Welcome back to the “Greatest Ever” series as we continue with the rankings of the game’s greatest small forwards to step on a NBA hardwood.
The players who usually play this position have outstanding skill sets, all-around games, make a big impact out there, sometimes run the offense etc.
In fact, their versatility is a huge asset for their respectable teams. From Paul Arizin, to currently LeBron James, the small forward position has always had legendary players.
Who ranks on top? Without further ado, here are the best small forwards of all time!
Type Of A Player:Scoring Specialist
An undersized, intelligent and effective player who could score pretty well, Adrian Dantley was one of the best small forwards to step on a NBA Hardwood.
Although he lacked height, he made up for it with his smooth shooting, lighting quick first step and athleticism. He was extremely smart and efficient, who caused consistent problems to the defense.
Adrian established himself as one of the greatest post up players. His arsenal of fakes and moves to score is up there with the best of all time.
He was one of the purest scorers ever, who left the game as the ninth all time leading scorer. He led the league twice in scoring, and had a knack to get to the foul line which made him a mismatch.
His efficiency was off the charts. No other non big men was more efficient than him. Dantley shot impressive 54% for his career! This made him one of the greatest offensive forces of any time.
A.D’s peak was remarkable, as he had four straight seasons of at least 30 points in which he all had above 50% from field. His prime was fantastic.
He was also a good all-around player too, who achieved much and rightfully got in the Hall Of Fame!
Honors: All-NBA Second Team (1981, ’84); NBA Rookie of the Year (1977); NBA Comeback Player of the Year (1984); NBA All-Star (1980, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’85, ’86); Olympic gold medalist (1976).
Type Of Player:All-Around
A great player who had a good complete package, who’s now a respected Boston Celtic legend, Paul Pierce is one of the greatest small forwards in the NBA History.
He’s solid shooter who can find the bottom of the net from anywhere, is versatile offensively, has terrific post up game. In other words, he excels on offense.
Paul led the league once in total points, a proof of his ability to score. He’s been also consistent and reliable scorer who has scored a ton of them.
Pierce has been above average in terms of defense, as his specialty is getting steals, a category in which he ranked four times in the top 10.
The Truth has established himself as outstanding shooter in the closing seconds of the game, as he has connected on a bunch of them in his career.
Also, he’s nice all-around player who also is good in passing and rebounding. His stats back him up too.
Pierce averaged 22.1 points, 6.1 boards, 3.8 assists on 44.8% field goal, 36.9% three point and 80.5 free throw percentage. His career resume is respectable too.
Honors: NBA Champion (2008), NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (2008), 9× NBA All-Star (2002–2006, 2008–2011), All-NBA Second Team (2009), 3× All-NBA Third Team (2002–2003, 2008), NBA All-Rookie First Team (1999), NBA Three-Point Shootout champion (2010)
Weight: 225 lbs
Type Of Player:All-Around
A key contributor to the “Showtime” Lakers squad that was overshadowed by his team mates, James Worthy was one of the best small forwards in the NBA History.
He possessed great physical gifts like athleticism, quickness etc. He had the quickest first step in the league for a long time that made him tough to guard.
Also, James’s was one of the best ever in terms of off-ball movement which got him easy chances to finish all the time. He was one of the most elite in terms of running the fast brake.
Worthy excelled in finishing, as he’s one of the greatest finishers to step on a basketball hardwood. He was known for his scoops and one handed dunks.
He ranked five times among the leaders in field goal percentage, with impressive percentages. For example is when he scored 21 points on incredible 62.2% percent from field!
And he was outstanding in the clutch. He won a Finals MVP in ’88 as he averaged 22 points, 8.4 boards, 4.4 assists on 49.1% FG. Oh, and in Game 7, he recorded a triple double with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 dimes!
That led to the nickname “Big Game Worthy” a proof of his excellence in the clutch! His production went up when he got more touches and he’s now a respected legend!
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2003); NBA champion (1985, ’87, ’88); NBA Finals MVP (1988); All-NBA Third Team (1990, ’91); All-Rookie Team (1983); Seven-time NBA All-Star (1986-92); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
Type Of Player:Scoring Specialist
Another of the forgotten and underrated superstars of the 80′s who yet has to be selected in the Hall Of Fame, Bernard King was one of the game’s greatest small forwards ever.
