The small forward spot is one of the most important on the court. You need to have a top-tier scorer on the wing that can make the difference or you just won’t stand a chance to compete. Barring some exceptions, you’ll never get the job done without a solid three.
Obviously, that means that some of the greatest players to ever live have played at that position and thus, they become a huge influence for those that come after them.
But even so, there are a handful of players that have completely dominated their era. Even on a league full of top-notch small forwards, these guys have stood out the most. Today, we’re going to let you know about the best small forward by decade in NBA history:
1960’s – Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor was as dominant as they came back in the sixties. He could light it up and torch opposing defenses in the paint, own both sides of the glass and even facilitate for his teammates as one of the first point-forwards ever.
However, Baylor had the tough luck to coexist with the Boston Celtics’ dynasty, so he was never able to lead his beloved Lakers to a Championships. In fact, they won the chip the very next year he was forced to retire due to injury.
Still, Baylor went down as one of the greatest players and scorers of all time. He averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game on 43% from the floor over his 13-year tenure, every season with the Lakers.
1970’s – Julius Erving
Long before Michael Jordan, Julius Erving was the most influential basketball player of all time. Every kid on earth wanted to be like Dr. J and have his crafty moves, handles, and obviously; unprecedented athleticism.
Erving was one of the first truly electrifying dunkers in NBA history. He could do it all in the offensive end and put up moves the league had never seen. Even Jordan said that he looked up to Erving to copy some of his moves.
Dr. J has one of the most impressive resumes in professional basketball history (both in the ABA and NBA), and he averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game with 50/29/77 shooting splits.
1980’s – Larry Bird
Larry Bird was Kevin Durant before Kevin Durant. Most young basketball fans won’t acknowledge it and they’ll even make fun of its era, but make no mistake: Larry Bird was a cold-blooded assassin with a never-seen skillset.
Bird became one of the first players to be a legit threat from three-point range. He had one of the smoothest jumpers you’ll ever see. Combine that with his crafty moves, elite footwork, and outstanding court vision and you have yourself an offensive juggernaut.
I can’t stress this enough. If you’re a young hooper, you must watch as much Larry Bird footage as you can get your hands on. He averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals with multiple 50/40/90 seasons.
1990’s – Scottie Pippen
It seems like we don’t talk enough about Scottie Pippen and his impact on arguably the greatest team in the history of the game. Without Pippen, there wouldn’t be six NBA Championships and perhaps we wouldn’t refer to Michael Jordan as the GOAT.
Pippen often took a step back in the offensive end but make no mistake, he was a baller. He could put the ball up, score from all over the court, and was incredibly athletic. However, his biggest impact came in the defensive end.
Scottie was a hound from baseline to baseline. He could lockdown the greatest scorers on earth and still put up big numbers. He averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game on 47/32/70 shooting per his career.
2000’s – LeBron James
Ever since he made it to the league as the 1st overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, LeBron James has never taken his feet off the gas. I mean, he led his team to the NBA Finals in just his fourth season in the league.
James is the ultimate point-forward. Something the league hadn’t seen since Magic Johnson. However, his stronger than most small forwards and can go to battle with most big men below the rim, while also pulling up from beyond the arc.
LeBron James took the league by storm in the 2000s and hasn’t slowed down a bit ever since. He didn’t win a Championship on that decade but he was still the best small forward in the world, and by a huge stretch.
2010’s – LeBron James
One of the most impressive things about LeBron James is his longevity. He’s as durable as they come, rarely misses a game, and has been as efficient, dominant, and productive during his 17th season as he’s been throughout his entire career.
LeBron is not only the greatest small forward of the past two decades. He’s the best to ever play that position in the history of the game and one of the top 5 players ever, regardless of how his haters may feel about him.
Personal accolades aside, he’s put some impressive numbers over his career for sure. Thus far, he’s averaged 27.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 50% from the floor, which is just incredible for a perimeter player.