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Making the case for the Raptors’ Alfonzo McKinnie

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It’s not likely we’ll see McKinnie hit the court in the playoffs for the Raptors, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the situation.

With only one game remaining, the Toronto Raptors are gearing up for their #proveem playoff tour. While the first round opponent is still to be determined, the Raptors should have Kyle Lowry in a full body bubble wrap, Serge Ibaka in a cryogenic chamber, and not play DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas at all.

As of this writing, the Raptors’ first-round opponent can be either of the following and could be decided on the last day of the regular season:

Toronto will see LeBron — it’s just a matter of whether it’s in the second round, or in the Eastern Conference Finals. Philly could be another roadblock, depending on how the seedings present themselves. However, there seems to be a common theme where the Raptors struggle against potential opponents.

Washington Wizards’ Otto Porter and Mike Scott. Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis, Parker, and Maker. Philly’s Simmons, Saric, Covington, and Embiid. And of course, LeBron. The majority of the players mentioned above are small or power forwards with length and quickness and in LeBron’s case, a serious strength advantage. Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, and DeRozan are just too small to guard some of these guys, and Serge Ibaka often looks too slow against them. The Raptors’ primary and best defenders for these player types are OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, and we all should cross our fingers and pray that these two will be enough.

Here’s where Alfonzo McKinnie comes into the picture. He’s got the quickness, length, and decent size to go up against the big SF/PF types. McKinnie plays hard and plays with a big heart. He’s not a pure shooter, nor a good offensive player at this stage of his career, but he gets a lot of his buckets off pure hustle. Since Bruno Caboclo got traded, Alfonzo McKinnie has been playing the power forward position, helping the Raptors 905 go 10-5 the rest of the way, despite Lorenzo Brown missing a few games due to an ankle injury.

In the playoffs, a team’s offense will take a hit, as the opponent will have days of scouting and practices to prepare. The team’s defense should step up, not remain the same or regress. The offense should also be much more refined. Lastly, bonus points off hustle plays will be invaluable. (Also, if you can pull a trump card that can win you a game or two, it’ll be huge — see Norm vs. the Bucks last year.)

Athletic yet raw offensively, McKinnie was recently measured during the 2017 NBA D-League Elite Minicamp as a legit 6’8” but with a modest 6’9” wingspan. He also tipped the scale at 215 lbs (but based on the eye test, he might weigh more now). Don’t let McKinnie’s combine measurements discourage you. He has the attributes of an athletic wing profile — quick hops, high vertical, and an excellent motor.

Offensively, McKinnie’s not going to have the Norman Powell late clock isolation play. If he does, that’s a terrible possession. (It’s not super great for Norm these days either, but hey.) However, he should be able to do any of the following:

  • cut/drive on a straight line for a midrange floater;
  • go behind the defense and sneak in for a cutting layup/dunk;
  • crash the boards for a putback;
  • punish smaller/slower defenders down the block with his Pops Mensah-Bonsu (lite) drop step/power dribble for a layup/dunk;
  • attack the rim on a pick-and-roll play, and if he’s running the PnR with better passers like Lowry/Delon Wright/Fred VanVleet, he’s an alley-oop waiting to happen;
  • sprint downhill a-la Siakam in transition for a potential easy layup;
  • Decent three-point shooting, especially in select areas.

On this last point, it’s worth noting: McKinnie improved his 3FG% from 30.8 percent to 34.8 percent while increasing his attempts from 2.7 3PA to 4.4 3PA. Really, there are only two sections around the perimeter where he’s not shooting quite so well:

Alfonzo McKinnie’s shot distribution behind the arc

Defensively, Jerry Stackhouse trusts McKinnie to defend the bigger 3s and 4s. He might not have the bulk, but he’s stronger than he appears. McKinnie is good at reading the defense and making a quick rotation, and while he may not block a lot of shots around the rim, he’s solid at rotating under the basket and will use his quick hops and verticality to make it harder for the offensive player. As rebounding is the last aspect of the defense, McKinnie will fight for every rebound in the vicinity, usually winning those 50/50 hustle plays. McKinnie’s transition defense is pretty good too — he’ll try to contest or go in for the chase-down block if possible.

I’m not saying Alfonzo McKinnie will come in as a lock-down defender like Paul George. I’m also not advocating for him to get plenty of playing time, nor start him over OG. We already know the hierarchy of this team. But it would be good to see McKinnie get some minutes with the Bench Mob during the last game of the season so that if the Raptors really have to use him in the playoffs, he’s not playing his first “real” game of the season.

McKinnie’s current “calling card” checks off a couple of things that could be a factor in post-season play: defense and hustle plays. If he’s someone that Casey can pull out like a wild card, as he does with Bebe, and be valuable for that 3-4 minute stretch, I believe that’s better than over-extending VanVleet’s minutes or having Ibaka guard the conference’s young guns for an extended period.

And with LeBron coming, the Raptors may need all the help they can get.