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Who will start at small forward?

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Until Klay Thompson returns from injury, the Warriors have a giant question mark at the 3.

Western Conference Finals - Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re just returning from a three-month backpacking trip through the remote countryside, devoid of connection to the rest of the world and therefore not up to date with NBA and Golden State Warriors news, then I have some bad news for you: Kevin Durant has a torn Achilles, and will miss most, if not all, of the upcoming season.

Oh, and he plays for the Brooklyn Nets now.

Andre Iguodala is also gone, a casualty of the Warriors being hard-capped while sign-and-trading for D’Angelo Russell.

So to recap, the Warriors lost their two-time Finals MVP starting small forward, as well as their All-Star and perpetual Sixth Man of the Year candidate backup small forward, leaving them with . . . well, no small forward.

When Klay Thompson returns from his torn ACL - likely sometime in late February or early March - he’ll slide into the starting small forward spot. Thompson has spent his career at the shooting guard position, but the Warriors have committed long-term maximum contracts to not only him, but to Russell and Steph Curry as well. The trio is owed more than $100 million next year, so they’ll all be starting. That moves Thompson to the 3.

Until then, however, the Warriors have 50 or so games that require a starting small forward. Everything else is nearly set. Curry and Russell will form the backcourt, with Draymond Green at power forward. Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein will split center minutes, with one starting and one coming off the bench.

The only real mystery is at small forward. Who will start? Let’s examine the options.

Alfonzo McKinnie

McKinnie, the only player on the roster who is on a non-guaranteed contract, seems the most likely candidate. Despite entering the 2018-19 season with just 16 NBA games under his belt, the Warriors trusted McKinnie all year long.

He averaged nearly 14 minutes a game - not a huge number, but notable for a wing on a team with Thompson, Durant, and Iguodala - and even started five contests. He appeared in all 22 of the Warriors’ playoff games, starting one.

McKinnie has a lot working in his favor. He’s loved in the locker room, and has good chemistry with the returning players. The coaching staff trusts him, and he’s familiar with the system.

He also has his fair share of issues, mainly the fact that he was an exceedingly poor defensive player last year. With the Warriors downgrading the backcourt defensively by replacing Thompson with Russell (for now), and losing Iguodala and Durant, they’re staring at a potentially subpar defense, even when you account for Green and Looney.

Starting McKinnie doesn’t help. It does the opposite.

There’s also the matter of McKinnie not providing much offensively. He’s not a ball-handler or playmaker, and, while he’s a passable three-point shooter, he’s not a particularly good one. Last year, McKinnie shot a rather pedestrian 35.6% from deep.

That said, he’s a phenomenal rebounder, and he knows how to play his role. There’s value in that.

Jacob Evans III

At the end of last season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that then-rookie Jacob Evans III would play primarily at point guard in 2019-20.

Shortly after making those comments, the Warriors committed $117 million to an All-Star point guard in Russell, to pair next to their MVP point guard.

If Evans repeats the performance from his lackluster rookie campaign, then Kerr’s comments may indeed prove to be true, as Evans would be relegated to point guard minutes in garbage time duty.

But the Warriors still have faith in Evans, and they liked the improvement he showed during Summer League. With the team sorely lacking in depth, they’ll be hoping he can play a role this year, which means finding a position for him.

At 6-foot-6, Evans is a little more suited to be a 2-guard, but can fake it at small forward. He’s quite strong, and his low and balanced defensive stance should allow him to defend 3s, especially in a league rapidly trending towards smaller lineups.

The Warriors will need to find some three-point shooting to complement the backcourt, so Evans’ chances may rest on whether or not he’s been able to fix his jumper. But he very well may be the best defensive option, on a team in dire need of some defense.

Glenn Robinson III or Alec Burks

Until the preseason rolls around - and perhaps not even then - Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks are indistinguishable in my head.

They’re both 6-foot-6 veterans, best equipped physically to play shooting guard, but more than capable at small forward. They’re passable but not particularly good three-point shooters, with Robinson holding a career mark of 36.1%, and Burks 35.5%. They’re not good playmakers or efficient scorers.

Neither is a particularly good defensive player, but neither is going to lose you games on that end of the court, either.

They’re remarkably similar players, which makes it a little funny that the Warriors signed both this offseason. It also means it wouldn’t be too surprising if Golden State opts to trade one of them halfway through the year.

Either way, we know that Kerr prefers veteran players, and Burks (eight years) and Robinson (five years) fit the bill. If either player stands out at all in training camp and preseason games, they could earn themselves the unenviable task of replacing Durant.

The options aren’t inspiring. But one of these players will likely hear their name announced over the PA system when the Warriors kick off the season on October 22.

Poll

Who will be the Warriors starting small forward on opening night?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Alfonzo McKinnie
    (699 votes)
  • 8%
    Jacob Evans III
    (101 votes)
  • 15%
    Alec Burks
    (185 votes)
  • 15%
    Glenn Robinson III
    (178 votes)
1163 votes total Vote Now