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Ranking the Top 10 Best Small Forwards in NBA History

Best Small Forwards

Small Forward is a pivotal position in Today’s Basketball. A team without a good small forward player is like a ship without a radar. In this article, we will be covering the top 10 best small forwards of all time. The role of small forward position has changed in the NBA now. They are not just power players doing post-ups anymore, they have turned into great shooters.

We tried to make a proper list of top small forwards in the NBA. You could argue that 4 should be where 6 is or 7 should be where 5 is. So let us know in the comment section whether you agree with our listing or not. But to make it fair, we used certain criteria for making the perfect list of small forwards in the NBA.

Criteria for listing

Before we start, we’d like to mention the criteria that we used to make this list. We considered essential stats like points, rebounds, skills, field-goal percentages, and advanced analytics like PER, defensive & offensive ratings. To keep things balanced, we also considered a player’s respective solo achievements, preseason and playoff performances, and other pertinent accolades. 

So with no further due, let’s get right into it and find out who is the best small forward in the NBA of all time.

#10. Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins best Small Forwards

career stats: 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds,2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals

Teams he played for:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Boston Celtics
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Orlando Magic

Achievements:

  • 1x league scoring leader
  • 9-time All-star
  • 12th in All-time in total points

At number 10, we have  Dominique Wilkins, one of the top 5  dunkers the NBA has ever seen. That is how he earned the nickname of the human highlight film. Wilkins had a career shooting percentage of over 46%. Over the course of his career, Dominic put up 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds,2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals. His sustained level of excellence as a scorer is the only elite part of Dominique’s resume.

The human highlight film didn’t play much of a defense, focusing only on the offensive side of the court. Dominique is mainly remembered for his specialized monsterous in-game dunks. He was a one-time scoring champion, 9-time All-star, and 12 All-time in total points which made him one of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA.

#9. John Havlicek

John Havlicek NBA's top small forwards

career stats per game: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists

Teams: Boston Celtics (entire career)

Honors: 

  • 13 All-star appearances
  • 11 All-NBA selections
  • 8 All-defensive team selections
  • 1974 NBA Finals MVP
  •  8 championship rings (1963-1965, 1966,1968,1969,1974,1976)

Coming in at number nine we have a Boston legend Hondo John Havlicek who is one of the NBA’s top small forwards. When you hear his name, one of the first things that comes to mind is the legendary announcer saying “Havlicek steals the ball” it was the rough & tough defense that was mixed with his off-ball relentless movement to make his plays look so overwhelming.

Havlicek finished his career averaging 20.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. John had eight NBA championships which made him one of the best small forwards of all time.

He finished his career with 13 All-star appearances, 11 All-NBA selections, 8 All-defensive team selections, and the 1974 NBA Finals MVP.

#8. Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce

Career stats: 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 threes, 1.3 steals

Teams:

  • Boston Celtics (1998–2013)
  • Brooklyn Nets (2013–2014)
  • Washington Wizards (2014–2015)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (2015–2017)
  • Retiring with the Celtics (2017)

 Honors: 

  • 10 All-Star selections
  • 15 all-time in NBA top scorer
  • 1 NBA ring (2008)
  • Finals MVP

At number eight we have another  Boston Celtics legend, The Truth Paul Pierce. He is one of the eight small forwards in NBA history to have made at least 10 all-star appearances. The current generation who hasn’t seen Lary Bird play would say that the Truth is the best ever point forward to play for the Boston Celtics.

Paul is one of the three Celts player to ever score more than twenty thousand career points. Throughout his entire career, Paul Pierce scored 19.7 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1 steal per game. He is ranked number 15 all-time in NBA top scorer list.

#7. Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard highest paid small forwards

Career Stats: 17.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocks

Teams: San Antonio Spurs (2011-18),   Toronto Raptors (2018–2019),  Los Angeles Clippers( 2019–present)

Honors:

  • 2 DPOY
  • 5X All-D selections
  • 3 All NBA selections
  • 2 Finals MVP
  • 2 Championship rings (2014, 2019)

Kawhi Leonard is one of the highest paid small forwards in NBA. The Clippers Star has nine seasons of experience all through his NBA career and currently in his tenth, Kawhi has already turn out to be an accomplished playoffs performer in NBA history. Kawhi also has a record of the best winning percentage for an individual in NBA history; regardless of the position.

