SAN FRANCISCO – When Klay Thompson walked onto the floor at Chase Center, the sellout crowd shook the new building. His ovation was the longest and loudest of all the Warriors introduced at the team’s annual open practice.
Though Thompson did not participate and will spend the next few months rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee, the mere sight of him sent a ripple of joy through fans, who are starting to get an idea how much he’ll be missed.
By the time Thompson returns, perhaps in March, he’ll start at small forward. Meanwhile, coach Steve Kerr and his staff must find a starter at small forward.
“We’re just really teaching so much and trying to put things in place right now that I haven’t had a chance to really assess who is where in that race, for who is going to start and who is going to play,” Kerr said Tuesday. “They’re all competing.”
After six practices and one preseason game, here, in alphabetical order, is a look at the three primary candidates, one of whom almost certainly will open the season in the starting lineup:
Burks, 28, signed with the Warriors upon becoming a free agent in July. He spent seven full seasons with the Jazz, with 43 starts in 382 games, before being traded twice last season, first to the Cavaliers and then to the Kings.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Colorado product – drafted 12th overall in 2011 – sprained his right ankle during a practice last Friday and did not play Saturday in the preseason opener.
Though the sprain is not considered serious – there’s no walking boot, for example – it has limited Burks mostly to off-court work and put him behind in the race.
McKinnie, 27, is the only one of the three candidates with previous Warriors experience, having earned the final roster spot before last season.
That’s probably why the 6-foot-8 Wisconsin-Green Bay product started the preseason opener. He didn’t exactly help his cause.
McKinnie played 21 minutes, totaling seven points, six rebounds, one assist and one block. His defense was spotty, though that could be said of most of his teammates. The small forward has to be a threat from deep, and he was 1-of-4. He finished minus-23.
For now, because of his experience, McKinnie has to be considered the leader.
Robinson, 25, also signed as a free agent, joining the Warriors one day before Burks. He’s on his fifth team in six years.
The 6-6, 220-pound Michigan product played 17 minutes against the Lakers and did not distinguish himself, producing four points, three rebounds and two assists. He finished minus-7.
Again, it’s imperative that whoever starts at small forward be a threat beyond the arc. Robinson did not attempt a triple in the preseason opener but has shown the ability to make that shot. In his best season, 2016-17 with the Pacers, he shot 39.2 percent (49-of-125) from deep.
There is, however, another possibility in what for now is a three-way race. The team’s need for a big man could result in one of them being traded. Only McKinnie can be moved at any time, as the free-agent signees can’t be dealt before Dec. 15.
Warriors hope one of three candidates emerge as small forward starter originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area