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Nurse, Powell believe rookie Flynn has the drive it takes to thrive in the NBA

Malachi Flynn sits with Fred VanVleet every morning, peppering the veteran guard with questions about the NBA game.

Malachi Flynn sits with Fred VanVleet every morning, peppering the veteran guard with questions about the NBA game.

Since he was drafted 29th overall just three weeks ago, Flynn hasn't had the luxury of casual summer workouts to get to know his new teammates. There was no NBA summer league and no lengthy pre-season to impress his coach.

But just five practices into the team's camp at Tampa, Fla., coach Nick Nurse and the Raptors believe he's a keeper.

How can he tell a rookie has what it takes?

"One is competitiveness, right? How are they going after it, how do they value winning or finding ways to win or doing the little things required to win, how much do they fight to win," Nurse said.

"And then the second one is knowing how to play. From what I’ve seen in five days from him, he’s got both of those things."

Third in the guard rotation behind Kyle Lowry and VanVleet, Flynn could see significant playing time, Nurse said, when the Raptors open the pre-season Saturday at Charlotte.

The six-foot-one guard is coming off a senior season at San Diego State that saw him earn Mountain West player and defensive player of the year, helping the Aztecs to a 30-2 record.

Undersized and overlooked for a large chunk of his career, he's drawn comparisons to VanVleet.

Norm Powell — whose motto and brand is "Understand the Grind" — can also relate.

"I look for guys that have that same hunger, that same drive and that same desire to get better each and every day, that guy that has that chip on his shoulder and wants to learn and is willing to learn, willing to listen and I know Malachi's got that," Powell said.

Flynn, the youngest of seven kids from Tacoma, Wash., averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals a game last season, and shot 44.1 per cent from the field and 37.3 per cent from long distance.

He's made some great passes in practices so far, said Powell, and knocked down some big shots in scrimmages.

Nurse concurred.

"He’s been very, very good. Very very good. He’s got a great head for the game, kind of a baller, really knows how to play, understands a lot out there and he’s got some fearlessness to him," Nurse said. "He’s got a shooting component, he’s got a finishing component to his offence."

Nurse cautioned that he doesn't like to get too carried away with young players, but agreed he's probably at the level VanVleet and Lowry were at the same age.

"All he needs is some years and some minutes to get up to their level," said the coach.

Flynn seems to be fitting in well with the veterans. The team is temporarily living at a downtown Tampa hotel, and a handful of the players like to do individual workouts early in the morning.

"I know they started pulling (Flynn) in there about Day 2 or Day 3 to come with them so I think that is always a good indication and a good sign," Nurse said.

The young guard said the immediate difference he's noticed between college and the NBA is the speed of the game.

"(And) a lot more athleticism at every position compared to college. Just making decisions quicker, having to think on the fly, and being able to guard bigger positions," he said. "I think those are some of the things that stick out at first."

Being able to regularly pick VanVleet's brain, he said, has been invaluable.

"(VanVleet) is a really good player, and I've seen what he's able to do over his career so far. So just being with a guy like that, and just trying to think of different things, it's always good for a younger guy," Flynn said. "I'm a rookie. I haven't even played a game yet. For me, it's not like I can just come in and act like I've been here. I'm just trying to soak up knowledge, and he's one of the guys that I can get it from."

The Raptors play twice in Charlotte on Saturday and Monday before returning "home" to host Miami on Dec. 18 at Tampa's Amalie Arena.

Earlier this week, the Raptors announced three members of their organization had tested positive for COVID-19, although it's still unknown if any of them were players.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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