Malachi Flynn was already receiving Fred VanVleet comparisons before he was even selected by the Toronto Raptors with the No. 29 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The similarities in their game were undeniable.
6-foot, four-year guards that were decorated college basketball players who elevated their mid-major programs to a national ranking behind their hard work, winning ways and leadership. They both have a knack for taking and making big shots, they're feisty when attacking the basket despite being undersized, they're both true floor generals and playmakers, and they both take pride in scrapping on the defensive end of the floor.
When Flynn was drafted by the Raptors, it was inevitable that he and VanVleet would develop a rookie-veteran relationship. With a strikingly similar swagger and demeanor, both entering the league with a chip on their shoulder, it was only a matter of time before VanVleet took Flynn under his wing.
"It's hard to hide," VanVleet told the media, according to TSN's Josh Lewenberg. "He's got a little bit of a different game than I got but it's definitely there. It's scary how much the personality is similar. That's kinda where I feel like I'm literally talking to my younger brother."
Flynn's rookie season didn't get out to the start he was probably hoping for. He appeared sparingly in 13 of the team's first 21 games, averaging 8.2 minutes, 2.2 points and 1.2 assists with eight DNPs.
It was then that the Raptors organization presented Flynn with an opportunity to play for Raptors 905 in the G League bubble to get some extra experience under his belt. While that could be seen as a demotion to some first-round picks, Flynn was surrounded by veterans like VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Chris Boucher, each of whom spent invaluable time with Raptors 905 to get to the point they're at in their careers today.
That group had dinner the night before Flynn went to join the G League team to provide the rookie with some optimism about the situation, and it appears to have served the 22-year-old well.
Pascal Siakam says him, Fred, and Norm had a "last supper" with Malachi Flynn before he left for the G Bubble to give him their perspective on the opportunity.- Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 4, 2021
Flynn was able to build up plenty of confidence in the G League, averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals over a six-game span. When the Raptors were hit with injuries and health and safety protocols around the All-Star break, Flynn was ready for his call-up.
It still took him a handful of games to transfer that level of confidence to the NBA floor, but once he got comfortable, Flynn began to showcase exactly why he was a first-round selection. Since the start of April, Flynn has averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while shooting a strong 41.4 percent from 3. Over that span he notched his first-career double-double with 20 points and 11 assists in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and also recorded a career-high 22 points against the Atlanta Hawks.
Malachi Flynn notched a double-double (20 PTS, 11 AST) in the @Raptors W! #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/0ewDfMmx2D- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) April 11, 2021
With the buzz of his emergence, Raptors fans gave Flynn the nickname "Red VanVleet," a nickname that his mentor claims is the best he's heard during his time in Toronto.
"That's the best nickname I've heard since I've been in Toronto. I've been calling him that since the day I saw that," VanVleet told the media, according to Lewenberg. "I saw that on Twitter pretty early. I call him Red, for sure."
Now that players like VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have returned to the lineup from their injuries, Flynn's playing time may see another dip. He only played 11 minutes in the team's win over the Brooklyn Nets, scoring five points with one assist and one steal.
But with the nature of how careful Toronto has been with managing the hip and foot injuries of VanVleet and Lowry, respectively, Flynn will surely be the first player to receive a bump in playing time when the opportunity presents itself. He has already proved he's a more-than-capable backup, ready to capitalize on any chance he gets.
Learning from VanVleet will only prove to be even more beneficial as the two continue to develop a relationship moving forward, looking like two key pieces to the future of the Raptors' backcourt.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.