Malachi Flynn is a basketball savant

Malachi Flynn

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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Credit: AP Photo

The Journey

The crucible of growing up the youngest in a household with seven children tested his mettle at every turn. Competition is everywhere in a house that size. The smallest must find unique and often scrappy ways to come out on top in backyard sports competitions or choosing what the family watches on movie night. This savvy and creativity honed in his youth have been on display in Toronto Raptors guard Malachi Flynn’s entire basketball career.

He possesses the uncanny ability to hunt for shots or create opportunities for his teammates in unconventional ways. With misdirection, changing speed, fantastic ball-handling, and a spectacular shot, Flynn can play at any pace waiting to exploit a hole in the defense or a misstep by a defender. He scores at every level and often in ways that defy explanation and duplication.

Growing up, personal success, especially as an elite, pure scorer, came naturally for the Tacoma, Washington native. Team success, however, was more elusive. In high school, when Flynn was the Associated Press State Player of the Year following a season where he averaged 29.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists, his team did not win a state title. They ended the season ranked 13th in the state of Washington and 551st nationally.

His first two years in college at Washington State were similar. Flynn averaged nearly 10 points a game as a true freshman and almost 16 points a game as a sophomore, but his team was 25-37. Aside from winning the Wooden Legacy Tournament – ironically defeating SDSU in the finals – winning remained out of reach.

There were rumors that Flynn’s style of play was incompatible with winning. That he needed to reinvent himself as a pass-first point guard. The truth was just the opposite. Flynn was on the cusp of becoming a truly elite basketball player who elevates everyone around him. He needed the chance to focus on growing his game. His transfer year at SDSU provided that opportunity.

“It helped a lot, honestly,” Flynn told the East Village Times. “I was able to just focus on myself and work on specific things that I needed to. One of them was getting stronger that year. I put in some work in the weight room to get stronger. I didn’t get super big, but I definitely felt the difference in myself from my time at Wazzu to my time at San Diego State.”

“It was just a year to focus on what I needed to get better at and not care about what the team needs – of course, that was a priority in practice. But at the end of the day, that year was definitely about me more than anything else.”

From that year, Flynn emerged as a different player. Using his patented creativity and skill to make shots from anywhere on the court, he became an elite playmaker as well. He was always one step ahead of every counter opponents threw at him.

Credit: AP Photo

Defensively, the same unconventional instincts he always showed on offense emerged on the other end of the court. Whether on or off the ball, Flynn can generate steals in ways unique to him without sacrificing good fundamentals.

Remembering Aztec Nation

If Flynn’s emergence from his redshirt year sounds familiar, it should. The Hornets Jalen McDaniels detailed a similar experience to the East Village Times a few weeks ago. SDSU is an attractive destination for college players for several reasons, but chief among them is their history developing players.

“Yeah, definitely, it’s their coaches,” Flynn responded when asked if there is anything special about SDSU’s player development. “That’s a priority for them. They take everybody – it was not just myself or Jalen – really from top to bottom you can see their progression, so that is definitely something the coaches put their effort in.”

Given Flynn’s rise from a good college player at Washington State to an elite talent worthy of a first-round selection following his transfer to SDSU, it is unsurprising the Aztecs continue to be successful in attracting players from across the country. Player development alone, however, is not the only reason transfers are attracted to the Mesa. SDSU’s head coach has carried on a culture that, on the court, values winning above all else.

“Dutch’s main priority was winning – finding a way to get it done,” Flynn commented. “He didn’t care if it was ugly or looked nice. At the end of the day, if you win, it takes care of a lot of things for everybody. It makes the whole team look better, so that was the biggest thing: find a way to win.”

At SDSU, personal and team success came together. It fostered an unforgettable season in front of one of the best fan bases in American sports.  Average home attendance for Flynn’s year on the court at SDSU was 11,688. That same year, his former school Washington State, averaged 3,165. The special relationship Flynn developed with the Aztec faithful was not lost on the Raptors’ point guard.

“For Aztec Nation,” Flynn said, “I appreciate all the support, for sure, over the two years I was there, and the one year I played. I definitely didn’t imagine it would be that great. Viejas Arena, I couldn’t wait to play in there, so thank you for that, for sure.”

The Road Ahead

Malachi Flynn’s rookie campaign in the NBA has had the ups and downs expected of any player ascending into the highest ranks of professional basketball. At the beginning of the year playing behind Fred Van Fleet and Kyle Lowry, he averaged less than ten minutes a game prompting Toronto to reassign him to the NBA G League.


Flynn showed no sign of rust in six games for the Raptors 905. He averaged 20.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.5 steals a game. Flynn’s play and an injury to Kyle Lowry ensured his time in the G League would be short. Flynn’s last game with the Raptors 905 and his return to the Raptors was on the same day, February 18th. Flynn played in both games. Since that time, Flynn’s playing time with Toronto has grown. He has had terrific games and less than stellar performances. The Raptors rookie has taken it all in stride.

“It’s a long year. You can’t be too high or too low,” Flynn said. “I think I have been good at that. You have to stick with it – no matter if you play good or play bad because there’s another game in two days. It doesn’t really matter, honestly.”

With greater opportunity, Flynn’s attitude and hard work have been paying off on the court. This week Flynn was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. In April, he averaged 12.7 points, 4.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 28.3 minutes a game. Flynn is beginning to show the handiwork for Toronto that has made him special his entire life. From the nightly routine of putting defenders on roller skates to hitting clutch shots down the stretch, Flynn is quickly looking like one of the steals of this past season’s NBA draft.

Flynn finds himself in a perfect situation to continue to grow. He plays understudy to two fabulous players, Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Fleet, who were key contributors to the Raptors 2019 title run. Lowry and Van Fleet are perfect examples of how professionals work and carry themselves. With Lowry a free agent after this season, Flynn could be in line to replace him as Van Fleet’s primary running mate.

Whatever his role next year, Flynn has the luxury of playing for a team, which knows what it takes to ascend to the game’s highest level.

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“It’s the small things,” Flynn responded when asked what he has learned being part of a championship organization. “It takes a lot of attention to detail to win. There’s a very small line from winning and losing.”

Unsurprisingly, the smallest Flynn growing up has found significance in the little things that separate winners and losers. If Flynn is able to master the nuances of the game, it will free the creative basketball genius he possesses. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, there are signs Flynn’s unique approach to basketball is as compelling and effective in the NBA as it was at San Diego State. Next season expect him to take flight.

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