He was a physically gifted player, who possessed nice strength, speed, athleticism etc but also had nice fundamentals and skills. And he took full advantage of it, by dominating very close to the rim.
Bernard was one of the best pure scorers to play the game. He could score in so many ways, as his offensive arsenal was among the most elite. Oh, and he won one scoring crown too.
King was also arguably the most explosive scorer in the NBA History. He could get in rhythm quickly, was capable to score a bunch of points in a hurry.
B was one of the finest post up players ever. He relied on his physique and soft touch to dominate in there. And he did. He also used his turn around shot, which was money almost all the time.
In fact, his offensive excellence was legendary. Bernard also had good all-around game and was solid in other areas. For example, he once grabbed 9.5 boards etc.
Additionally, he was never afraid to bang in the post and in the clutch. In fact, he was a remarkable performer in the closing moments and he excelled in it.
His most memorable performance was in the ’84 playoffs, when he poured in over 42 points in average versus the Pistons and 34.8 for the entire post season!
King was also a valuable player. His peak was up there with the best ever, as he got selected twice in the All-NBA First Team and was up with Larry Bird in terms of MVP voting. Impressive, isn’t it?
No matter how do you look it, he’s a legend and should be in the Hall Of Fame!
Honors: All-NBA First Team (1984, ’85); All-NBA Second Team (1982); All-NBA Third Team (1991); NBA Comeback Player of the Year (1981); All-Rookie team (1978); Four-time All-Star (1982, ’84, ’85, ’91).
Weight: 190 lbs
Type Of Player: All-Around
The game’s star at the small forward position, who was one of the leagues’ pioneers with complete package and terrific offense, Paul Arizin was one of the greatest small forwards ever.
He was the first great all-around player that excelled in the NBA. He excelled in all of the areas of basketball, as he was great defensively and even much better offensively.
No doubt, he’s up there with the most complete players to play the game. He was also, one of the best offensive forces of all time but he’s overlooked by some of his peers though.
Paul was the inventor of the modern jump shot, a weapon on which he relied on to be prolific scorer who won two scoring crowns. He also led all in field goal percentage, a rare feat for a small forward.
Although he lost few years of his career by serving for the Army, he came back strong and better than before. Then, he led his Warriors to a title in ’56, while pouring 27.6 points while making 87.5% at the charity.
His peak was more than respectable. So are his achievements and career accomplishments. Though, he’s underrated as much as any star of the pre 60′s too.
Nonetheless, he’s a basketball legend.
Honors: NBA Champion (1956), 10× NBA All-Star (1951–1952, 1955–1962), 3× All-NBA First Team (1952, 1956, 1957), All-NBA Second Team (1959), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1952), NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, Helms Foundation Player of the Year (1950), Sporting News Player of the Year (1950)
Weight: 200 lbs
Type Of A Player:High Flyer
A remarkable player who was a dominant force on the court and was truly a “Human Highlight Film” out there, Dominique Wilkins was one of the greatest small forwards of any time.
‘Nique was one of the most physically gifted players to play the game, whose athleticism was up there with the best of them. He was an athletic, powerful and quick forward with excellent leaping ability.
It was his physical gifts that helped him to emerge. Dominique was a high volume scorer, who was one of the top in that aspect. He won a scoring crown with 30.3 points too.
He was one of the finest at getting to the basket, to the line and was terrific inside the three point line. He was also consistent enough, as he averaged 26.4 points in his days as an Atlanta Hawk.
Although he build his legacy as a high flying player, who was arguably the most spectacular player to step on a basketball hardwood, Wilkins did more than dunking.
He possessed a great all-around game as he did well in other areas of basketball. His overall consistency for a long period puts him up with the best ever.
Also, Nique was a fantastic clutch performer. He elevated himself in the post season, where his stats go up and put some memorable performances.
A nice example is the 47 point performance versus Bird led Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Not bad, isn’t it? Him being excluded out of the NBA’s top 50 anniversary team, is a crime.
Weight: 190 lbs
Type Of Player: Scoring Specialist
When ever he got to the court, the underrated legend of the Nuggets, Alex English was trouble for the opponents’ defense. He left the game as one of the greatest small forwards of all time.
He was one of the purest shooters to play the game. Alex had a smooth, fully extended jump shot that was nearly unstoppable and was so pure. It made him so efficient.
