The New York Knicks are in the market for a guard. Few prospects present with as much on-the-court savvy as Malachi Flynn.
Flynn, 22, is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and as a result, the San Diego State junior guard is not going to wow scouts with his physical measurements. But doubting Flynn may prove to be a foolish mistake. Just this past season, Flynn led the Aztecs to a 30-2 record and was a consensus All-American and semifinalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award.
Flynn’s true value is between his ears. Typically this type of praise is reserved for non-athletes. While it’s true that Flynn does not possess the type of burst and quick-twitch movement that sparks a buzz, he can score and can get his shot off over bigger defenders. But his ability to make the right play and his understanding of the game may prove most valuable to a team like the Knicks.
The Daily Aztec’s Devin Whatley wrote an excellent feature on Flynn’s not-so overnight success, chronicling his development, starting a Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, WA. Flynn’s high school coach, Bernie Salazar offered great insight into Flynn’s makeup and on-court mentality.
“It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play,” Salazar said. “(Flynn) plays really big. He’s always been a winner, and brings out the best in his team and his teammates. I just think he’s really smart. He has a lot of intelligence.”
UNLV guard David Jenkins Jr., who has known Flynn since elementary school, also had high praise for the Aztec’s leading scorer.
“He’s so passionate about the game, and that’s what makes him so special,” Jenkins said. “He scores when his team needs him to score. He makes the play when his team needs him to make the play. He’s willing to do anything to win. He’s willing to sacrifice scoring 20-point games. He is willing to sacrifice anything and everything, be able to win, and not a lot of players are like that.”
A guard who is projected to go somewhere between the late first round and middle of the second, Flynn probably is one of the many prospects who really could have benefitted from an NCAA tournament and the national spotlight that comes with it. That being said, let’s take a look at Flynn’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential with the orange and blue.
Flynn’s analytics pop. He led the nation in both win shares and ranked eighth in box-plus-minus. He also shot 37% from three-point range and 85% from the line. According to Synergy, Flynn ranks within the 92nd percentile in points per possession in overall offense. He also ranks within the 96th percentile in PPP as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. This type of efficiency will definitely garner attention.
As previously mentioned, Flynn’s decision-making is a clear strength as he ranks within the 97th percentile in pick-and-roll possessions — including passes. He makes advanced reads in the pick-and-roll and has a great feel for the game. Flynn’s ability to find the open man or teammate closest to the basket was on display all year with San Diego State. In the video below you also see a confident guard with a sweet step-back jumper.
Malachai Flynn’s confidence might be his biggest strength. His size and athleticism don’t scream heigh-ceiling but he does have star quality. Read good passer out of the PnR and can shoot on the move. pic.twitter.com/u6OkVmIkLh
— Geoffrey Campbell (@geoff_boy_ardee) May 9, 2020
Flynn’s ability to score over big men is also a strength. He attacks bigs right at their chest, and despite the physical measurements, can get his shot off. The Stepien’s Zach Milner also highlights Flynn as a versatile shooter who can pull it on the move and from the standstill position. Flynn ranked within the 83rd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations.
Milner also writes that Flynn is active and engaged on the defensive end. He may not have the size and wingspan needed to lock down opposing guards on the perimeter, but he’s a smart team defender who understands rotations and can put himself in the right place at the right time.
Up until this point, I’ve crafted a cinderella underdog story that features Flynn’s skill and will in spite of his size. The high-IQ guard who excels at the chess match on the court, but the other side of the coin is that size does matter in the NBA.
Of the 71 players that qualify as a “point guard” on Hollinger’s NBA player stats, only 19 are listed at 6-foot-1 or below. At that height, to excel in the NBA, you need the athleticism of an Eric Bledsoe or Donovan Mitchell, the shot-making ability of a Trae Young or Lou Williams, or the elite vision of a player like Rajon Rondo. You could also be Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul, that works too.
However, the range of outcomes that fit Flynn’s current skillset aligns more closely with players like Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, Patty Mills, and Mike Conley. Flynn is crafty with his handle but he’s not going to blow by anyone with a killer crossover. Additionally, in order to make more of an impact on the offensive end, he’s going to need to develop a floater once defenses start to respect his outside shot.
If you want to criticize Flynn’s production, you can certainly look at the competition. According to Sports-Reference, San Diego State ranked 97th in the nation in regards to strength of schedule. The Aztecs registered wins against top 25 teams such as BYU, Creighton, and Iowa, but lost their conference championship to Utah State, a game in which, Flynn scored 16 points on 30% shooting from the field.
Finally, according to Tankathon, Flynn also has a low free-throw attempt rate when compared with other guards in his draft class. Flynn currently ranks behind players like Cole Anthony, Theo Maledon, Nico Mannion, Kira Lewis Jr., Tre Jones, and Devon Dotson. Coaches love having a lead guard who can get to the line, and if Flynn wants to be a starter, he will need to improve in this area.
Fit with the Knicks
For me, Flynn easily slots in as a backup point guard with starting potential. Even with Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., and potentially Elfrid Payton on the roster, Flynn would be a valuable asset and may have the ability to leapfrog those players on the depth chart. Additionally, Flynn’s shooting alone makes him a versatile rotational player who can play off the ball. And of course, don’t sleep on his ability to keep defenders honest in the pick-and-roll.
There may be more players with upside available in the second round, but few with the skills and mindset needed to help the Knicks now. While the Knicks are still within the talent acquisition stage of their rebuild, they need complementary players to help the development of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Call it a gut instinct, but Flynn feels like one of those prospects that people will have much higher on their 2020 re-drafts in a few years.