On top of a loaded postseason resume, Kawhi Leonard has two defensive players of the year awards, five all-defensive team selections, 3 All-NBA, and 3 All-Star team selections. Kawhi is a superstar and a big clutch time player under pressure. Besides, he is still in his prime, and by the time he retires, he will surely be one of the best small forwards of all time in the NBA.

#6. Julius Erving

Julius Erving greatest sf of all time

Career stats: 24.2 PPG, 7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2 steals &.506 FG%

Teams Played for: Virginia Squires, New York Nets, Philadelphia 76ers

Honors:

  • 11 All-star appearances
  • 7 All- NBA teams
  • Championships: 1 in 1983

Coming in at number six, we’ve got the doctor, Doctor J himself, Julius Erving. He defies gravity and operates beyond all NBA players. Erving is universally known as one of the best dunkers in the NBA. Judging by his position, He is one of the greatest sf of all time. Julius showed his star power in the NBA during his first NBA season by winning the All-star game MVP. He has 11 All-star appearances and made his way to seven All-NBA teams.

The doctor also has a regular-season league MVP added to his NBA resume. His NBA career averages 24 points, 7 rebounds, four assists, 2 steals, and one and a half blocks per game.

Before joining the NBA, Doctor J dominated the ABA for five years, and after joining the NBA the High flying Doctor took control of the NBA and was considered to be the best NBA player of his era. Julius Erving was one of the few off-court superstars in the NBA back in his days, he was the first NBA player to have his own signature shoe.

#5. Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen

Career Stats:16 points per game, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals a game.

Teams:

  • Chicago Bulls (1987-1998, 2003-2004)
  • Houston Rockets (1998-1999)
  • Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)

Honors:

  • 7-time All-Star
  • 7 All-NBA selection
  • 10-time All-Defensive selection
  • Championships: 6 rings (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)

We are halfway down to our countdown of the NBA’s top 10 best small forwards of all time. At number five, we have Scottie Pippen. We all know what Scottie Pippen did with Michael Jordan. He was the Robin for Jordan’s Batman to win 6 NBA championship rings for the Chicago Bulls. His other teammate is Steve Kerr who is one of the highest-paid coaches in NBA right now(currently in the Warriors)

Scottie is a floor general and an All-time elite defender. He has a career of 16 points per game, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals a game. He is the innovator of the point forward position who has set the bar for players like LeBron and Ben Simmons nowadays.

Pippen is one of the most underappreciated players in the history of the game and is mostly criticized for being the sidekick of Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, most people forget that any player playing alongside the GOAT would no doubt be considered as number 2 as well.

#4. Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor, best small forwards of all time

Career stats: 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers

Honors:

  • 10-time All-NBA
  •  11x NBA All-Star
  • 1960-1961, recording 38.3 points per game and 18 rebounds

Elgin Baylor, who is one of the best lakers small forwards of all time, is our number 4 pick in the countdown. Baylor has a career double-double in points and rebounds having 27 ppg and 13 rebounds. He was an all-star in 11 of his 14 NBA seasons. This NBA legend made All-NBA team 10 times. He brought a revolutionary change in the game of basketball off the court which was later carried on by Doctor J, MJ, and now LeBron, Curry, CP3, and others.

Elgin is one of the most underrated players in NBA history as he doesn’t have a ring. He dominated the game of basketball since he was n highschool. He played in the same era as NBA legends Bill Rusell and Wilt Chamberlain and in his best season in 1960-1961, he averaged an eye-popping 38.3 points per game and 18 rebounds.

#3. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant, best small forwards of all time

Career Stats: 27.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 4 APG, & 482FG%

Teams played for:

  • Seattle SuperSonics
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Golden State Warriors
  • Brooklyn Nets (present)

Honors:

  • 2  finals MVP
  • 2 Championship rings
  • 10 All-star selections
  • 9 All- NBA selections
  • 4X scoring champ

So we’ve reached the top 3 for our countdown of NBA’s top 10 best small forwards of all time. And making his way up to number three is none other than the former league MVP and 2 time NBA champ, Kevin Durant aka KD is one of the best small forwards ever to play the game of hoops averaging 27 points per game, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Kevin is the most complete scorer and a big-time clutch player in the game of basketball. He can score hoops anywhere from the court, dribble, handle, post-up, Block shots, and whatnot.

