Lost in Gary Trent Jr. completely eviscerating the Cleveland Cavaliers last night was the fact that the Toronto Raptors picked up the victory thanks to a very balanced effort, as role players like Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe had their best individual games of the season, and potentially their entire careers, last night.
Just a few weeks ago, this outcome would’ve sounded impossible. Flynn, a first-round pick who was demoted to Raptors 905 in the G League, looked overwhelmed by the scale of the NBA, while Watanabe’s inconsistency on the offensive end cost him playing time as Nick Nurse retooled the rotation.
With Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet out due to injury and Pascal Siakam taking a game off due to rest on the first night of a back-to-back, Flynn and Watanabe showed that their ascensions are nothing to sneeze at and a sign that they are starting to put their flaws in the past.
Watanabe recorded a career-high 14 points on 6-7 shooting and 2-2 from 3-point range. Flynn recorded his first double-double as a pro by also setting a career-high in points with 20, chipping in 11 assists along the way. The Raptors pride themselves on talent development, and it looks like that culture is helping Watanabe and Flynn improve over the last few games.
Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe are developing for the Toronto Raptors
Starting on April 2, when the Raptors demolished the Golden State Warriors, Flynn has been averaging 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game while shooting 46% overall and 45% from 3-point range (4.4 attempts per game).
Watanabe, who saw his starts as the Raptors’ high-energy defensive switchblade start to fade after Anthony Edwards ripped his soul out of his body, has been averaging a tidy 7.4 points per game in that same stretch of time, shooting 64% overall and 37% from deep.
Nurse knows that he isn’t winning a title this season, so he’s decided to get his younger players more experience with the goal of seeing if they have a role for 2021 and beyond.
Flynn is starting to show that he can create his own shot and succeed on the offensive end in the pros, while Watanabe is starting to drive to the hole and finish at a greater clip. Those two warts appear to have been chopped off by Nurse, which bodes well for these two as the season winds down.
Watanabe hasn’t totally fixed his offensive issues, and Flynn needs to show a bit more consistency, but the returns on both of these players have been excellent of late. Nurse’s ability to turn raw talent into solid role players is helping both Watanabe and Flynn find their ground in the NBA.