Post-Draft: Flynn, Harris Check The Boxes

by Chris O'Leary

If you ever want to know what someone’s about, competing against them is usually the best way to go. 

The Raptors’ 2020 draft picks did that twice in the shortened NCAA season. Malachi Flynn, the 29th overall pick out of San Diego State, got the best of 59th overall pick Jalen Harris and his Nevada squad in both games, but they left a lasting impression on each other. 

“Malachi’s a competitor. That’s one thing I really like about him,” Harris told reporters on a Zoom call on Thursday. 

“He tries to do whatever he can to win. He’s going to bring that to the team, as well as his IQ and the natural ability that he has to score the ball, those things.” 

Harris saw those traits up close. 

In a 68-55 San Diego State win on Jan. 18, Flynn, a point guard, had 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. On Feb. 29, Flynn went for 36 points, five rebounds and five assists in an 83-76 win. A shooting guard that grew up playing point, Harris led the Wolf Pack with 19 points in the first loss and 24 in the second, duelling with Flynn. 

“I think that’s a great pick,” Flynn said of Harris. “I enjoyed playing against him. I didn’t enjoy it because he was killing us, but he's a good competitor, a good player. I think that'll be a good fit too, someone who’s skilled, shoots it. Super athletic. So I think that was a great pick up.” 

In the moments after each player was chosen on Wednesday night, the Raptors’ brass felt the same sort of enthusiasm about them. With a long list of middle to end-of-draft selections that have defied the odds and become mainstays and key pieces of the team, the Raptors’ player development system is second-to-none in the NBA. It’s not exactly a talent assembly line, but the Raptors have shown they can find players that fit their culture and they like what they see in Flynn and Harris. 

“He’s a guy we followed (through) a big year. He had an incredible season at San Diego State,” Raptors GM Bobby Webster said a few minutes after the Raptors chose Flynn, who put up 17.6 points, 4.5 assists and shot 44.1 per cent from the field as the Aztecs went 30-2 last season. 

The Raptors saw him workout in Las Vegas in October, giving them some in-person time with him, closing a six or seven-month gap that had been opened by the pandemic. Zoom calls can only show evaluators so much. 

“He’s someone we felt really comfortable with...and his character,” Webster continued. 

“(There were) just a lot of the things that you guys know that we like in our players and he checked a lot of those boxes.” 

The youngest of seven kids, the 22-year-old Flynn said on Thursday his siblings made him grow up competitive, fighting for everything he’s gotten. At six-foot-one and 185 pounds, he’s heard the same undersized criticisms that Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet heard when they came to the NBA. Like them, he’s ready to show that he belongs. 

“Just watching those two guys over the past couple of years, what I take from it is just how hard they compete being undersized,” Flynn said when asked about how Lowry and VanVleet defend. 

“That’s a mindset, not so much your skill set. I think I can kind of come in with a similar attitude.” 

Harris wowed scouts with his performance at the combine last month. The six-foot-five, 195-pound 23-year-old jumped 37.5 inches in the standing vertical jump. That was tops at the combine this year and the best the NBA had seen in the last four years. His maximum vertical jump -- a more in-game friendly measurement that allows a running start -- hit 42.5 inches; the third-best at the combine. 

As a junior at Nevada this year -- he transferred after two years at Lousiana Tech -- he averaged 21.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and shot 36 per cent from three while hitting 44.6 per cent of his total shots from the field. 

“He's a big-time athlete who does a lot of different types of playmaking,” Raptors assistant GM and VP of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. 

“Whether it's attacking, he's really comfortable with the ball in his hands. Some people think he could potentially become a point guard as well down the road, but he's kind of more of a big, secondary ball handler from the wing that can kind of score whether it's from three, at the rim, he gets to the foul line a lot. He’s a really interesting player who's shown some potential to put up big buckets and another guy that’s just a competitor. He doesn't seem to back down at all.” 

As training camp opens and the season gets going, the two rookies will likely have to lean on each other as they learn the ins and outs of the pro game. Other than those two games earlier this year, they hadn’t met before. 

“We spent some time together at Impact in Las Vegas..for the pre draft stuff,” Harris said.  

“We spent some time together there and got to talk more and build a personal relationship that way. Basically our relationship before that was strictly competitive. That was probably some good time for us out there.”

The coming days will be a blur for everyone in the Raptors’ organization. With the draft done, there are still undrafted free agents to sign and as of Friday, veteran free agents to take care of. Then there’s training camp and a season that starts in just over a month. 2020 continues to roll on as a year like no other, on and off the court. The Raptors will go forward, trying to fill a roster with guys that check all of the boxes. 

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