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Top 10 Small Forwards in NBA History

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

photo by Keith Allison, 2009, CC 2.0

The position of small forward has given us some of the most dynamic and versatile superstars in NBA history. The players on this list have combined scoring, playmaking, rebounding and defense in various combinations to build their Hall of Fame resumes. Here are the top 10 players the position has produced.

1) LeBron James (2003-present)

James is arguably the best player of his generation, and is on a short list for the greatest player of all-time. An elite athlete with strength, speed and agility, the future Hall of Famer can both score at will and defend at an elite level. His 34,241 points are currently the third most in NBA history. In addition to his scoring prowess, James is a master at distributing the basketball. His 9,346 assists rank eighth all-time, and are the most ever by a forward. His exceptional passing is just one way James makes his teammates better. His work ethic, intelligence and leadership are primary reasons his teams appeared in the NBA Finals nine of 10 seasons from 2011-2020, winning four titles with three different teams along the way. In 17 seasons, James is a 4-time MVP, 16-time All-Star, 16-time All-NBA selection, 3-time All-Star MVP and 4-time Finals MVP.

2) Larry Bird (1979-92)

Along with Magic Johnson, Bird ushered in a new era of excellence in the 1980s. Known as one of the most accurate shooters the game has ever seen, the 3-time MVP was also a superb passer, strong rebounder and above average defender. But more than anything else, the Boston Celtics Hall of Famer was a winner. The intensely competitive Bird led the Celtics to five NBA Finals appearances and three world championships in the decade. For his career, the 12-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists, while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 88.6 percent from the free-throw line.

3) Julius Erving (1971-87)

In the early 1970s, Erving brought a sense of style and grace not seen before in professional basketball. His game was more than just stylish, though, as the intelligent and versatile Erving was an efficient scorer, excellent rebounder, skilled passer and strong defender. In five ABA seasons, the Hall of Famer won three MVPs, three scoring titles and two championships. Dr. J continued his domination in the NBA, with 11 All-Star and seven All-NBA selections. He would also win another MVP and championship with the Philadelphia 76ers. For his career, Erving averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.7 blocks.

4) Elgin Baylor (1958-72)

Baylor was one of the most dynamic scorers in NBA history. Possessing tremendous body control, strength and an extensive repertoire of moves, the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer averaged 27.4 points in 14 seasons, the third highest in league history. He was also a tenacious rebounder and solid passer, averaging 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Baylor was an 11-time All-Star and 10-time First Team All-NBA selection. In 134 postseason games, he averaged 27.0 points, 12.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

5) John Havlicek (1962-78)

Havlicek was the ultimate teammate, an unselfish and hard-working player who spent the early part of his career as a sixth man on Coach Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics championship teams. The energetic Havlicek, who was estimated to have run three to five miles per game, would later become one of the game’s great superstars. A versatile scorer and tenacious defender, Hondo is one of only 10 players in history to be named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams at least eight times each. A 13-time All-Star and 8-time NBA champion, the Hall of Famer averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 16 seasons.

6) Kevin Durant (2007-present)

Durant is as unstoppable a scorer as the league has ever seen. Long and athletic with unlimited range on his shot, the future Hall of Famer can dominant from anywhere on the court. The 10-time All-Star and 9-time All-NBA selection has averaged 27.0 points per game in 12 seasons, shooting an outstanding .493/.381/.883 and winning four scoring titles. A clutch performer on the big stage, Durant was named Finals MVP on both of his Golden State Warriors championship teams. In addition to his scoring prowess, Durant is a strong rebounder, skilled passer and underrated defender, averaging 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks.

7) Rick Barry (1965-80)

Barry is often remembered for his surly persona and underhand free-throw style, but the Hall of Famer was one of the game’s most prolific scorers. Possessing a smooth jump shot and a penchant for getting to the free-throw line, where he shot over 89 percent for his career, the Hall of Famer is the only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring. The ultra-competitive Barry took his game to another level in the postseason, averaging 27.3 points in 105 combined ABA and NBA games, winning titles in both leagues. For his career, Barry was an 11-time All-Star, 6-time All-NBA and 4-time All-ABA selection.

8) Scottie Pippen (1987-2004)

Pippen is known by many as Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman, but the talented 6’8” wing held superpowers of his own. An elite defender who was named to the All-Defensive Team 10 times, Pippen would develop into a skilled offensive player as well, averaging 20.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists from 1991-98. The Hall of Famer’s physicality and versatility were especially valuable in the playoffs, where he averaged 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals in 178 games for the 6-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls.

9) Dominique Wilkins (1982-99)

A dynamic scorer with dazzling athleticism, Wilkins was one of the NBA’s most iconic players of the eighties and early nineties. The Atlanta Hawks Hall of Famer averaged 25+ points per game 10 straight seasons from 1985-94, finishing in the league’s top 10 nine times. For his career, Wilkins averaged 24.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in the regular season, and 25.4 points and 6.7 boards in the postseason. “The Human Highlight Film” was a 9-time All-Star, 7-time All-NBA selection and 2-time Slam Dunk champion.

10) Alex English (1976-91)

His name is often forgotten when talking about the greatest players of the eighties, but it was English who led the decade in scoring with 20,212 points. The Denver Nuggets Hall of Famer did it quietly and efficiently, with a smooth mid-range game and a seemingly effortless ability to get to the hoop. In 11 seasons with Denver, English averaged 25.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. For his career, the 8-time All-Star shot 50.7 percent from the field and 83.2 percent from the free-throw line.

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