Scouting Report on Sam Mackinnon

The NBA off season is well under way, with the majority of attention centred on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, who headline one of the deepest and most exciting drafts in years.

However, the draft is not the only avenue to sign new players, with free agency often allowing teams to grab an undrafted talent, experienced veteran or an unknown international. Last season, Toronto managed to snatch Anthony Parker away from his career in Europe, installing him as their starting two-guard with plenty of success. Will the Raptors pull a similar move this season? Bryan Colangelo is certainly trying to, and Sam Mackinnon is firmly in his sights. 

Background

Sam Mackinnon is a versatile swingman from Australia, measuring up at 6’5” and 229 pounds. At nearly 31, he has been playing professionally since 1994 as a defensively-oriented small forward. However, it is important not to pigeon-hole Mackinnon as just a stopper. He can do anything on the hardwood, not just defend, and is more than a small forward. Mackinnon often spends time at guard, where his controlled handles and court vision make him the ideal play maker, while he can also suit up as a forward-centre. Last year in the NBL (the Australian national league), Mackinnon was his team’s starting power forward and often played as a centre in the clutch minutes of games despite his lack of height. This is important to note, as Mackinnon can play the 2, 3 or the 4 even though he is shorter than most NBA players.  

He is coming off his best professional year, having led his team to a championship while winning the MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year trophies. Since then, a number of NBA franchises (including Toronto and San Antonio) have been scouting out Mackinnon for a possible role next season. As such, he will be heading to America for many off season camps and will probably play in the summer leagues, keen to make the most of his last NBA chance. 

Numbers

Sam Mackinnon has spent 13 years in the NBL, but when scouting his NBA chances, it is most relevant to consider his numbers from the last four seasons.  

  PPG FG% FT% 3FG% 3PG RPG APG SPG BPG
2004 18.6 49% 52% 37% 1.3 9.2 4.9 1.7 1.3
2005 14.5 46% 49% 30% 0.9 8.1 5.9 1.7 1.2
2006 13.8 53% 43% 30% 0.6 9.7 4.5 1.5 1.4
2007 19.7 56% 58% 47% 1.7 9.2 4.5 1.8 1.5

Experiences

The resume of Sam Mackinnon is absolutely jam-packed. His greatest NBL season was last year, where he forged himself as one of the greatest Australian players in history. He has been a consistently good player in the national league over a long period of time, averaging 15-8-4 with four teams over 13 seasons. During that time, Mackinnon has won two NBL championships and has a whole string of individual honours next to his name. 

Mackinnon has also been a regular member of Australian squads. He won a gold medal with the U-22 squad at the World Championships in 1997, and has since been a starter for the senior national team, the Boomers. Over his career, Mackinnon has represented Australia at two Olympics (finishing fourth in both Atlanta and Sydney), and many other tournaments. In 2006, he won the Gaze Medal as Australia’s international player of the year ahead of Andrew Bogut and Brad Newley. This award recognised his gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, as well as his performances at the World Championships where Mackinnon averaged 8-6-3 to lead Australia to a very respectable performance. 

Strengths

Defence – Certainly, defence is the key to Sam Mackinnon’s chances of making the NBA. Teams will want to play him as a perimeter stopper, and there is no doubt that he could pull this off, even against the likes of Kobe and D-Wade. He has proved this time and time again against the best offensive players in the NBL (where he won last season’s Defensive Player of the Year award), and as well as at the international level – at last year’s World Championships, Mackinnon had 8-7-2 with two steals and a block, while holding LeBron James to just five points. As well as the ability to guard scoring wings, Mackinnon has also shown that he can lock down on virtually any other player. In last season’s NBL Finals, where Mackinnon led his team to victory, he was frequently matched up on the opposition’s two best players – their point guard, and a seven-footer who could score on the block and hit the three. Mackinnon stopped both in their tracks. If any further proof is needed, just take a look at his numbers again – ten boards, two blocks and two steals – and remind yourself that Mackinnon can definitely play D. 

Veteran leader – Sam Mackinnon is currently the captain of his NBL club, the Brisbane Bullets. Last year, he won every individual prize in the game while taking the Bullets to a 28-5 record and the championship. Along the way, they won 21 games straight and cemented themselves as the best professional outfit ever seen in Australia. Going on the numbers, one would assume that Mackinnon was the dominant force on this team. Yet it was the complete opposite – Mackinnon played every position, took over games in the clutch, cleaned the glass, shut down scorers and did anything else his coach asked of him. Mackinnon can bring the same qualities to the NBA, as he will do anything to make a roster and will be giving 110% in whatever capacity that a coach sees fit for him. This will make Mackinnon the perfect team player, a great leader and a role model for younger players to learn from. 

Athleticism – Throughout his career in Australia, Mackinnon has always been acknowledged as the most athletic player in the land. He’s not the kind of guy to throw down huge dunks or pull out crazy moves, thus his highlight reels are often quite boring, but Mackinnon is certainly a great athlete. He has a lightning first step and can easily beat defenders, will jump over big men with ease, is very fit and can run all day long (as evidenced last season, where his team played a full-court press almost every night) and is as strong as they come. Even though Mackinnon doesn’t have the hops of many college products, he is much more athletic than other international prospects and will be able to compete with younger NBA swingmen.  