Also, English was among the top pure scorers to step on a NBA hardwood, with a respectable case for the first spot. He could score in so many ways, was tough to contain with his jumper, efficient and so on.
He’s the only player to score at least 2 000 points in eight consecutive times, and he won one scoring crown too. He left the league as its seventh highest scorer too!
Additionally, he was the most prolific scoring machine in the 80′s, as he poured in 25.9 points on an incredible 51% from field. He was one of the biggest mismatches in the league’s history.
This is why, he was without any doubt, one of the finest offensive forces in the NBA History. Alex was also a good all-around player, as he’s Denver’s leader in offensive rebounds and assists!
His efficiency was off the charts, especially for a guy who was heavily defended. He quietly dominated on the court, but he is forgotten because he wasn’t exciting.
Unlike most, he relied on his technique and finesse to stand out. Overall, he’s up there with the greatest of them all!
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1997); All-NBA Second Team (1982, ’83, ’86); Eight-time NBA All-Star (1982-89); J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (1988).
Weight: 210 lbs
Type Of Player: All-Around
Quick, athletic, long armed small forward blessed with terrific physique, outstanding all-around game and versatility, Scottie Pippen was one of the greatest players of all time.
He was a remarkable defender, who has a respectable case as the best defensive player ever. He excelled in all aspects. Arguably, there wasn’t a better perimeter, versatile and on ball stopper to play the game.
Despite being snubbed in the Defensive Player Of The Year award, he was selected in eight All-Defensive Teams, a feat which speaks of his consistence and longevity as terrific defender.
Scottie was one of the most rounded stars to step on a NBA hardwood. For his career, he recorded 18 triple doubles while displaying his great abilities on both sides of the court.
He showed case his skill set mostly as a ‘point’ forward, a position in he was at his brightest. Pippen’s the reason why the Bulls never needed a true point guard, because he was a one himself.
He was one of the best playmakers in the league’s history. He could run the offense well, set up them nicely, had a nice court vision and is credited for having the top career assist average for any player that played in the triangle system.
All of this that he brought on the court, was important to six Bulls championships, where he was one of the crucial parts of all those runs.
Also, he was a consistently great player throughout his career and was one of the finest for his time. No doubt, he put solid numbers, but his impact and greatness goes above numbers.
He’s a legend.
Honors: Six-time NBA champion (1991-93, 1996-98); Three-time All-NBA First Team (1994-96); All-NBA Second Team (1992, 1997); Eight-time All-Defensive First Team (1992-99); 1994 NBA All-Star MVP; Seven-time All-Star (1990, ’92-97); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996); Two-time Olympic gold medalist (1992, ’96).
Weight: 205 lbs
Type Of A Player: All-Around
Regarded as one of the top small forwards and greatest offensive forces to play the game, Rick Barry is one of the best players to step on a NBA Hardwood.
When it comes to pure scoring, no one was arguably better. He was capable to score from anywhere and in variety of ways. Rick won a scoring crown too, and had numerous high scoring seasons and series too.
Barry was also one of the purest shooters the game has ever seen. He could find the bottom of the bottom of the net from anywhere, hit dozens of shots which allowed him to excel as a perimeter and outside threat.
Also, he was a remarkable passer for his position, who displayed his court vision and passing skills at his position. He was actually the inventor of the point forward position.
He was one of the all time finest at that spot. Additionally, he was one of the most complete players to play in the league who was great in all of the aspects of basketball.
He was solid defensively as well as he managed to lead once in steals. His peak was respectable too. Additionally, he was one of the most notable clutch performers who were outstanding in the playoffs and finals.
Barry poured in 40.8 points on 40% shooting in the ’67 match up against Wilt led Philly, in the Finals. And then, in ’75, he averaged 29.5 points on 44% from field to lead his Warriors to a title
He earned the Finals MVP honors, rightfully. He was consistent good for a long time, as the All-NBA First Teams confirm that and the fact that he elevated himself when it mattered most.
Rick was a tough personality to deal with, but there’s no doubt that in terms of talent, abilities, performance, game, he was up with the greatest ever!
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1987); NBA champion (1975); NBA Finals MVP (1975); All-NBA First Team (1966, ’67, ’74, ’75, ’76); All-NBA Second Team (1973); Rookie of the Year (1966); Eight-time All-Star; All-Star MVP (1967); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
Weight: 240 lbs
Type Of A Player: All-Around
A talented and superb forward who’s perhaps the most unique player to play the game, LeBron James is one of the greatest players in the NBA History.
