In basketball, a player who lines up in the position of a small forward is one who is most likely the main scorer of the team. The player is also one who is versatile enough to be able to play in any other position. While body characteristics could differ, a small forward typically stands at a height between 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) and 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m). With this, they are able to have an impact on the offense as much as desired. NBA boasts of a long list of fine basketballers, among them are the fellas regarded as the greatest small forwards of all time. Let’s see the things they accomplished that earned them the status, come with us…
Greatest Small Forwards of All Time
1. Dominique Wilkins
Teams: Atlanta Hawks (1982-1994), Los Angeles Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-1995), San Antonio Spurs (1996-1997), and Orlando Magic (1998-1999)
During his prime, Dominique Wilkins could go toe-to-toe with anybody he came across, be it Larry Bird or the great Michael Jordan. The 6 feet 8 inches tall player, who was nicknamed The Human Highlight Film for the explosive dunks that made him arguably one of the best dunkers in NBA history, won two NBA Slam Dunk contests and averaged 24.8 points per game in his 15-year-long NBA career.
Wilkins was born in Paris, France while his father, who was in the United States Air Force, was stationed there. He played college basketball at the University of Georgia before he was selected 3rd overall by the Utah Jazz in the 1982 NBA Draft. He made 9 NBA All-Star appearances and garnered 1 All-NBA First Team selection in 1986, the same year he was NBA scoring champion.
2. John Havlicek
Team: Boston Celtics (1962-1978)
While many NBA enthusiasts would likely first remember people like Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and Bob Cousy as the most prolific members of the Boston Celtic team that dominated the NBA in the 60s and 70s, John Havlicek was also a crucial member of the side. He contributed consistently to hold career records in games played and points scored for a Celtic player.
The Martins Ferry, Ohio native attended and played college basketball for Ohio State University where he won the 1960 NCAA title. Two years later, he was selected 7th overall in the first round of the 1962 NBA Draft by the Celtics. He went on to win 8 NBA Championships with the team as he made 13 NBA All-Star appearances and garnered 4 All-NBA First Team nods and 5 NBA All-Defensive First Team nods.
3. Rick Barry
Teams: San Francisco/Golden State Warriors (1965-1967, 1972-1978) and Houston Rockets (1978-1980)
Rick Barry was a dominant and unique all-around player who made his mark as one of the most skilled perimeter players in the NBA. Known for his unorthodox free throw shooting technique, Barry was ranked first in the history of the NBA in free throw percentage at the time of his retirement. He is also the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA in scoring for an individual season.
The Elizabeth, New Jersey native played college basketball for the University of Miami before he was drafted by the San Francisco Warriors with the 2nd overall pick in the 1965 NBA Draft. He became an NBA champion in 1975 after been named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1966. The 8-time NBA All-Star further led the league in scoring in 1967 and in steals in 1975.
4. James Worthy
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1994)
James Worthy was an efficient and smooth player who had the speed to beat his opponents down the floor and could also hit a deadly jump shot or pull off a quick move in the low post to make a play. His efficiency and ability to perform when the stakes were high earned him the nickname Big Game James.
The 3-time NBA Champion, who made 7 NBA All-Star appearances, played college basketball at the University of North Carolina. He led his school to the NCAA championship in 1982 before entering the NBA as the first overall pick in that year’s draft. He went on to play his entire career with the Lakers before retiring due to a knee injury in November 1994.
5. Scottie Pippen
Teams: Chicago Bulls (1987-1998, 2003-2004), Houston Rockets (1998-1999), and Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)
Without a doubt, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls will not have been able to win as much as they did in the 90s if not for the outstanding contribution and unselfishness of Scottie Pippen. The multidimensional player has been described as a smothering defender with big scoring and playmaking ability, attributes that helped him achieve huge success and earn him a place on the greatest small forwards of all-time list.
