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How Alfonzo McKinnie Became A D-League All-Star

The Windy City Bulls forward is more than just a dunk contest participant

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This is Alfonzo McKinnie dunking all over some helpless defender in what looks like nothing more than a high school gym. So, where did this happen? This happened to be in the Luxembourg League N2, their second league. He looks like a mismatch for every player on that court, so how did he get there? (Quick tangent: in that gif, take a look at the guard closest to the near sideline. When McKinnie throws down the dunk, he swagger-stumble walks. This is reminiscent of what gif, take a look at the guard closest to the near sideline. When McKinnie throws down the dunk, he swagger-stumble walks. This is reminiscent of what Bill Simmons commonly talks about with Larry Bird’s 1984 60-point game in which the Hawks bench ends up cheering for Bird’s shot to fall by the end of the game.)

He was lightly recruited out of high school, ending up at Eastern Illinois before moving onto a more highly touted program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He struggled to find time in his first year there. But by the time he was a senior, he was regularly earning rotation minutes. So, his attention then turns to how he can turn this into a living.

He gets his first opportunity with the East Side Pirates in Luxembourg, where he becomes the go-to scorer, averaging 26 points per game. The following season he spends in Mexico, continuing to refine his game.

That turns our attention to where we now see him. Using a $175 tryout to make the Windy City Bulls, he has quickly risen to the top of the D-League, becoming an all-star in his first year after starting the year as the sixth man. He’s done this with ferocious jams, and a pick and pop jumper few saw coming, let’s look further into McKinnie’s rise.

Offense

McKinnie’s offensive game is pretty straight forward.

Either, he is running a simple pick and roll while diving to the hoop, albeit he is very good in that role. He has the athleticism to get above the rim and finish over a defender but he also has the speed to beat the help side defender from getting there. This is a play you will see a hundred times in an NBA game.

...Or he is stepping into a three in transition or via the pick and pop. The ability to roll to the hoop with athleticism while being capable of stepping out and knocking down the three-pointer is a versatility that many forwards can’t match. This is the strength of his half-court offensive game, and he is very good at it.

But there is more needed. In order to fully maximize his ability and have a real chance to make it to the next level, he needs to do two of the following three things. First, he needs to grow. Let’s cross that off as he is already 24 years old. Secondly, he needs to continue to boost his three-point percentages. Currently sitting at 32.2% beyond the arc, that number needs to creep up more towards the 37-38% mark, which is possible as he continues to improve.

Finally, he has to become a bigger threat with the ball in his hands. Currently, out of the 118 three-point attempts he has taken, zero of them have been shot unassisted, meaning he has relied completely on other players to get his three-pointers off. In order to do this, McKinnie needs to be able to create shots for himself off the dribble. The latter skill hasn’t been shown prominently and leads to hesitation as to whether it’ll ever develop.

This is a nice glimpse of the potential he has off the bounce, but even here, he has a step on the defender in order for him to create his own shot. At the next level, the pick and rolls and step-in three-pointers won’t come as easily, especially for a player his size who would have to adjust more to being a combo forward. Because of this, players have to develop counter moves and that is still a work in progress for McKinnie.

This play doesn’t necessarily forecast to McKinnie turning into a back to the basket player as his career develops, but it does show him having a future of punishing switches. The ability to counteract switching as well as being able to step out and knock down the three are the reasons why the McKinnie-”Windy City guard of the week” high-screen play has been so unstoppable all season long.

This is the next step in the progression for McKinnie. If can consistently catch the ball on the short roll, notice that he isn’t open for his own shot while on the move, and spot the open shooter, his game becomes extremely difficult to gameplan for. He hasn’t been able to do that too often. His assist rate on the year is just 3.6%. For reference, Kenneth Faried’s career assist rate is 6.6%, a guy who is not a particularly gifted passer.

Defense

On the other end of the floor, McKinnie is just raw.

The 6’8” forward can use his athleticism on both ends as that play demonstrates, but it doesn’t always show. The game still comes a little fast at him on this end as you’ll see if you watch him where he will be a half-second late to rotate, costing his team a possession.

The other part that is concerning is his foot speed. He has trouble corralling smaller guards in the pick and roll and when he is iso-ed on the wing. This isn’t necessarily something that can be improved on but it will be mitigated as he becomes more seasoned and learns players tendencies on offense.

The aspect of defense that can’t be understated is the ability to end a possession with a rebound. He is one of the best in the D-League, currently fifth in the league in glass-eating. This is when his best skill is put into place, his energy, and it is the main reason he was named an all-star.

Overall, McKinnie’s rise from lightly recruited high schooler to D-League all-star has come down to his energy, shooting prowess for his position and confidence that came from Luxembourg. The scary thing is the amount of room he still has to improve

All stats from stats.nbadleague.com and as of March 27th.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that N3 was Luxembourg’s second league when it is actually the third league, and the Pirates were in the second league the season McKinnie played for them.