It hasn’t been easy for Malachi Flynn, not in November when he wasn’t playing, or December or January or most of February.
But not once did he complain, not once did he slack off, not once did he lose faith that when a chance came he would take advantage of it and the happiness his coaches and teammates feel for him this week is real.
“I’m proud of Malachi,” Pascal Siakam said Tuesday after Flynn’s second straight impressive outing against the Brooklyn Nets.
That is the prevailing attitude the Raptors have these days for the second-year guard who has filled in admirably for the injured Fred VanVleet in Toronto’s consecutive wins.
In two victories over Brooklyn, Flynn played about 38 minutes per game, shot a combined 13-for-22 from the field, five-for-10 from three-point range, had 13 assists and only one turnover while running the team with aplomb.
Not bad for a guy who’d lost his job first to Dalano Banton and then to a combination of Siakam and Scottie Barnes because he just wasn’t giving Nick Nurse what the coach wanted.
“He did a really, really good job of just staying in everything,” Nurse said. “DNP (Did Not Play), DNP, DNP, seeing Dalano play. He was into every practice, into every workout, into shootaround, into every film session, always asking questions, always bright and energetic on the bench.”
He was pro about it.
“You can piss and moan and you can pout about it or you can throw it into another gear and start going to the gym early and staying late and you can throw it in another direction of: ‘I’m going to fight my way back in here,’” Nurse said.
It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Flynn patiently bided his time without being a disruption or giving up. Less than a month into the season, when the rookie Banton had emerged as the primary backup to VanVleet, Flynn said he was never going to cause a problem and would work at whatever he needed to work on.
In a chat in Portland in November, he said: “Complaining over and over and trying to point the finger, it’s not going to do anything. I’m not pointing the finger at anybody. I’m taking it upon myself, what can I do to help myself, that’s the only thing I can control.”
It’s helped that Flynn has a couple of veterans who’ve been through similar struggles that he can lean on. Siakam started the first 40 games of his rookie season but lost his job and ended up finishing the season with the Raptors 905 G League team. If Flynn ever needs reinforcement for sticking through tough times, Siakam can give it, even if Flynn isn’t expecting it.
“Sometimes I text him — I’m probably sure he’s surprised like, ‘Why is Pascal texting me?’ This is the NBA and it’s tough, we all go through tough times and I’m just happy that he’s been given an opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it.
“I think only the strong survive. There’s a lot of people that go through that and, and (if) you’re strong enough mentally to keep it going and continue to work and, and wait for an opportunity, I think that everyone is going to get their chance and I’m glad that Malachi is getting his right now.”
What Flynn’s resurgent play might mean most of all is that the heavy load VanVleet’s been carrying might be lessened in the final 20 games of the regular season. If Flynn can continue having an impact on a game in 18 minutes instead of 38, Nurse’s confidence in him will remain.
“He just needs to play solidly and when the shots go in, he’s going to play great and when they don’t, he can still play really good and that’s probably what I’m after,” the coach said.
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