Flynn's hard work pays off in Raps win

by Chris O'Leary

Norman Powell will see Malachi Flynn in practice sometimes and he’ll have a flashback. He’ll see the Raptors’ rookie point guard getting advice from the vets around him and it all feels familiar. 

“He’s been tremendous in learning the game from Fred (VanVleet), myself and Kyle (Lowry), taking all the details that we tell him to prepare him for the game, into practice,” Powell said after Friday night’s win over Sacramento. 

He sees Flynn coming in early and staying late, getting in extra work with coaches. 

“He’s already a smart player and he knows the game. It’s about finding his spots and tonight he found his spots really well and was taking his shots with confidence.” 

After an impressive pair of preseason games, Flynn had Raptors’ Twitter buzzing over his potential. The six-foot-one, 185-pound San Diego State grad showed smarts with the ball in his hands, shot well and flaunted his court vision. Through limited action in his first three games, though, the 29th overall pick hadn’t seen the same results, even if something as simple as checking into a game launches his name into Twitter’s trending topics in Canada. 

That changed on Friday. With Lowry out for personal reasons, Flynn learned in the morning that he’d have an increased role in the Raps’ date with the Kings. His line was somewhat modest -- 12 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes -- but it marked the first time he made a significant contribution in a regular-season game. 

His night was just a part of the bench’s best game of this young season, as the Raptors got 63 points from their reserves in a 144-123 win. VanVleet led the Raptors with 34 points and seven assists. 

“He did a good job,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Flynn. 

“It's nice to have a guy with another look and another burst of speed and a young guy that can fly around a little bit.” 

Flynn has his entire career in front of him to grow into more, but right now, Nurse needs his rookie to come in and make it his job to make life easier for Lowry and VanVleet. There will be ups and downs that most rookies go through but there are things that Nurse would like to get out of Flynn on a regular basis. 

“He doesn't have to do all the scoring that he did (in this game),” Nurse said. 

“I think he is a scorer, a bit. But I think it's more kind of the long-term plan within a game. Him handling it and running the offence and getting us into it. Just enabling Kyle and Fred to not have to do as much work organizing, playmaking. (Lowry and VanVleet) are two of our best shooters, too. 

“Certainly, we don't expect Malachi to play as well as he did (in this game) but maybe not as bad as he did the other couple games, either. He's young, but he's competitive and he's got some game. We’ve got to let that mature a little bit as quickly as we can because we need him now.” 

After a first quarter that looked like it was heading to a blowout win, the bench chipped into a 19-point deficit and helped gradually turn the tables on the Kings. The Raps’ 144 points are a non-overtime franchise record. 

“We knew we had to step up,” Flynn said. 

“We just came out there and did the best we can to be aggressive. We knew it was time for us to step up and contribute, so that's what we tried to go out there and do.” 

Games like this one can go a long way for a rookie’s confidence. Flynn got his first regular-season bucket on Friday night and once it dropped, the rest all looked a little easier for him. It’s one thing to put in the work and to ask the right questions in practice. Getting to contribute and put your fingerprints on a win for a team that’s in dire need of them right now is the confirmation young players need. 

Powell, who took those same steps as a rookie seven seasons back, remembers a game in Milwaukee where DeMar DeRozan stressed to him to just be aggressive. On Friday, Powell was the vet doling out advice. 

“I've been in his shoes,” Powell said after excelling as a starter for the second time this season. He had 22 points on six of eight shooting and helped weather that Kings’ storm in the first quarter. 

“It kind of reminds me of Fred and how he was coming into the league and myself, just trying to play off the veteran guys and make the plays that are in front of you.” 

Consistency might be a battle for the rookie this season. He may have always known he was good enough to play at this level, but on Friday night he saw it happen. That’s a big step. 

“I'm going to stay confident regardless but having a game like this definitely helps,” Flynn said.

“So just continue to have that mindset of being confident and hopefully have more games like this.” 

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