Raptors' Malachi Flynn finally reaching Nick Nurse's high expectations

Mar 2 2022, 11:15 pm

Malachi Flynn is living up to the moment with the Toronto Raptors.

Just a few short months ago, heck, even last week, it was easy to wonder if Flynn, the Raptors’ 2020 first round pick, was going to be a long-term fit in the organization.

In the big picture, Flynn’s sitting 11th in the Raptors’ rotation when it comes to total minutes played over the course of the season.

From December 8 to February 5, he played just eight games while sitting out 13.

It was easy to write off Flynn’s second season in the NBA as a major step back from a strong rookie campaign. In a league where player movement is frequent, Flynn’s name had been easy to attach in trade rumours for much of the season.

But the trade deadline came and went, and Flynn remained in Toronto.

With All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet missing each of the last two games due to a knee injury in a back-to-back against the Brooklyn Nets, Flynn’s suddenly been tasked with a starting job.

The results: 33 points on 13-for-22 field goal shooting, 10 rebounds, 13 assists, and most importantly, two Raptors wins.

“We gave him a few shots here and there lately, and he’s produced. That’s the only thing I can judge it on,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said following Tuesday’s 109-108 win. “You go out there and you play your minutes. And if you play well, I’m gonna play you, period. Right? If you don’t, I can’t. And that’s just the facts of it.”

Toronto’s bench depth — or lack thereof — has been a major sticking point throughout the season, with the team’s starters averaging 34.4 minutes per game, by far the highest mark in the league.

It’s hard to get through a Raptors game or two with at least one player — or maybe five — playing 40 or more minutes, while the little-used bench players like Flynn have mostly yet to earn the trust of Nurse.

Raptors president and vice chairman Masai Ujiri called Nurse “a mad scientist” for his coaching style. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Nurse’s schemes are “crazy” when visiting Toronto in December.

On Tuesday, Flynn’s 42 minutes led the Raptors.

If his previous lack of playing time was getting to him, Flynn wasn’t calling it out publicly.

“I think we’ve been doing good as a team,” Flynn said when asked about it on January 25, following just one of two appearances over the 21-game stretch where he played over 10 minutes. “I’m not just going to talk about me individually.”

For Nurse, the reason why Flynn wasn’t getting his chance in the lineup — often behind rookie Dalano Banton in the team’s rotation — was simple: he wasn’t performing as expected.

“We gave him some shots early in the season. We gave him some chances. And he didn’t really look like he was ready to go,” Nurse added Tuesday.

When Nurse was asked in January about what Flynn needed to do to get back into the Raptors’ rotation, he offered up a whole collection of expectations.

“He needs to pick up full court, get on the floor, get dirty, get loose balls, take charges, run the team on offence, make sure to organize from a point guard position, create offence for other players, and make some threes when he gets rhythm chances,” Nurse had said.

For Flynn, it’s all about being open to creativity on the offensive side of the ball.

“I think my main thing is just trying to be aggressive,” Flynn said Monday. “Not necessarily to score or to pass it, just being aggressive and seeing what the defence gives you and just kind of reading them and going off of that.”

If there was a sign that aggression is working, it came Tuesday with a sneaky layup midway through the first quarter.

The Raptors have 21 games to go, just slightly more than a quarter of their season. They’re in a decent spot, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference, but are eying a top-six place where they could avoid the NBA’s play-in round.

Eventually, VanVleet will be back from his injury, though it’s unclear at this point whether he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow when the team hosts the Detroit Pistons.

We could be getting ahead of ourselves on the resurgence of Flynn, as it’s just a two-game stretch in the midst of 82. But if Flynn can turn those two games into earning Nurse’s trust in the long-term (and a spot in the rotation come playoff time), maybe the mad scientist’s schemes were right all along.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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