The small forward position is arguably the most important position in the NBA today since these players have the size and skillset to completely dominate the game in many areas. It is no surprise why each NBA champion in the past few years have all had a superstar small forward, with the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant owning the league. A superstar forward is often the difference maker between a very good team and an NBA champion, so every team is looking to stack up on forwards in today’s game.
We have witnessed greatness at the small forward position throughout history. Larry Bird was the original iconic small forward before LeBron James came into the league as a physical specimen and has not looked back since. But which one is truly greater? It is time to rank the 25 greatest small forwards ever.
25. Glen Rice
Players Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Honors: 3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Team Selection
Rice is mainly known for his scoring ability, having drained 1, 559 threes over the course of his career. Rice won an NBA title with the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, but he is mainly remembered for his sensational play with the Charlotte Hornets where he averaged 26.8 PPG in the 1996-1997 season. Rice shot an unbelievable 47% from three that year, playing 79 total games.
24. Jack Twyman
Players Stats: 19.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Honors: 6x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer
The late and great Jack Twyman was an icon that equaled Wilt Chamberlain’s record of being the first player to ever average 30 PPG for a season. In that same season, Twyman dropped a cool 59 points which ended up being his highest-scoring game. Twyman has his jersey retired by the Sacramento Kings and made 6 All-Star teams cap a great year by a true legend of the sport.
23. Marques Johnson
Players Stats: 20.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection
Johnson worked hard to get to where he was, and he ended up being a legend for the Milwaukee Bucks. His jersey hanging high in the rafters, Johnson had a strong scoring career that included 5 All-Star appearances and 3 All-NBA selections. He had his best year in only his second season, posting 25.6 PPG on 55% shooting. Clearly, Johnson was worthy enough to have his jersey retired and will forever be revered by the Milwaukee faithful.
22. Peja Stojakovic
Players Stats: 17.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Honors: 3x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Selection
Peja won an NBA title as a role player with the Dallas Mavericks led by Dirk Nowitzki, but Peja was a real force of nature in his prime. He was a scoring machine and sharpshooter who was mainly hailed for his times with the Sacramento Kings. Peja shot a cool 40.1% from three for his career, and will forever be known as one of the best pure shooters ever.
21. Paul George
Players Stats: 21.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Honors: 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, 4x All-Defensive Selection, 2013 Most Improved Player
PG is mainly known for his time with the Indiana Pacers, where he was the number one scoring option and defensive stopper. Even as he moved on to other teams, he grew as a player and can now do it all on the court without any weakness. Only time will tell if he can capture an NBA ring or two, in order to boost his standing and climb up the rankings.
20. Bernard King
Players Stats: 22.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Honors: 4x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Selection, 1985 Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
King is a Knicks legend who had the ultimate signature move in the post, the turnaround jumper. King was very deadly in the post and hardly ever did anything too flashy, he got the job done and that is why he made 4 All-NBA teams and could get into a scoring zone that could not be stopped. King was one of the best scorers of his era and earned his spot on this list.
19. Grant Hill
Players Stats: 16.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 4.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 7x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, 1995 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Famer
It is impossible to mention Grant Hill without mentioning “What-If’s”. That is how great he was because he could have been one of the very best players of all time if he kept healthy. Injuries derailed his career greatly, but he was still able to be very serviceable as a scorer and role player. Hill had some great years, so he deserves his spot on this list.
18. Billy Cunningham
Players Stats: 21.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Honors: 1973 MVP, 4x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer
A Hall of Famer and fierce competitor, Cunningham pretty much had a perfect career in terms of the heights he reached. He was a superstar in high-school, a phenom in college, and then the future number one draft pick who later became an NBA All-Star. His nickname, “The Kangaroo Kid” came from the fact that he could leap in the air and was very mobile. Cunningham is a deserved member of this list and an example for any player looking to achieve success in the NBA.
17. Chris Mullin
Players Stats: 18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 5x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer
Chris Mullin was the entire package at SF because he was tough enough to defend and had a killer jump shot. Mullin is mainly remembered for his long-range shooting and scoring ability as a member of the Golden State Warriors crew that were scoring 120 points at a very high pace that is similar to today. Mullin probably should have an NBA title as a member of the Pacers, but he is still one of the best SF to ever play.
16. Alex English
Players Stats: 21.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Honors: 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 1983 Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
English was the man in the 1980s, dominating the era with exceptional scoring prowess. He amassed over 25,000 points over his career, making him the leading scorer in Nuggets history. What was so impressive about English was that he rarely talked on the court, allowing his graceful play to do the talking. English was one of a kind and a Nuggets legend forever.
15. Adrian Dantley
Players Stats: 24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1,0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Honors: 6x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 1977 Rookie of the Year, 2x Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
Dantley was a sensational low-post scorer who has an alarming scoring record. He shot 54% from the field for his career, which is astonishing considering he averaged over 30 PPG four times in his career. Dantley mastered the mix of powerful explosiveness and a soft touch, and he literally was an unstoppable force on offense from the perimeter. His career scoring average gives an indication of how dominant he was as a superstar player.
14. Carmelo Anthony
Players Stats: 23.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Honors: 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 2013 Scoring Champion
Carmelo Anthony may have had a rough patch as his career progressed, but make no mistake he is a scoring superstar of the highest order. With Denver, Melo literally could not be touched and he was a dominant force that we haven’t seen since Elgin Baylor at the SF position. Even as he matured he has always been a guy who can drop 20 in his sleep. Melo is a top-15 SF ever because very few can score like him.
