Flynn's game standing tall
Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn could be a lottery pick despite being under 6 feet
CHICAGO -- Aaron Brooks, meet your biggest fan. He is Jonny Flynn, a diminutive point guard from Syracuse who thinks Brooks may have opened the door for the return of little guys to the NBA.
"I was watching Brooks shred through defenses in the playoffs and I was cheering 'Do it for the little guys!'" Flynn says with a huge grin. "He's proving what I've been trying to say for years. The size of your heart is what matters. When you have a big heart, you can play with the best of them."
Flynn is hoping that NBA executives agree come June 25. Flynn said in March that he was absolutely returning to Syracuse for his junior year. He was adamant that he wanted to win an NCAA championship. But by mid-April, he had changed his mind and not only declared for the draft, but hired an agent, ending his college eligibility.
Flynn said he heard that he would be a first-round pick and decided that "If I'm going to do this, I have to do it all the way. I don't know how to do something half-baked."
Flynn has a lot of buzz among GMs right now for his stellar play for Syracuse down the stretch. He has the speed, quickness, toughness and leadership abilities GMs covet in a point guard.
But he's going to raise a lot of eyebrows when it comes to measurements. Syracuse has listed him, generously, at 6 feet for the past two seasons. Standing next to him, it's easy to see that Flynn will be lucky if he can crack 5-foot-11 in shoes. A measurement of 5-foot-10 is a better bet.
Flynn blames his lack of size on an eighth-grade basketball accident. It was his last game playing junior varsity. He was driving to the basket. A defender pushed him in the back. He broke his ankle.
In the hospital Flynn got some of the most disappointing news of his life from a doctor. "He told me that the bone I broke was on a growth plate. He said there's a good chance I was done growing."
Flynn was frustrated because everyone else in his family is 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. Flynn lifts up his size-14 feet to prove that he should have been taller. "How many little guys have feet this big?"
If Flynn sounds overly concerned about his height, it's hard to blame him. The NBA has historically shunned the little guy. There's an unwritten 6-foot ceiling in the league that very few players crack. He doesn't want his lack of size to overshadow all of the other great parts of his game when the draft evaluators stack him up to the rest of the point guards in the class.
Ricky Rubio and Eric Maynor are 6-foot-3. Jrue Holiday is 6-foot-4. Tyreke Evans and Nick Calathes are 6-foot-5. Flynn will have some company on the shorter end of the spectrum with Ty Lawson and Patrick Mills. But he knows that size matters in the league.
That is, it has mattered in the past. Lately, little guys have been all the rage. Brooks' lack of size didn't seem to hurt him in the playoffs. Nate Robinson is 5-foot-8 and is coming off a terrific season in New York. And don't forget that the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul, needs high tops on his feet to (barely) crack the 6-foot barrier.
Once you get over looking down at Flynn, there isn't a lot to pick apart. He may be short, but his body isn't frail. He has thick legs and a thick chest. He's an explosive athlete who, on Thursday, stood underneath the basket and jumped up and dunked the ball flat-footed. He has terrific lateral quickness and can change speeds on a dime. He has a good handle and floor vision. Most importantly, he's a leader.
Flynn has a natural charisma that you can't teach. Whether it was leading Syracuse into the tournament or rallying players inside Tim Grover's ATTACK Athletics gym, Flynn has the personality to play a leading role on a team.
"Guys respect him," Grover's lead trainer, Mike Procopio, said. "He's got a lot of energy and has a positive outlook on life. Guys gravitate to that."
When Flynn gets into 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 drills, he's the most vocal player on the floor, calling out plays and screens. No matter what's going on in the gym, your eyes eventually end up gravitating back to Flynn.
Flynn's also spending a lot of time working on the other area of weakness in his game -- his jump shot. While Flynn isn't a bad shooter by any means, he lacked consistency at Syracuse and when he cooled off, things could get a little ugly.
I watched him in the gym for two days and thought everything about his jump shot looked smoother, less forced. He's been working with a shot doctor and seems to have found his range. He was hitting everything from midrange jumpers off screens to dribble-drive pull-ups to college and even NBA 3-pointers. Like virtually every prospect I've seen, Flynn still isn't an ace from the NBA 3. But he looked OK shooting it from there.
There's no question that his game is going to look impressive on the court, even if his measurements don't.
Over the past few weeks, a number of GMs seem to have been warming to Flynn and he looks like a potential lottery pick at the moment. A number of teams in the lottery including the Kings (No. 4), the Wizards (No. 5), the Timberwolves (No. 6), the Warriors (No. 7), the Knicks (No. 8), the Bucks (No. 10), the Pacers (No. 13) and the Suns (No. 14) all need point guards. And after speaking with at least one source from every team, I learned Flynn is in the mix for all of them.
While Flynn will be happy to play anywhere, he isn't shy about showing his love for his childhood team, the Knicks, and their run-and-gun head coach, Mike D'Antoni.
"That's my dream," Flynn said. "To help my hometown team. I know how Steve Nash has flourished [under D'Antoni]. So have little guys like Nate Robinson and Leandro Barbosa. I think I could help them, too. You have to have heart to succeed in New York. I've got a big one."
Coming Next: Mock Draft version 2.0.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
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