Banton brings energy on the court, turning up the pressure at both ends by getting into players defensively, using his 6-foot-9 frame and 6-foot-10 wingspan to create chaos.

"The first time we played with him, like, he was just getting out so fast. I was like damn, slow down," said Banton's 905 teammate Reggie Perry. "Just the pace of the game, he speeds it up a lot. That’s of course what the Raptors, our coaches like. He changes the pace a lot."

That's what the Raptors want from their bench players. It's why Banton has usurped Flynn's playing time and why Chris Boucher has been a staple off Toronto's bench for the last couple of seasons. In Nurse's books, the bench should come in and bring energy right away. Think Giant Steps by John Coltrane. The song starts upbeat before turning it up even faster at the 0:27 mark.

That's where things don't seem to be clicking with Flynn. It's why he's already in such a precarious spot just a calendar year into his NBA career.

He is who he is and, so far, that isn't changing. He's a pick-and-roll specialist on a team that ranks 23rd in the NBA in pick-and-roll usage. He wants to slow things down and read the defense to find an advantage before attacking. He's cut from the same cloth as so many other undersized guards who prowl the perimeter, assessing the situation before making their move. It's not a bad thing in a vacuum, but on this team, at least right now, it doesn't seem to fit.

"I don’t see anything different [in Flynn]," said Flynn's former San Diego State University teammate Jordan Schakel. "He’s always been a great player."

But that might be the issue right now. Flynn is still the meticulous guard he was coming out of college all while the Raptors have moved even further away from pick-and-roll, slow-it-down basketball. They want another saxophone player and right now Flynn isn't that.

Further Reading

OG Anunoby & Khem Birch out for the 'foreseeable future'

Chris Boucher believes he's figured out the reason for his disappointing start

Pascal Siakam leads the way as Raptors bench finally breaks through in victory over Wizards