Checking Flynn: Raps rookie ready for his debut

by Chris O'Leary

In a year that’s found a way to suck the fun out of just about anything that feels like an event, Saturday is still going to be special to Malachi Flynn. 

The Raptors’ rookie point guard will step onto the court at Spectrum Center in Charlotte to get his first taste of life in the NBA. Even if in the big picture it’s just a trial run, the first of three preseason games in this shortened season, it’s a monumental moment for him. 

“I’m excited to see how the game feels. I know it will definitely be different from practice,” said Flynn, whom the Raptors took 29th overall in last month’s draft. 

“I don't really know what to expect but just going into that first game I’m definitely excited and just ready to play, honestly.” 

Five practices in, the reviews are positive on Flynn, who will wear the No. 8 this season. 

“He’s been very, very good. He's got a great head for the game. He's kind of a baller, really knows how to play, understands a lot out there and he's got some fearlessness to him. He's got a shooting component, he's got a finishing component to his offence,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. 

Raptors’ guard Norman Powell said he saw a lot of good things with Flynn. 

“You can see that he's very smart. He’s had some great passes in these few days of training camp, he’s hit some big shots in scrimmages and games,” Powell said. 

When your work ethic impresses Powell -- a player that prides himself on putting in the work and doing all of the little, extra things to get better -- you know you’re making good progress early on. 

“He's an avid learner,” Powell continued. 

“He's always talking to Fred (VanVleet) in the morning about how he can improve his game in areas...so he doesn’t have that big gap of learning things that the new guys are going to have because they (didn’t get to) go through the Summer League process. 

“I like him, he's a player. He likes to play, likes to compete. We need scrappy guys like that.” 

The youngest of seven kids, that scrappiness and willingness to learn from the older people around him is ingrained in Flynn. 

“He’s a really good player,” Flynn said of VanVleet. 

“I’ve seen what he's been able to do over his career, so just being with a guy like that and just trying to take different things is always good for a younger guy. I'm a rookie, I haven't played a game yet. I can’t just come in and act like I've been here. I'm trying to soak up knowledge and he's one of the guys that I get it from.” 

VanVleet and Kyle Lowry will be perfect role models for Flynn as he starts what he hopes is a long NBA career. Both guards defied the odds in their careers to become centrepieces with the Raptors. As a senior last year, Flynn led San Diego State University in scoring, with 17.6 points and 5.1 assists per game. He fits the bill of the gritty, grind-loving type of Raptors players that have populated their roster over the last few years. This year will likely come with challenges, though 

As Powell pointed out, the pandemic has disrupted the entire rhythm of the NBA. There was no time for any kind of Summer League after the Nov. 16 Draft and the G-League, it seems, is still a work in progress, as determined as the NBA is to get it going this season. After years of having a routine of the Draft, Summer League, private workouts and pickup runs to ease rookies into their season, 2020 has come along and done what 2020 does. Now everyone is adapting.  

"There's a chance that we could use him this year,” Nurse said, almost taking a step back as he heard the words come out of his mouth. 

“I don't ever like to get too carried away too early with new guys because there's a long way from Summer League and then the preseason and then the preseason games, then the real games. 

“But I would imagine this weekend you'll get to see him and we'll get to start making some evaluations. I would imagine he'd get a good chunk of minutes this weekend in Charlotte.” 

The preseason will be a short burst, with games in Charlotte on Saturday and Monday, then a finale in Tampa next Friday against Miami. Nurse said early on that he knew what he had in his vets, so this should be a chance for Raptors fans to see what Flynn is about and what the Raptors have liked about him early on. 

“I look for guys that have that same hunger, that same drive that same desire to get better each and every day,” Powell said. “That guy that has that chip on his shoulder and is willing to learn, willing to listen. Malachi’s got that.”

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