Malachi Flynn is going to need to become a little more like Kyle Lowry.
That lack of Lowry-esque firepower and determination was the biggest thing missing from Flynn whose impressive rookie campaign gave way to a lackluster and ultimately inconsistent sophomore season. Despite winning the Rookie of the Month award last April, Flynn was out of the Raptors' rotation for much of the 2021-22 season and only briefly found a groove in early March before a hamstring injury forced him to the sideline for nearly a month.
For Raptors coach Nick Nurse, the message to Flynn has always been the same: more defensive intensity, more hustle, and a little more shot-making.
"I think he needs to be a little bit more of a pressure defender up the floor, just as a nuisance and as a change for us. Fred (VanVleet) can do it, but he’s not really a guy that will spend all that energy up the floor but it’s good to have a guy come off the bench and just turn a guy a little bit in the backcourt and eat into them," Nurse said.
Jose Alvarado, for example, the undrafted defense-first point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans became a difference-maker in that kind of role during these playoffs by pestering Chris Paul and wearing down the 36-year-old Phoenix Suns point guard.
"I keep saying he’s got to get a little dirtier," Nurse added on Flynn. "Take more charges, come up with more loose balls, dive on the floor more even if it’s just for inspiration, he doesn’t have a great shot to get the ball, but he’s throwing his body around to provide a spark with that kind of stuff."
Offensively, Flynn has shown he can run the team and be a "floor general," as Nurse put it. He's a savvy guard who can navigate the pick-and-roll and is generally composed under pressure. The problem so far has been his inability to regularly nail shots. His 36.3% three-point shooting in college hasn't translated to the NBA where he's averaged just 32.6% from behind the arc through two seasons.
"He’s going to have to be able to knock them down," Nurse said. "He’s going to have to be a great catch-and-shoot player. He’s got to do that for us because that is a role we could use. I think that is one area he has to get better."
Next season feels like Flynn's last chance to prove he deserves minutes for the Raptors. On a team that has gone all-in on versatility and size, Flynn is a bit of an outlier, a relic from a previous era. He's shown in spurs that he can play, but it's time to start putting it all together and providing the consistency Toronto so desperately needs off the bench.
"How that fits with us and what we're doing going forward, I'm not sure, but I think he's a heck of a player," VanVleet said. "He's got great potential. He can shoot, he can score, he plays really well in ball screens, and he can defend. So hopefully he'll have some more opportunity going forward."