Scottie Pippen joined the Bulls via the 1987 NBA Draft where he was selected by the Seattle Supersonics who then traded him to Chicago Bulls. The 5th overall pick had before that spent four years at the University of Central Arkansas. He went on to win 6 NBA Championships, make 7 NBA All-Star appearances, and garner 3 All-NBA First Team selections as well as 8 NBA All-Defensive First Team nods.
6. Elgin Baylor
Teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1958-1972)
Despite been an A-list talent, Elgin Baylor had an undervalued career because he played in the same era as Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain. Because of this, he was unable to win an MVP title or a championship that his talent certainly deserved. Regardless, he is still considered as not just one of the greatest small forwards in the history of the NBA, but one of the game’s all-time greatest players.
Baylor was the 1st overall pick in the 1958 NBA Draft. Following his first season, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year before going ahead to make 11 NBA All-Star appearances. He also earned 10 All-NBA First Team selections.
7. Kevin Durant
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (2007-2016), Golden State Warriors (2016-present)
Widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation, Kevin Durant is an accomplished basketball player with unlimited shooting range and scoring ability. His efficiency helped him become a four-time NBA scoring champion as well as one of only seven members of the distinguished 50-40-90 club.
Durant played college basketball at the University of Texas where he became the first freshman to be named the Naismith College Player of the Year. He was subsequently selected 2nd overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007 NBA Draft before being named the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year. Kevin has so far won 2 NBA Championships, made 10 NBA All-Star appearances, and earned 6 All-NBA First Team selections.
8. Julius Erving
Teams: Virginia Squires (1971-1973), New York Nets (1973-1976), and Philadelphia 76ers (1976-1987)
Julius Erving, or Dr. J as he was famously called due to his ability to play above the rim and throw the ball down heavy, is the father of modern-day NBA. He earned that unofficial title due to the role he played in bringing dunking into the mainstream. He performed stunts that were never before seen on a basketball court, one of which is the slam dunk, something that has become a basic skill set in the game today.
While Erving was something of a showman, the 6 feet 7 inches tall small forward enjoyed huge success. The New York native won 2 ABA Championships and 1 NBA title following the merging of the two associations. He was named ABA MVP on three occasions, and once by the NBA. He further made 11 NBA All-Star appearances during his illustrious career.
9. Larry Bird
Team: Boston Celtics (1979-1992)
Larry Bird is another player who proved to be undoubtedly not just one of the greatest small forwards, but one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. The Indiana native was one of those players who could do everything; pass, shoot, rebound, and lead the fast break. He had the ability to read and anticipate what teammates and opponents alike were going to do before they did it, something that put him one step ahead of others and made him almost unstoppable.
Bird, who is a part of the 50-40-90 club, played college basketball at Indiana State University before heading to the NBA via the 1978 NBA Draft as the 6th overall pick. His talents helped the Celtics win 3 NBA Championships as he was also named MVP on three occasions. He further made 12 NBA All-Star appearances and garnered 9 All-NBA First Team selections, among other achievements, before retiring to become a coach.
10. LeBron James
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-2010, 2014-2018), Miami Heat (2010-2014), Los Angeles Lakers (2018-present)
Like many people who have good knowledge of the game of basketball would agree, Lebron James has no weakness and is the ultimate combination of size, speed, and strength. He plays with the strength of a power forward and the ballhandling abilities of a point guard, while still being able to drop nearly 30 points per game. Due to all he has achieved so far, James is not just regarded as one of the greatest small forwards ever, but possibly the greatest player to ever bounce a ball.
The 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) tall, 280 pounds (127 kg) heavy Akron, Ohio-native played high school basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He was named Ohio Mr. Basketball three times and Mr. Basketball USA twice, before skipping college to go straight to the NBA as the number 1 draft pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He has been named NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA Most Valuable Player on four occasions, and has garnered 12 All-NBA First Team selections. Additionally, he has managed 15 NBA All-Star appearances among other achievements.