There wasn’t an arguably more physically gifted player ever than him. Size, speed, strength, power, quickness, explosiveness etc. His physical gifts were second to none.
LeBron is one of the most rounded players of all time. His skill set is remarkable. He excels in all of the areas of basketball, as he’s great on both sides of the court and is a walking triple double machine.
James’ offensive production is up with the best ever. He can score really well with nice efficiency and involves his team mates well. He ranked four times in the two categories during the playoffs.
He’s one of the finest scorers in the league’s history, whose career average is ranked high on the all time lists. He’s nearly unstoppable on the drive, has an improved jumper, post up game etc.
The King is arguably the top non guard playmaker to step on a NBA hardwood. He’s got amazing court vision, makes others around him great and has nice stats.
He’s also one of the top ‘point’ forwards of any time, a position in which he excels. He displays his complete game and versatility pretty well overall.
In terms of dominance, LeBron’s among the most elite as well. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he can still dominate in a course of a game which is a thing not many could do.
Additionally, James has been an outstanding performer in the clutch and a truly dominant force in the post season where he elevates himself above the rest.
He only lacks championships and elevating himself (from a scoring stand, other is fine) in the Finals to get considered as a candidate for the GOAT honor, which is something that he’ll most likely do once when retires.
Honors: 2× NBA Most Valuable Player (2009–2010), NBA Rookie of the Year (2004), 7× NBA All-Star (2005–2011), NBA Scoring Champion (2008), 5× All-NBA First Team (2006, 2008–2011), 2× All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2007), 3× All-Defensive First Team (2009–2011), NBA All-Rookie First Team (2004), 2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2006, 2008), Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2003)
Weight: 203 lbs
Type Of A Player: All-Around
Great all-around player, outstanding clutch performer, underrated leader, consistent. This is how John Havlicek, one of the best small forwards and players ever, can be described well.
He was among the game’s most physically gifted players of all time. In terms of stamina, few had it better and his other physical gifts were nice too.
He was a prolific scorer, great passer, could create for himself and others, yet he was a lock down stopper too who consistently raced up and down the court.
In other words, John had one of the finest skill sets the game has seen. He was terrific offensively and defensively, as he excelled in all of the things out there.
His versatility is displayed by numbers too, as he racked up over 30 triple doubles in his career and the numbers confirm that.In fact, Havlicek’s complete package was his biggest strength.
On offense, he was a prolific scorer and terrific passer, who ranked for numerous seasons among the leaders in both points and assists in his time.
He wasn’t one of the most productive offensive forces ever. He also ranks 12th on the all time list in scoring, and dished out many dimes as well.
Johnny was the inventor of the swingman position, as he spent quite time at both positions. He excelled in both, as he displayed his all around abilities in style.
He was an overlooked stopper, who had a total of 8 All Defensive Selections (including five all-first) despite the award being hand out in the later part of his career.
Additionally, Hondo was one of the finest clutch players ever. He elevated himself in both playoffs and finals. Out of all his notable and legendary performance, this stands out.
It’s unfortunately that John is in the shadows of his team mates. Not many have him in the debate for the top 10, where he truly belongs for his consistent greatness.
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1984); NBA champion (1963, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’68, ’69, ’74, ’76); NBA Finals MVP (1974); All-NBA First Team (1971-74); All-NBA Second Team (1964, ’66, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’75, ’76); All-Defensive First Team (1972-76); All-Defensive Second Team (1969-71); 13-time All-Star; One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
Weight: 210 lbs
Type Of A Player: High Flyer
A remarkable high flying forward who dominated basketball based on his leaping ability, Julius Erving is one of the greatest players of all time.
In terms of physical stand point, he had it all. Quick, athletic, explosive, excellent vertical jump etc. His athleticism was up among the most elite ever, and his explosiveness was second to none.
In fact, Julius has a respectable case as the most physically gifted player of all time. He used this advantages to operate on guys out on the court. This led to two famous nicknames.
There wasn’t arguably a better high flyer than him, a term he truly defined best. He turned dunking into an art form and revolutionized basketball.
