When the Toronto Raptors signed Alfonzo McKinnie to a multi-year contract last summer, the fanbase reached with a shrug. McKinnie was thought to be one of those training-camp deals where the organization would bring in players for a closer look, and then move on towards the end of training camp. However, a full season later, McKinnie is still in Toronto. And it looks like he’s been on the Raptors’ radar for awhile.
We’ve heard by now how McKinnie had to pay to try out for his hometown G-League team, the Windy City Bulls. Overlooked as he was, McKinnie worked his way into the league, and followed it up with an excellent season. It was so good in fact, that McKinnie earned a spot on the G-League All-Star team, coached by guess who — Jerry Stackhouse.
McKinnie’s play against the soon-to-be then-D-League champs Raptors 905 was also a significant factor in catching the organization’s attention: He posted 16 and 9 while shooting almost 47 percent from the perimeter. On top of that, Alfonzo showed the kind of grit and energy that’s a staple on Stackhouse’s Raptors 905 teams.
McKinnie parlayed his excellent D-League campaign into a training camp invite which saw him eventually outlast names like Kyle Wiltjer and K.J. McDaniels, who was thought of as the favourite to get the last roster spot. McKinnie showed flashes of his athleticism, defense, and a budding perimeter shot during the Summer League and in pre-season games, but it’s evident that his offensive game is still a work in progress.
McKinnie did not get to play a lot of minutes in the NBA because of OG Anunoby’s quick recovery, but when he did, he was able to showcase his game even during garbage time. McKinnie spent the rest of his time putting in the work with the Raptors 905, where he went through bouts of success and growing pains.
Athleticism, grit, toughness, heart, defense. These are the things that comes to mind right away when someone would ask me about McKinnie. He was already decent defensively coming into the season, but he mainly relied on his quickness and athleticism. McKinnie’s season with the 905 saw him improve his defensive skills — from reading and making excellent defensive rotations, to defending bigger small and power forwards.
Don’t let his year-to-year stats deceive you. It may look like he dipped a little bit based on the averages, but here are a couple of things that those stats won’t show:
Scoring Hierarchy - When McKinnie played for the Windy City Bulls, he was often the team’s second or third option. With the 905, McKinnie started the season playing as the fourth, if not fifth option. When considering the needs of shoot-first point guard Lorenzo Brown, Bruno Caboclo and his reps, and the pick-and-roll heavy offense between Brown and Kennedy Meeks, McKinnie is often relegated to touches around the perimeter or having to create his own shots via putbacks.
Focus on the Perimeter - It’s clear that the plan for McKinnie was to make him into a decent 3+D player, as he attempted more shots around the perimeter this year compared to last year with the Windy City Bulls. It’s a work in progress, but it’s the key to unlocking McKinnie’s potential as a future NBA player.
Offensively, McKinnie is still a project. He was not able to knock down his perimeter shots with the same regularity and confidence of Malcolm Miller or Malachi Richardson, and when he struggles to score outside the paint, that’s when things go wrong.
McKinnie often would lose confidence with his outside shot and hesitate — which often led to a bad possession, if not a turnover. McKinnie’s lack of offensive skills in his toolbox hurts him, as he sorely lacks counter moves once his defender stops his go-to move.
It’s easy to make the assumption that NBA players that are assigned to the G League should come in and dominate, as we’ve seen with Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet. However, McKinnie’s assignment is more on getting reps with what he needs to improve the most — his shooting and defensive skills. Defensively, McKinnie’s much more ahead of the curve compared to his offensive skills, but it doesn’t mean that he did not improve his perimeter shot.
McKinnie is due for $1.38 million for next season; however, it’s non-guaranteed, and it will be interesting to see whether the Raptors bring him back. Stackhouse likes what he sees in McKinnie — his athleticism, toughness, and how he competes for rebounds and loose balls. Should the Raptors make a coaching change and elect to go with Stackhouse, we might see McKinnie stick around.