This past off-season the Raptors organization made it clear that they have a vision for this franchise and their core guys of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell were all part of it. With the improvement seen in each season since their reemergence during 2013-2014 season, some are arguing that this has been the best Raptors squad in franchise history. With the resigning of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, Masai and his camp believe that this group of guys can continue to make a name for themselves in the NBA. But, keeping this core together didn’t come without a price. The Raptors lost a few of their key bench players and the front office was left with the task of filling those gaps. With the new deals of Kyle and Serge, the Raptors have inched closer and closer to the salary cap. In order to avoid paying any luxury tax, they have started to look at unlikely names to replace the talent that they had lost.
Enter Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels.
With less than a week until tip-off, the final spot in the Raptors lineup still isn’t filled. Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels have been going head-to-head in the quest for a solution. These two have already withstood cuts that caused guys like Andy Rautins, Kyle Wiltjer and Kenndy Meeks to be sent home, ending their pursuit for the NBA. But how much do we as Raptor fans even know about these two? What is about these guys that have the Raptors waiting until the last minute to make a decision?
Let’s start with Alfonzo McKinnie:
McKinnie is a 6’8” guard from Wisconsin-Green Bay that went undrafted in the 2015. After suffering an MCL tear in his junior year, McKinnie only had an offer from a second-tier team to show for his efforts through his 4 years in college basketball. After a year of playing in Luxembourg, McKinnie decided to come back home in hopes to work at his NBA dream once again.
While home in Chicago, McKinnie continue to work at his craft and played as much basketball as he could. Mckinnie’s persistence eventually landed him a spot represent USA in FIBA’s 3-on-3 International Tournaments where he recently won silver this past October in China. From there, McKinnie was encouraged by his coach to give the open tryout of the G-League team, Windy City Bulls, a shot. Oh, and it should be mentioned that his 3-on-3 coach was Randy Brown, who is also assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls. Safe to say that the advice to try out for the G-League team came from a reliable source. Mind you McKinnie had to pay the try-out fee but you can say that it was $125 well spent as it was his time with the Windy City Bulls that got him on the Raptors’ radar.
During his time in the G-League, McKinnie averaged 14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, shot 50.8% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc. McKinnie found himself up against the Raptors 905 late last year and it was his opportunity to showcase his skills to the Raptors organization. His length and athleticism was what caught the Raptors’ attention and Raptors 905 GM, Dan Tolzman, found himself infatuated with McKinnie’s skill-set. It was his ability to guard various positions that had Tolzman asking himself “who is this guy?”.
Now on the other hand, you have K.J. McDaniels:
K.J. McDaniles has a more established career in the NBA as he was selected 32nd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2014 Draft and has been in the league since. During his time with the 76ers, McDaniels made a name for himself as a shot-blocking powerhouse averaging 1.3 blocks and 3.8 rebounds. Since then, McDaniels has played for the Houston Rockets and the Brooklyn Nets. His biggest contract has been with the Huston Rockets where they agreed to a 3-year, $10 million deal. However, McDaniels’ career with Houston Rockets was tainted with an injury to his elbow that caused him the whole post-season run during the 2015-2016 playoffs. Come the 2016-2017 season, McDaniels’ was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations and averaged 14.7 minutes, 6.3 points, 0.5 blocks, shot 45.5% from the field and 28.2% from the three.
The biggest criticism that McDaniels’ faces his is lack of offensive range. Though there’s always room for a defense-minded player on a team, his shortcomings as a meaningful offensive contributor outweighs what he can provide on the defensive end. With the obsession over small-ball that the NBA now has, this may be McDaniels’ biggest obstacle in surviving in this league.
The two players that are fighting for the final spot took very different paths to get to where they are now. One found himself constantly proving his worth to be part of an NBA team while the other struggled to meet the demands of the team that wanted him. But regardless of how they got the opportunity to fight for this role, it comes down to who can fulfill the need of the Raptors. As Michael Grange of Sportsnet reported, Coach Casey has something very specific in mind and has no bias towards either choice.
“Fitting in, offensive and defensive execution and just doing the things we need them to do at that position. There’s right now no clear-cut favourite going into this week. We have this week to really evaluate.”
McKinnie and McDaniels will get their last chance to prove themselves tonight during the Raptors’ final pre-season game against the Chicago Bulls. After that, the Raptors front office will need to make a decision and it may leave one guy going back to the grueling task of chasing his NBA dreams.