If the Knicks go best player available at no. 8, and it’s a wing or forward, they must consider securing skilled point guard Malachi Flynn later in the draft.
As much as New York Knicks fans may dream of LaMelo Ball or Killian Hayes revitalizing the point guard position after so many years of wandering the desert with the Emmanuel Mudiays and Jarrett Jacks of the world, it seems likely that with the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft the Knicks will end up taking a wing. It’s possible Hayes will still be on the board, in which case he should be Scott Perry and Leon Rose’s number one prospect with a bullet. If he’s not, fans may have to come to terms with them taking someone like Devin Vassell—which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
One reason taking a wing with their lottery pick shouldn’t cause Garden faithful to despair, other than the fact that both Vassell and Isaac Okoro are both very good prospects in their own rights, is the cornucopia of solid point-guard options likely to be available when the Knicks are on the board again at 27. Even if the second tier of point guards in this draft, which for me would be Cole Anthony, Kira Lewis Jr., and (as a distant third) Tyrell Terry are gone as well, options abound.
There are two names that stand very clearly at the top of such a list: Grant Riller, who I covered, along with some of the other potential late-first point guard options, and San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn.
Malachi Flynn transferred to SDSU after two years at Washington State, and in his first year with the program, led them to a 30-2 record en route to claiming second-team All-American honors. He was named Mountain West Player of the Year, Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, and was a Wooden Award finalist.
The 6’1″ point guard from Tacoma, Washington, led his team in points, assists, and steals while leading the NCAA in win shares and ranking sixth in college basketball for Box Plus/Minus.
Malachi Flynn's Synergy profile is quite good. Plus, he finished in the 83rd percentile on catch-and-shoots, 81st percentile off the dribble and 74th percentile around the rim. He had a BPM of 10.9 (7th in the country) and a near-3:1 AST/TO ratio. pic.twitter.com/jMQhI2mexs
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 6, 2020
Simply put, there’s nothing on the basketball court that Flynn doesn’t do well. He’s an elite pick-and-roll point guard, which by itself is a pretty sure sign that he will excel at the next level, as the NBA is a pick-and-roll heavy league.
Malachi Flynn is such a damn good PnR player. Everything from screen setup to the split to the off-hand finish where he seems to sell the floater first with his gather and jumping off his left pic.twitter.com/o9NPI2h40E
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 14, 2020
While not an outlier anticipatory passer on the level of Ball or Hayes, or even Tyrese Haliburton, he’s a very good read and react passer, analyzing quickly and delivering a variety of feeds from many different angles. He’s also about as steady as they come with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by an assist to turnover ratio of 2.84, which was by far the best mark of the 18 point/combo guards generally expected to be drafted.
But while his passing is very good, where he really excels in the pick-and-roll is as a scorer. Like Riller, Flynn is a true three-level scorer, and he can get to his shot in a variety of ways: pull-ups, step-backs, and side-steps are just a few of his weapons. He scores efficiently from both the midrange and the three-point line. He has a nasty, shifty ball-handling package that allows him to split double teams, spin off hedges, and get basically wherever he wants to go.
He also has a truly deadly floater, which helps compensate for his small size (6’1″ with a 6’3″ wingspan). He can get to the floater off either foot, and contort his body in mid-air to square up with the basket on the move. While a floater might not be considered the most efficient shot, guys like Trae Young, Mike Conley, and Tony Parker have shown how valuable a weapon it can be for smaller, less-explosive point guards.
Being such a good jump-shooter (he’s a career 36% three-point shooter on 582 attempts and 83% free throw shooter) also allows him to thrive off-ball, as did San Diego State’s offensive system, which gave him more freedom to showcase that part of his game than most point guards in similar positions in college. Matt Mitchell and KJ Feagin both had the ball in their hands plenty, which allowed Flynn to leverage the threat of his jumper for cuts and open shots. This will be crucial at the next level, especially playing next to bigger ball handlers like R.J. Barrett or shudders Julius Randle.
And while his size means he’ll probably never be a positive defender in the NBA, he’s also not likely to hurt his team in that regard either. Flynn is tough as nails and loves battling in the post as well as using his quickness and instincts to get around bigger players and make plays, which usually lead to buckets on the other end of the court. In many ways, he’s the heir-apparent to the Pablo Prigioni sneak attack on the defensive end, and he’s more than willing to get into scrums and scrap it up. For a team that brags every offseason about having “dogs” on the roster, Flynn would bring a lot of the grit that Knicks fans have been looking for since the days of Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.
Watching the above clips, you can see that in a lot of ways he plays bigger than his size. Out of the 32 games he played this season, he had 19 with five or more rebounds and nine with three or more steals.
And speaking of grit, there’s another area Flynn proved his worth this season, and that was as a clutch player. You don’t get to 30-2 without eking out some close victories, and both in those wins and in the rare defeats, Flynn showed his penchant time and time again for coming up with big plays.
As I said, there’s very little on the court at which Flynn doesn’t excel. So why is he projected as a fringe first-rounder?
To put it bluntly, he shouldn’t be. Sure, his size and age (he’s already 22 years old) make it easier to project him as a backup point guard rather than a future starter, which may very well be true. Size and strength can bother him and force him into tough pull-ups at times, but that’s the case for every college guard with a high usage rate and below-average size. But even if he is a backup, he should be one of the better backups in the league before too long. Think of how Jalen Brunson has carved out a role as a fringe starter/elite backup in Dallas, or, as others have pointed out, how effective Monte Morris has been for Denver, including in this year’s playoff run.
Left with Malachi Flynn and Monte Morris. I think Monte’s success makes me more comfortable about Malachi sticking in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/dMxkEvHosG
— Will Morris (@w_a_morris) August 19, 2020
Flynn strikes me as one of the safest bets in this year’s draft, and while I’m not saying this will be the case for certain, I think there’s a real argument that he’s a safer choice for a team looking for a lead ball-handler than, say, Tyrese Haliburton. I know that sounds extreme, but Haliburton is someone who is going to need perfect conditions to succeed, where Flynn can and will succeed just about anywhere.
For the Knicks, the fit is clear: he could run pick-and-rolls with Mitchell Robinson or Kenny Wooten, defend his butt off, and space the floor for guys like Barrett and Frank Ntilikina, while providing genuine heart and leadership both on and off the court. For a young team that’s still finding its footing, having an older rookie with leadership experience could be hugely beneficial. I have no doubt in my mind that Tom Thibodeau would fall in love with Flynn, even with the coach’s historical aversion to playing rookies major minutes, and he could be a quality role player for a team that needs quality role players for years to come.
Flynn has moved up my personal board more than just about anyone else in this interminable pre-draft process, mostly because in a draft class filled with interesting players with noticeable holes in their games, Flynn has one of the most well-rounded skill sets of anyone. If he’s there at 27, there are very few players I would take ahead of him, and if they pass on him at 27 and he’s still somehow available at 38, I would consider it gross malpractice not to snatch him up immediately.
Malachi Flynn is a hilariously fun PnR player pic.twitter.com/BNu5UBekej
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 14, 2020
While Flynn might not be the point guard of the future Knicks fans were hoping to land, he would bring a level of competence and poise to the position not seen for many years, while providing a perfect complementary fit for the young core already on the roster. He might not be a home run swing, but that sounds like a win in my book.