Warriors hope one of three candidates emerge as small forward starter


Warriors hope one of three candidates emerge as small forward starter

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:

Alec Burks

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.

Alfonzo McKinnie

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.

Glenn Robinson III

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.

[RELATED: D-Lo rounding into shape as Warriors hold long practice]

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 believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

Warriors believe they're headed in right direction despite 5-22 record

SALT LAKE CITY - The Warriors have lost a lot in the last six months. 

The most obvious wound is the gutting of its Hall of Fame roster, and the injuries that crippled it. But perhaps the most essential damage to the team's evolution is its most recent struggle: Failing to close out games talent used to be able to overcome. 

In its latest effort -- a 114-106 loss to the Jazz -- the Warriors led for much of the first half before Utah took control in the third quarter. The loss came at a strange time for Golden State as their three All-Stars -- Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry -- were nursing injured back in California and their prized rookie Eric Paschall was in the locker room due to a hip injury. 

Nonetheless, the league's worst team left Vivint Smart Home Arena seeing enough progress to believe they're heading in the right direction, even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 

"There is a lot of good stuff," Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted. "But you want that to lead to a win and that's coming."

Remnants of Kerr's positivity showed through the first 24 minutes Friday evening. In the first quarter, they held the Jazz to 39 percent from the field, outscoring Utah 14-8 in the paint. By the end of the first half, they built a 56-49 lead, marked by promising plays from its young core. 

Six minutes into the first quarter, 6-foot-8 big man Omari Spellman pulled down a rebound, went the length of the court, bullying his way for a layup to give Golden State a 20-18 lead. A quarter later, center Marquese Chriss blocked Jazz guard Royce O'Neal at the rim, ran the length of the floor and received a pass for an easy dunk on the other end, pushing Golden State's lead to 13. 

Following halftime, the Jazz responded by outscoring the Warriors 37-28 in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 10 of his game-high 32 points over the stretch, as Utah made a run that was all-too-familiar to Golden State. 

"They picked up their pace in the third quarter," Kerr said. "I'm sure they were not happy with their pace in the first half and so they played a great third quarter and put a lot of pressure on us."

Worse, even after the Warriors briefly took a 104-103 lead with just over two minutes left, the Jazz went on an 11-2 run to close the game, underscoring one of the team's biggest problems this season. Through 27 games, the Warriors are among the worst teams in the last five minutes of games. During the timeframe, they're posting a putrid 92.9 offensive rating, with a net rating of -33.6. 

For context, the 2017-18 Warriors -- featuring a healthy Curry, Green, Thompson and Kevin Durant -- posted a 112.2 offensive rating in clutch situations, finishing third in the league, leaving a mark the current battered Warriors are trying to fulfill.  

"I think we can win a lot more games than we have," said Chriss. "We've been in games that we could win and honestly that we should win. People try to say that our team is down and things like that but we're competing with teams that have their full roster. This team is full of fighters and teams that want to win." 

While the team is frustrated, their latest performance comes with a caveat. Clutch performances are built through experience, an attribute the league's third-youngest team has yet to gain. 

"I remember being in this position earlier in my career where you get the taste of winning, but you don't really know how to do it, you may just get lucky that night," said 23-year old guard D'Angelo Russell. "Other teams in the league that are solidified, they find a way to win and those other teams that aren't supposed to win find a way to lose so I think it comes with growth and experience."

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Late Friday evening, just before he left Salt Lake City for a late-night flight back to the Bay Area, recovering from yet another close loss, Kerr made a declaration for his young team, despite optics of the contrary. 

"I like where we're heading," he said. "I really do. I know it might sound crazy because of our record, but I think we're going to start winning some games. I think we're getting better."

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


Warriors takeaways: What we learned in deflating 114-106 loss to Jazz


SALT LAKE CITY -- Warriors big man Marquese Chriss said his team was "tired of losing" during his halftime interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke on Friday at Vivent Smart Home Arena.

Unfortunately for Chriss, the Warriors will have to wait at least two more days to erase their current skid, as Golden State lost 114-106 to the Jazz. 

Unlike most nights, the Warriors -- without Draymond Green and rookie Eric Paschall -- showed fight, taking a seven-point lead after the first quarter. However, a second-half Utah run doomed their chances as the Warriors' inability to finish crippled them once again. 

There are no moral victories in sports and the Warriors will take another loss back to the Bay Area. 

Here are the takeaways as the Warriors fell to 5-22 on the season: 

Fast start erased in one quarter

The Warriors have been immune to quick starts over the last week. On Friday, the trend changed. Through the first 24 minutes, Golden State outscored Utah 26-18 in the paint, while holding the Jazz to just 43 percent from the field. 

Utah's defense was out of sorts in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 13-point lead. On one possession, Chriss blocked a shot on one end, ran the floor unguarded and received a pass wide open under the basket for an easy dunk. 

Then the third quarter happened.

Over the next 12 minutes the Warriors were outscored 37-28. Even when the Warriors fought back, a key missed dunk from Willie Cauley-Stein ended any hopes of a win. 

The Warriors have shown fight amid injuries, but the only mark of success is winning, a goal the team again couldn't accomplish in Utah. 

Alec Burks shines

Against his former team, Burks was effective, finishing with 24 points including two 3-pointers. Despite shooting just 41 percent from the field this season, Burks has shown the ability to carry Golden State's offense when needed. His downhill attack consistently puts the opponent on edge. 

The location of Burks' output is noteworthy. He spent eight years playing in Utah before injuries derailed his career. His affinity for the town was apparent from the time he walked into the building. Following his pregame workout, he spent most of his time exchanging pleasantries with former teammates and arena staff, causing a Warriors team official to jokingly ask, "When is Alec's statue going up?"

[RELATED: Burks wants to stay with Warriors]

Chriss shined despite scare

The first-year Warrior continued his reclamation bid, finishing with 12 points, adding 13 rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes off the bench. 

Chriss had a slight scare in the third quarter when he knocked knees with a Jazz player contesting a layup. He was later diagnosed as a left knee contusion. 

Following a rough start to his career, Chriss has become a valuable piece to the transitional Warriors, providing rebounding and scoring off the bench. Friday was yet another example of his contributions.