On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Indiana, I present the 5th of the draft analysis articles of 2009, an in depth study of Syracuse PG Jonny Flynn. Previously, I've written about Ty Lawson, Gerald Henderson, JaRue Holiday, and DeJuan Blair....you can find those discussions elsewhere on this site.
Flynn is one of many in a relatively deep and strong point guard class of 2009. Coming out of Syracuse University, Flynn got alot of exposure playing in the meat grinder that was the Big East Conference a year ago. Flynn started the year projected much lower than he is currently slated to be drafted, as his athleticism and blazing quickness is seemingly enthralling many different NBA executives, thereby shooting him up draft boards, perhaps into the top 10 if some rumors turn out to be correct.
There are those who love Jonny Flynn, and think he has star type qualites and tremendous upside potential. He clearly has some talents that will translate into the NBA level, there is no doubt about that. But while his strengths are easily apparent to the naked eye, there are in my view quite a few weaknesses that would have to give a team reasons to doubt him. So once again, like many kids in this draft, you have a mixed bag.
Let's review his strengths as a player first.
Flynn is exceptionally quick with the dribble. Much like Ty Lawson, Flynn changes ends of the floor with the ball in his hands with extreme quickness...in fact, I have no way to tell but I think he might even be faster slightly than Lawson is. Lawson often dribled to a pre-determined spot or area in the UNC system numbered break, where Flynn played in a more unstructured fast break under Jim Boeheim, the Orange long time hall of fame coach. Lawson also benefitted from better teammates and a player in Tyler Hansborough that consistently ran with him...where sometimes Jonny Flynn sped up the floor and found himself alone. Still, Flynn's speed dribble can't be overlooked as a skill, even though no one can tell how helpful it will be to him at the NBA level.
I hate to try and apply too many "intangible" things in an evaluation like this, because there are just too many things I can't see on tape to verify what I "feel" as I am watching a player in terms of vague buzzwords like "leadership" and "toughness"....I instead would rather go by what I can actually see on the floor on tape. But having said that, I do believe that Flynn seems to have the kind of engaging personality that other players would tend to gravitate to. Flynn is so confident in his own skills and abilities (bordering on cocky) that it has the effect of giving confidence to his own teammates as well. The word that comes to mind watching Flynn on film is "fearless".
Now, I can debate whether "fearlessness" is the exact description you'd want of a point guard you are pauing millions of dollars to. And while Flynn seems to be extraordinariy confident of his own abilities, that particular strength of his also can be his own worst enemy.
Flynn is very small for his position. Checking in under 6'0". Flynn nevertheless likes to drive into the paint and challenge bigger guys at or near the rim. Flynn has very good basketball handles, and is elusive with the basketball, enabling him to get into the paint with ease, especially as he turns the corner on ballscreens. But his lack of size along with his lack of discretion means he tries to finish plays that he has no chance of making, which he does way too often for my taste. This is doubly bad, because not only does he miss alot of shots he shouldn't be taking, it also means he is missing passing opportunities to others while he bull headedly drives and shoots, plus it puts him out of position to get back on defense. On the positive side, he will be a force I think in getting opposing slower bigs in foul trouble, and Flynn can make his foul shots.
Flynn also shows no fear in taking outside shots off the dribble. And, he does have the ability to make tough shots against the clock, able to shake and bake himself free to launch a jumper. But that very confidence that he CAN make shots like that also means that he takes way, way too many of them, jacking up more bad shots than a point guard should ever be taking.
Flynn can make all the basic passes you would want a player to make at his position, and he handles the ball very well. He actually has good shooting form as well. The reason his percentage is as low as it is is that he takes bad shots, and I think he often decides what he is going to do ahead of time, meaning he isn't reading the defense or the exact situation well. Again, its nice that he believes he CAN make big plays, and because of the swagger he plays with his teammates (and fans of his) WANT to believe he can make them....but often he will be more mistake prone trying to make big plays than you can tolerate. Flynn turns the ball over way too much, usually unforced trying to make a great play when an easy play would do. Flynn likes to pound and pound the basketball, dribbling more while accomplishing nothing more than any guard east of UCLA's Darren Collison.
Basically, I think Flynn likes to make the highlight play instead of the simple play, and would rather make the winning basket than make the winning play. I don't think Flynn is selfish offensively, I just think he doesn't know his own weaknesses.
Someone once told me that a man can learn everything he needs to know by quoting lines from Clint Eastwood movies. In Flynn's case, the movie line he needs to tape to his locker and memorize would be "A man's got to know his limitations."
Defensively, I have no real idea how anyone can claim that Flynn will be a good NBA defender. Disregard concerns about his height or size, I'd be worried about the fact that Syracuse plays so much 2-3 zone that Flynn hasn't played consistent long term man to man defense since high school.
