Something has happened to Malachi Flynn.
Coming out of last season there seemed to be a sense of optimism surrounding the Toronto Raptors’ 2020 first-round pick. He ended the year on a high, averaging 12.5 points through the final 24 games of the season and it seemed as though Kyle Lowry’s impending departure would usher in more playing time for the 23-year-old guard.
Even entering the season, Fred VanVleet spoke highly of his understudy.
“He’s more of a shot-maker than I was at that point, I think his whole game is predicated on making shots,” said VanVleet, who took Malachi, or 'Red VanVleet' as he’s known on the team, under his wing down in Tampa. “When he’s got it going he’s a really tough cover. You can’t touch him. He’s one of those Trae Young-like body types where any little body contact, he’ll be going to the line. So once he gets his three down, gets more reps behind the three, it’ll make him more dangerous.”
But behind closed doors, though, something clearly hasn’t clicked. Raptors coach Nick Nurse still hasn’t seen the offensive assertiveness he’s been looking for from Flynn since the start of last season. Flynn tends to play it safer and wait for the play to develop, Nurse said, rather than attack immediately as the Raptors would like him to do.
Throughout the preseason Flynn and 2021 second-round pick Dalano Banton jockeyed back and forth for Toronto’s backup guard spot. At first, it seemed like maybe Nurse just wanted to get a closer look at Banton, the 6-foot-9 guard out of Nebraska. But now, after Wednesday night’s season opener, a game in which Nurse played 10 players and was in desperate need of some offensive firepower, Flynn seems buried on the Raptors' bench.
That can certainly be tough for a young player who seemed destined for more playing time this season. Veteran guard Goran Dragic said he spoke to Flynn about his lack of playing time and shared some advice he once received from Steve Nash back when he was coming up as a second-round pick with the Phoenix Suns.
“Your opportunity is gonna come, but when it comes, you have to be ready, you have to produce,” Dragic recalled Nash telling him.
“I always had that in my mind when I was young,” the Dragic added. “I always worked hard. Suddenly, there was a switch of the coach, I got an opportunity and I played well. I got the same thing for Malachi: Just work hard, be ready. It’s tough to say stay patient, but you have to.”
As Dragic said, it’s tough to just be patient in the NBA. If you’re too patient, you'll find yourself out of the league, having seeded minutes to some newcomer hungry to take your minutes and eventually your money.
“There’s a saying: You can only control what you can control,” said Khem Birch who has become all too familiar with the rollercoaster ride of bench minutes in the NBA. “So last year when I was in Orlando, if I wasn’t playing I would just work out a lot and work on my craft and when I got in the game I would be ready. It’s both mental and physical. You just got to be positive and not focus on the things you can’t control.”
The good news for Flynn is there’s going to be lots of rotation tinkering this season. Nurse suggested as much following Wednesday’s game and reiterated it on Thursday saying “there’s definitely opportunity for both Dalano and Malachi” to get more work in the rotation. Knowing Nurse, nothing will stay constant with this team for very long. But when Flynn’s chance arises, he better take advantage because his leash appears to be a little shorter than expected.