The Nets star has an outrageous shooting percentage of 61% in fact, there isn’t another player in the history of the NBA who matches KD’s volume and efficiency rate. Kevin Durant’s scoring average is 29th and that ranks fourth all-time. To add some accolades to his resume, Durant has 2  finals MVP, 10 All-star selections, 9 All- NBA selections, and 9 All- NBA selections.

KD has joined the Brooklyn Nets franchise after recovering from an Achilles injury and looking for his 3rd ring alongside his superstar teammates Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

#2. Larry Bird

Larry Bird

Career Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, $ 496 FG%

Teams played for: Boston Celtics (1979-1992)

Honors

  • led Boston to 6o wins in his rookie season
  • 3 consecutive League MVPS (1983-1986)
  • 2 Finals MVP
  • 3 NBA rings
  • 12 All-star selections
  • 3 all defensive selections

At number two, we have Larry Bird who is one of the best small forwards ever in the league as well as for the Boston Celtics franchise. Bird has a complete All-time NBA resume. Over his 13-year career, Larry Bird tallied up to 12 All-star selections, 10 All-NBA selections, 3 all defensive selections, 3 NBA rings, 3 league MVPs which he won back to back to back, and 2 Finals MVPs. Larry was once thought of as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Bird led his team to 6o wins in his rookie season, He led the Celtics team to the NBA finals five times of which he captured three of them. Larry Bird is universally known as one of the best shooters of all time. Larry is above all other small forwards based on consistency and clutch plays.

Bird averaged a double-double for his entire career with 24 points 10 rebounds and six assists. 2 steals and one block. He was also a great passer and an elite defender.

Before we go to the top pick for the greatest small forward of our countdown, here are a few honorable mentions.

#Alex English

career stats: 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists

Teams played for: Nuggets, Bucks Pacers

Alex is one of Denver’s best small forward guards, securing himself at the top 2o in total points. He was such a prolific scorer that he was the first player ever to string together 8 straight 2000 point seasons.

#Rick Barry

career stats: 23.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 2.0 SPG

Teams played for: Houston Rockets and Golden States Warriors

Championship: 1

Finals MVP: 1975

Rick is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. He was and still is one the best small forwards to have played for the Warriors franchise. He had a unique underhand grandma-style free through shooting style. Barry averaged 30 points per game 4 times in his NBA career.

Rick has the highest rating among small forwards for the regular season and the playoffs. He gifted the GSW a ring in 1975 in which he was the Final’s MVP. He was also the league’s scoring leader and steals champion.

#James Worthy

Career stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, & 521 FG%

Teams Played for: Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1994)

He played alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar that made up the showtime Lakers during his era of basketball. He was amazing at fast-breaks and was a good finisher. James Worthy had a signature shot which is a deadly turnaround jump shot that he could hit anywhere from the perimeter.

James Worthy earned the nickname of Big-Game James for his playoffs consistency and in the NBA finals every year. He averaged 17 points a game in the regular season and 21 in the playoffs. He was also the Final’s MVP in the ABA’s.

#1. LeBron James

LeBron James, best heat small forwards of all time

Career stats: 27.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 6.9 APG, $ 496 FG%

NBA Rings: 4

Teams played for:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010)
  • Miami Heat (2010-2013)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-2017)
  • L.A. Lakers (2018-present)

It’s no surprise that LeBron James would be at the top of our NBA’s small forward list. LeBron just won his fourth ring in his seventeenth season in the NBA. Now he is going after another ring in his 18th season.

LeBron is a floor general and he is no doubt the King of Kings among the small forwards of NBA. He is the only player to be compared with  Michael Jordan in a never-ending GOAT debate. That’s why the kid from Akron Ohio is the public anointed king.

As Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard of all time, MJ being the greatest shooting guard of all time, likewise, LeBron James is the greatest small forwards of all time and there’s no one at his level. LeBron started sparking when he was in the Miami Heat and he was considered the best heat’s small forwards back then.

LeBron’s Achievements

LeBron’s list of accolades consists of  15 All-star selections, 15 All-NBA selections, 6 All-defensive selections, 14 time All-NBA member,  4 league MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, 4 championships, Rookie of the year, and one scoring leader title. LeBron has 10 NBA finals appearances where 8 is consecutive. 

There can be no debate that the King is the best sf ever in the history of the NBA. The only question is how high he can climb in his career to get close to catch the ghost from Chicago Bulls.

So this was our top 10 list for the best small forwards of all time. Hope you are satisfied with our list. Do you agree or disagree? let us know in the comment section. Until then stay tuned to 7up sports for more similar articles.

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