Flynn would certainly SEEM to be able to be a pesky, ball pressuring defender on opposing point guards, but how can you tell at this point? He hasn't been asked to do so, so we have no idea how well he will move his feet against a dribbler, how well he can fight thru a screen, or how he will be in helpside. Anyone who writes or says that Flynn will be a good to great defender at this level is guessing.
On the other hand, I can't say he will be a bad defender either. I did like some defensive things he showed on film. I thought Flynn seemed to talk well to his teammates, I thought he played his responsibilties within the scheme well, I thought he closed out well on the ball, and I liked that he stayed in a low defensive stance most of the time. He tried to close out well, but his lack of height made that an almost academic exercise, as teams normally could easily shoot over him. He seems to have quick enough hands that are active and alert, and he didnt appear to be lazy within the zone all that often, which is a tendency to watch zone players have.
So, where does that leave us with Flynn?
Flynn is a confident, charismatic point guard who is mistake prone and makes bad decisions with the basketball way too much. He likes to overdribble, keeping the ball in his hands when he should be getting rid of it. He will make some great plays and great shots, but also turn it over and take shots that make you want to scream. He will excel in getting to the paint, and he will make alot of free throws by crashing into slower big guys.
Defensively, it's a mystery at this point. More than likely he will be pretty decent on the ball with enough effort, and he should develop into a pesky, full court pressuring defender. My guess would be that he will struggle getting thru screens, struggle against bigger guards, and struggle in help situations. He will probably gamble some and get some steals with his quick hands, but also get beaten from time to time when he loses his man or position with help side defense mistakes.
Flynn needs to play for a point guard oriented coach who can help him become a smarter, tougher player. The ideal situation would be for him to apprentice under a veteran, smart, savvy point guard who knows the ropes and can take him under his wing. Flynn seems to be the kind of kid who could be coached to me, and the kind that most teammates could gravititate to. Fans of whatever team he ends up will probably like his enthusiasm, fire, and swagger. Flynn fits much better with a team that values scoring from its point guard, plays up tempo, and/or wants to have its point guard handle the ball more than most teams.
Long term, I do not think he is a starting level point guard for an average or above NBA team. He looks like a backup, energy guy to me, playing in the ideal world about 20 minutes a game or so long term. He will have big games occasionally where he gets hot and makes big shots, and when that happens his team and its fans will love him for it, but he won't be able to do it on a regular basis. Flynn has more potential upside than this of course, but only if he is coached properly and ends up being a better defender than I think you can safely predict he ends up being. Like many players, the system they end up will make a huge difference, and there are some ideal scenarios that could occur for Flynn where he could up being a starter eventually.
As a fit in Indiana, like with Lawson, picking Flynn only makes sense if they have plans to move TJ Ford somewhere, as these 2 players would be somewhat redundant. He fits with Indiana as far as tempo is concerned, but he would likely struggle in our current "passing game/motion" offense is concerned, as almost all of Flynn's value is with the ball in his hands dribbling. Flynn, like Lawson will, would struggle with a team that played in slower half court style, although I see Flynn being more able to adapt his game than Lawson, although I view Lawson to be a slightly better player overall especially right now.
In other words, I think Lawson is safer, and is better right this second as a basketball player. Flynn I think has more room to grow, and has more long term potential.....although I don't think he will reach it I at least acknowledge it is there.
Having said that, I do not believe that the Pacers will select Jonny Flynn if he is available. However, I do think it would make some sense to send out a smokescreen that we would take him, because I think there are teams behind us who would covet the diminutive, charismatic spark plug from Syracuse and trade up to get him, enabling us to maybe manuever the draft to our benefit in some way.
Flynn fits in perfectly I think with 2 different teams: The Knicks at #8, and the Suns picking directly behind us at #14. I also think he is good but not great fit for the 76'ers picking at #17. My guess is that he ends up with Pheonix, being the apprentice for Steve Nash for a season, where his skill set sets up well for the fast paced, spread out attack they employ. In fact, I think if Flynn ends up there he will put up big numbers per minute played, and likely Bird will hear some unjustified criticism for not taking him.
Far from a finished product, with considerable upside but also with some questions and risks, Jonny Flynn will likely be a controversial player to be talked about on draft night, on this message board especially if we pass as I think we are likely to do. And trust me, we won't be the only message board who will be debating the merits of one Jonny Flynn this summer and beyond.
NBA comparison right now would be Jose Berea of the Dallas Mavericks, or maybe Jannero Pargo, formerly of New Orleans, or possibly Ramon Sessions of the Bucks.
My past NBA comparison was a bit harder for me to come up with, many of you might have a better selection than this one I came up with:
Michael Williams, former NBA point guard who had a productive stint with Indiana in the Bob Hill era Pacers, although Williams admittedly lacked the charisma I think Flynn has.
As always, the above is just my opinion.