Weaknesses

Free-throw shooting – It can’t be spun any other way. Sam Mackinnon is not a good free-throw shooter. He has averaged 57% throughout his NBL career, with only one season above 70% and a low mark of just 43%. It’s going to come up every time an NBA team looks at Mackinnon, and frankly his work at the stripe is just going to be part of the package. Mackinnon is pretty clutch at the line, usually hitting the big free-throws for his team, but it’s common knowledge that he is just not that good. This is not to say that he can’t improve – after all, he turned himself into a devastating three-point shooter in one off season – but after a whole career of mediocrity from the line, this is one consistent weakness in Mackinnon’s game. 

Range – For a small forward, Mackinnon isn’t much of a shooter. He has improved dramatically, with the addition of a three point shot (that led the NBL last season) greatly adding to his game. However, there are certainly question marks over his range. While Mackinnon hits a high percentage of his open looks from downtown, it remains to be seen whether he can convert his remarkable change in shooting form last season into legitimate NBA range. This is something many Australian prospects have struggled with, and Mackinnon is no different. However, his shot is improving all the time and after the way he fashioned himself into a shooter as well as a slasher in 2006/6, it would be no surprise to see Mackinnon become a reliable commodity in the land of the NBA three-ball. 

Age – This is certainly what will put NBA teams off Mackinnon. By the time next season begins, he will be 31 and if signed, could probably contribute for three or four years at a maximum. With the logjam of young and talented swingmen in America, it would be a much easier option to sign someone straight out of college. However, don’t let Mackinnon’s age completely sway you. Sure, he’s on the wrong side of 30, but while in the NBL, Mackinnon would not have played more than 50 games each year. The NBL season is only 33 games, plus the playoffs, and Australia does not have very regular international commitments. So he is a lot fresher than NBA players at his age, and would certainly be fit enough to play through the 84-game grind that is the NBA season. 

Verdict

Sam Mackinnon will never be a star in the NBA, and he would even admit that himself. But strangely enough, that could be one of his greatest strengths. Instead of heading to a franchise and trying to score on every possession and dominate as a starter, Mackinnon just wants to play. This is his last chance to make it to The Show, and there’s no doubting the fact that he will do anything possible to crack a roster and be part of a winning team.  

Right now, it’s hard to say whether Mackinnon will be signed or not. He is a coaches dream – tough, good on both ends of the floor and with an ego that doesn’t need feeding – but many GMs will probably overlook the Aussie because of his age and history. Signing a player who will be 31 next season will draw all sorts of criticism if it doesn’t end up working, and frankly, most people around the league would be more inclined to choose a younger, more exciting player who can be moulded to suit the team’s needs. 

That’s not to say the interest isn’t there for Mackinnon. San Antonio has been following his progress for a few seasons, even inviting him to a couple of camps this summer. Brett Brown, a Spurs assistant coach, used to work with Mackinnon in his early NBL days, and will no doubt be pressing hard to add the Australian to San Antonio’s international flavour. He would suit perfectly here and Gregg Popovich would love him, but on a team with plenty of aging wings in Bowen, Finley and Barry, the Spurs will probably look to add youth over summer. 

Toronto has been the other destination mooted so far. Like RC Buford and the Spurs, Bryan Colangelo has shown he is more than willing to sign international players with plenty of experience – Anthony Parker is the perfect example, and perhaps Toronto would be interested in trying to pull off another successful left field signing. Mackinnon would be a more than capable player for the Raptors, probably coming off the bench to fulfil the need for a defensive stopper who can hit his shots, and a starting role for a couple of seasons would not be completely beyond him.  But can Colangelo find a spot for Mackinnon? Even if he decides that he wants him onboard as a cost effective solution to the team’s primary hole, it’s going to require some wheeling and dealing. Mo Peterson, Joey Graham and Luke Jackson are currently the main players at small forward, and at least one of them would have to be moved for Mackinnon to join the fray. Will it happen? Who knows – but if it does, Mackinnon will repay Toronto in spades.

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12 thoughts on “Scouting Report on Sam Mackinnon

  1. That was absolutely fascinating. I hadn’t heard about him before, and what an intriguing player! I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a Mavs uni. 🙂

  2. I have followed the nbl for over 20 years as its easy for me to do,i am from australia…..yes he did have a great season and you are very right in saying he would struggle from long range but….to go to an nba team and to play at the 3 or even the 2 he would get eaten alive for speed and his knees are not that crash hot…..i know this is about sam mac but the player that would be a better fit is brad newly….he can play is young and has good speed and good knees…by the way nice article,its good to see aussies getting some coverage….cheers

  3. Good post, Tom. I appreciated your thoroughness in posting his stats and his strengths and weaknesses.

    Also, I like your comparison of his situation to Anthony Parker’s – a star overseas who could do a bit of everything. Just concerned about his free-throw shooting and size. But like you said, he would be a valuable backup in the right situation. In Toronto, with Mo Peterson a free agent and our weakest position being 2/3, maybe Sammy Mac would be nice.