13. James Worthy
Players Stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Honors: 1988 Finals MVP, 7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer
James Worthy always had his best games when the pressure was at its highest, and he delivered on both ends of the floor to help his team win. Worthy is mainly remembered for his 1987-1988 title run where he was the best player on the floor for the Lakers. He won a nice 3 NBA rings and will go down in history as a Lakers icon forever.
12. Dominique Wilkins
Players Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 9x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, 1986 Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
Whenever you think of the Atlanta Hawks, you think of Dominique Wilkins. That alone is something very rare in the NBA, where players constantly move around and rarely have an impact on a franchise the way Dominique did. Wilkins was a sensational scorer and athlete who was arguably the most exciting player in the league during his playing time.
11. Paul Arizin
Players Stats: 22.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.3 APG
Honors: 10x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Selection, 2x Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
Arizin makes this list as a pioneer for the sport when he introduced the jump-shot to the league. In fact, he mastered the jump shot and led the league in scoring twice, and made the All-Star team every year he played in the league. Arizin had a great two-way game and is one of the legends in the game who helped make the NBA what it is today.
10. Paul Pierce
Players Stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Honors: 2008 Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Selection
Paul Pierce has a proven track record of remaining loyal to his team, being the primary scorer, and coming through in the clutch. “The Truth” was rewarded for his efforts when he won Finals MVP with a Boston Celtics team that featured Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Pierce finally got over the hump and will go down as a top-10 SF ever.
9. Rick Barry
Players Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Honors: 1975 Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 1966 Rookie of the Year, 1967 Scoring Champion, Hall of Famer
Rick Barry was a Hall of Famer and a pure offensive juggernaut who amassed over 25,000 points scored over his career. He averaged over 30 PPG multiple times and was a very cold competitor who seemed to rub everyone the wrong way. Nobody enjoyed playing against him, and for good reason, because his track record of greatness and achievements makes him a top-10 SF ever.
8. Kawhi Leonard
Players Stats: 18.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Honors: 2x Finals MVP, 4x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection
Kawhi Leonard is the epitome of a dominant two-way player. He can shut down players on the perimeter, and then score the ball in a variety of ways. He was a young player with the Spurs and still managed to win Finals MVP, but his growth as a player has been remarkable. He might capture a third NBA title with the Clippers this season if he keeps his level of play up, in which case he can climb the ranks even more.
7. Scottie Pippen
Players Stats: 16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 7x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, 10x All-Defensive Team Selection
Pippen might be the best sidekick ever, as he was the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman that won 6 NBA titles together. Pippen was the playmaker and defensive specialist for the Chicago Bulls Dynasty and had one of the best motors we have ever seen. Pip doesn’t get enough credit for his great career, but he will be honored here as he stands 7th among all small forwards.
6. Julius Erving
Players Stats: 24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Honors: 1981 MVP, 11x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Famer
Dr. J is one of the greatest dunkers ever, and one of the most popular sports figures ever. Erving was the original highlight reel, who also happened to have a dominant career which included 16 All-Star teams. Every old head raves about Dr. J, so Erving is the sixth-best SF to ever play the game.
5. John Havlicek
Players Stats: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Honors: 19974 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, 8x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Famer
Superstar John Havlicek is an exceptional leader and one of the most dominant players on the NBA court we have ever seen in terms of the amount of winning in the NBA. His scoring ability was truly exceptional, and he is one of the best to ever wear the Boston Celtics uniform. A whopping 8 NBA titles and one Finals MVP places him comfortably at fifth.
4. Elgin Baylor
Players Stats: 27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Honors: 11x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 1959 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Famer
Baylor is one of the best players ever to not have an NBA title, but that doesn’t take away from his greatness. Baylor would be a scoring machine in any era, and his scoring output is truly one of a kind. Thanks to his pure scoring ability and dominance on the boards, Baylor is a top-four SF of all time.
3. Kevin Durant
Players Stats: 27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Honors: 2014 MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Selection, 2008 Rookie of the Year, 4x Scoring Champion
Durant might have two NBA titles thanks to an unbelievable superteam with the Golden State Warriors, but no player at this position has the scoring ability of KD. He can pull up from 30 feet, attack the basket thanks to his killer handles, and has developed into a lock-down defensive player. At nearly 7-feet tall, KD is arguably the most unstoppable small forward in NBA history. Easily one of the best 25 players ever, KD is the third greatest SF ever.
2. Larry Bird
Players Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1980 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Famer
Bird is easily a top-2 SF ever because no one came close to his competitiveness at this position. Bird was an ultra competitor, a very clutch performer, and an overall skilled player who had no real weakness. As one of the icons in NBA history, Bird barely misses out on first place thanks to a man from Akron, Ohio.
1. LeBron James
Players Stats: 27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 4x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 16x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2004 Rookie of the Year, 1x Scoring Champion
LeBron is the best small forward ever, and he manages to pass Bird thanks to his longevity and his crucial third NBA championship ring he won when he beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. James is always a threat to make the NBA Finals, carrying teams on his back and consistently being one of the best playmakers we have ever seen. His size and extremely high basketball I.Q. makes him one of the most decorated players in NBA history.