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Josh Lewenberg

TSN Raptors Reporter

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TORONTO – It’s not difficult to see why the Toronto Raptors were drawn to Malachi Flynn – the San Diego State product they selected with the 29th-overall pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft.

In fact, if you look hard enough, he almost looks familiar.

Standing 6-foot-1, Flynn is undersized at the point guard position but he plays bigger than his height. He’s a well-rounded, creative offensive player and a tough, hard-nosed defender.

At 22, he’s an older prospect, which might limit his upside, some could argue. Others, including the Raptors, value it as a strength. He’s seasoned, accomplished, and comes from a winning program.

He fits Toronto’s culture, in more ways than one.

“I think as you guys meet Malachi, he’s a serious kid, he’s professional, he’s about the hard work, he’s about winning,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said via videoconference from the team’s practice facility – where the front office was situated for this year’s virtual draft – following the first round.

“A lot of the things that you guys know we like in our players, he checked a lot of those boxes.”

Sound like anybody you know? He shares a number of qualities with the club’s incumbent point guards, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Those similarities are not lost on the Raptors, or their newest player.

“I think those would be the natural comparisons,” Webster said. “But I think, obviously, even he’ll probably say he’ll have a long way to go to do what those guys have done, but clearly [those are] things that we value in guys that we’re bringing in.”

“He was someone who played four years in college and guys like that are usually slept on,” Flynn said of VanVleet in particular. “He ended up going undrafted but then his first couple of years he was doing all right and then he blew up. And he just continued to get better.”

“He’s six-foot, six-one, right around there, and guys like that they get under-looked. Seeing him be able to do it at the highest level, win a championship, put up great numbers in the Finals, it’s definitely inspiration for a guy like me.”

For fans worried about what the Flynn selection means for VanVleet, who will become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. The Raptors have made it clear – re-signing VanVleet is their top priority of this accelerated off-season, and they remain confident that they’ll be able to reach an agreement with the rising star.

Does Flynn give them some insurance at the position in case VanVleet decides to sign elsewhere? Sure. Could he end up being the future successor to Lowry, who turns 35 this season? Of course. But he wasn’t drafted as an immediate replacement for either guard.

Nick Nurse’s system is predicated on movement and the ability to read and react. As such, the Raptors’ head coach likes to have multiple playmakers on the floor at a time.

Not having a third point guard on the roster last season proved troublesome at times, especially when Lowry or VanVleet missed time due to injury and Nurse was forced to cobble together a makeshift backcourt rotation, with Pascal Siakam, Terence Davis or Patrick McCaw playing out of position. It was clearly something the team was looking to address going into the draft.

The Raptors can envision Flynn playing alongside either guard, and with Lowry and VanVleet starting together, he could have an opportunity to earn a meaningful role off the bench right out of the gate. All the while – and assuming VanVleet returns – Toronto’s rookie guard can learn from two of the NBA’s best players at his position.

“He’s a modern NBA point guard,” Webster said of Flynn. “I think he can do it all on the offensive end. A lot of people are going to talk about pick-and-roll, shooting off the dribble, shoots the three-ball well, obviously defends at a high level as well. I wouldn’t say he necessarily fits for our development system. He’s just a guy we really liked and can come in and play a little bit for us but also develop under the leadership of Kyle and Fred. Those are two good guys for him to learn under.”

Toronto, like the league’s 29 other teams, wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into an especially unpredictable draft. There was little consensus up top, where bruising guard Anthony Edwards (chosen by Minnesota), talented big man James Wiseman (selected by Golden State) and dynamic playmaker LaMelo Ball (who went to Charlotte) rounded out the top-three. However, it was even more wide-open late in the first round.

Still, despite a few selections that surprised them, the Raptors got their man. Although the restrictions on this year’s pre-draft process prevented teams from working prospects out in their own gym, Toronto was impressed with what they saw from Flynn at San Diego State this past season.

After transferring from Washington State, he averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 32 games during his junior campaign with the Aztecs. He earned Consensus All-American Second Team honours, was named Mountain West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and was selected All-Mountain West First Team.

They interviewed him over Zoom last month and then met him in person in Las Vegas a few weeks before the draft. After that, they knew he was somebody they would target with their first first-round pick since 2017, when they selected OG Anunoby 23rd-overall.

“Ultimately we got the guy we wanted, so we feel lucky in that sense,” Webster said. “But it was tough. Every pick would come in, and there would be some gasps and a little bit of disbelief. But you know, all along, Malachi was up there. And that's who we wanted.”

The Raptors continued to bolster their backcourt depth in the second round, selecting Nevada’s Jalen Harris with the 59th-overall pick. Harris, 6-foot-5, averaged 21.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 33 games as a junior last season. He led the Mountain West in scoring and, like Flynn, made All-Mountain West First Team.