  4. Steve – I hear what you are saying about Sammy Mac’s knees, and that would be a bit of a concern to some teams. However, he is still holding up very well for a guy his age, and with all the training he has been putting in over the last three months, I think he could be right. After all, if he does make it, it would be unlikely for him to play more than 25mins a night and I think his knees could probably handle that. By the way, great point about Newley – I profiled him a while back for Hoops Addict, and would love to see him in a uniform next year. But at least he has time on his side, unlike Mac – this is his last shot.

    Jeff – Too right, I think the Anthony Parker comparison can be pretty accurate. AP is the better player, but it doesn’t mean Sammy can’t have a similar impact.

  5. Tom – Thanks for the scoop on another Aussie player! Between you holding down Australia and Gustavo covering Brazil HoopsAddict.com has a great international feel.

    Loved this article, but I gotta quick questions – wouldn’t a team need to draft Sam if they wanted him on their roster? I believe Toronto was able to sign Anthony Parker as a FA because he was already drafted by a NBA team in the past (Philly).

    While it’s great to hear that the Spurs are interested in him I doubt he’ll sign with them as their roster is already bloated. If anything, look for San Antonio to shed some contracts this summer to free up some salary cap space and bring in some “cheap” rookies that played NCAA hoops last season.

    While his strengths had me thinking he would be a nice fit for the Raptors his weaknesses had me cringing. A poor free throw shooter (57% for his career) combined with a lack of range explains why he hasn’t been given a chance to play in the NBA yet. If a team’s SF is unable to draw opposing defenses out and hit open looks then it puts a lot of pressure on a player like Chris Bosh as defenses can then collapse down on him through a double team or sag on him while playing a zone defense. After shooting 30% in 2005 and ’06 he exploded to shoot 47% from beyond the arc last season – was last season a fluke or has he really improved that aspect of his game?

  6. Tom….the reason that think that way about sam mac is because i look at guys like ….rashard lewis….gerald wallace…..Teshawn prince…lebron james…these guys all have alot of speed for the size they are….at 6.5 he would probably have to gaurd shooting gaurds….he would have a better chance against some of the 2 gaurds in the nba…When sam mac first played in the NBL he was just what the NBL needed and this guy had some big hopps …After his first real knee op he missed nearly a whole season for townsville then came back as a smarter player and much better defender….Although it may not sound like it from my post i really hope he makes it …if not he comes back to a very solid team and wins the mvp again ….all the best SLAMMIN SAM….

  7. Steve – I hear what you are saying, and while I am inclined to agree, I think Sam probably has a better chance than any one to guard those guys. Sure, he’s undersized, but he’s often had to play much bigger in the NBL and even successfully guarded LeBron when he was playing the 4 at last year’s World Champs. I hope he makes it too – otherwise my Melbourne Tigers won’t be championship favourites!

    Ryan – Good question about the process. I was under the impression that a player over the age of 23 or something in that range could only be added simply as a free agent, regardless of his draft rights. I could be completely wrong though.
    Hope he doesn’t go to SA – otherwise, it’s less minutes for James White!

    Free throw shooting is something Sammy can’t really change, as it’s always been a problem. But his shooting from range has really improved dramatically, and I cerainly don’t think it is a fluke. With the improvement in his game last season, it’s not a stretch to imagination him having added even more range over the last three months, where he has been training every day to make it to America.

    Last year, he hit a lot of tough shots, either spotting up after the drive and kick, or pulling up and shooting. Not only did he make a lot of threes, but he did it right down to the wire in the playoffs. Sam’s never going to shoot like a Ray Allen or Mike Miller of this world, but if he does make it, defences would certainly not want to sag off him because he’s going to make open shots. He will help with Toronto’s spacing, and is another guy who can get inside and create shots.

  8. Keep your eyes on Joe Ingles playing for South Dragons in the NBL, this kid has a great first step (something not known for Aussies to have) un-canny knack of finding the ring, strong on boards, great shooter unorthodox style! He was the run away winner of the rookie of the year last season in the clubs first year in the league!

  9. Daniel, great call about Jingles!

    The guy is all class and, in my mind, a much more exciting prospect than Sammy Mac or Newley. He will spend the next season or two in Australia, but I will have a scouting report up on Hoops Addict to inform the wider basketball community about this very talented kid!

  10. Sam Mackinnon is the best player in Australia today by far. There was talk of him being the next Australian player to go to the NBA just after Shane Heal around ten years ago, but it didn’t work out. He has the inside game to succeed at this level, and his outside game will get the job done. If free throws were held in such high esteem Chris Dudley would never have played in the NBA.

    Sammy Mac holds many athletic records in Brisbane’s main Basketball gym, including vertical leap and upper body strength. You need to be “built” to cope with the physical nature of the NBA and Sam has worked hard to develop this. Until joe Ingles and Brad Newley develop in this way they will struggle, particularly Joe. There is also a mental side to the game that needs to be acknowledged, and Mackinnon will have no problems here.

    I think Mackinnon has a legitimate shot at the NBA, particularly with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Other than Lebron they don’t offer much else and go do a lot worse than having Sam on their roster,

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