He won the first Slam Dunk Contest held in 76 in the ABA and his in-game dunks were amazing. When he went for a dunk, he put many defenders on the poster as he dunked right on or over them.
The Doctor was arguably the game’s top finisher at the basket. His physical gifts and large hands made finishing easy for him, as he could palm the ball like he wanted and score with ease.
Dr J was a scoring machine, who retired as the fourth and sixth highest scorer in both regular and post season in his overall career. He got consistently in high scoring chances and made him so efficient.
Additionally, he was also a well rounded forward who was excellent on the glass, underrated passer, great off-ball stopper etc. His off ball defense was terrific too.
Another word that will be forever tied to his legacy, is the word amazing. In terms of spectacular play, no one was better. Julius was a walking highlight machine.
People payed to see him do something out of the ordinary, cheer about him and went home. He sold out areas regardless where he was playing.
He could be argued even as the top player of all time. He’s a basketball legend!
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1993); NBA champion (1983); NBA MVP (1981); All-NBA First Team (1978, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83); All-NBA Second Team (1977, ’84); 11-time All-Star (1977-87); All-Star MVP (1977, ’83); J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (1983); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).
Weight: 225 lbs
Type Of A Player: All-Around
When it comes about debating about the game’s top small forwards, Elgin Baylor’s name pops at the near top. He was one of the greatest players to step on a NBA Hardwood.
He was the first power player on the perimeter. Quick, strong, athletic, powerful, explosive, high jumping etc. Elgin was without a doubt one of the most physically gifted athletes of all time.
Baylor also possessed one of the finest skill sets the game has ever seen. He excelled in all aspects of the game. In fact, in 1962-63 he became the only one to rank top 5 in at five category.
Offensively, he was among the best ever. A high volume scorer whose offensive arsenal was second to none, he led five times during the post season in scoring.
He had little problems with efficiency, but it’s duo to many reasons. Elgin previously set the Finals highest scoring average record with an impressive 40.6 point effort, with a Finals high of 61 points.
And he was also an underrated passer for his position. His offensive production was excellent too, as he ranked top 10 in both scoring and post. Defensively though, he was average.
His most underrated skill was his rebounding, where he excelled. No other non big man was arguably better on the glass. His numbers and consistency back him up.
Baylor even posted an impressive 19.8 rebound effort in 61-62, the highest for all non big men. Additionally, he had one of the most elite peaks of all time.
The top undersized star the league has ever seen, was the father of the ‘cornerman’ position, in which he excelled like no one else. That’s why he played closer to the basket.
He was a spectacular player, who dazzled crowds with his aerial acts. He was the first one to finish in variety of ways around the rim, and he was actually the first high flyer as well.
It’s a shame his name is lost when debating the greatest player of all time, which is where he clearly belongs.
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1977); All-NBA First Team (1959, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’69); Rookie of the Year (1959); 11-time NBA All-Star; All-Star co-MVP (1959)
Weight: 220 lbs
Type Of A Player: All-Around
An unique athlete who dominated a sport with many more physically gifted athletes based on his skills and intelligent, Larry Bird was arguably the greatest small forward in the NBA History.
He was one of the most complete players of all time. There wasn’t an aspect in which he didn’t excel. Larry was a walking triple double machine. And nobody had a better pure skill set than him.
Bird was the top shooter that the league had ever seen. His range was amazing and could find the bottom of the net with ease from just about anywhere.
Among the other notable abilities, he was an excellent playmaker. He was arguably the finest non guard passer ever. His court vision, creativity were outstanding and his touch passes second to none.
In fact, the Hick From The French Lick was without a doubt one of the best offensive players in the league’s history. He also could score in variety of ways, and wasn’t just a shooter.
Larry Legend had one of the most elite primes of any times, if the the most elite of them all. He was remarkable for such a long time, as the high level of play really shows that.
Additionally, he was arguably the greatest non big man rebounder to play in the NBA. He relied on positioning and his IQ to be a terrific presence on the glass. He’s got some nice numbers that back him up.
Another thing for which he’s most famous it’s clutch. Larry was the greatest clutch player in the NBA History. He always came up huge in the last seconds and had numerous great performances too.
Bird always elevated his game when it mattered most. For example, he basically averaged a triple double in the ’86 Finals to lead his team to a title and rightfully earned the Finals MVP.
He was one of the game’s all time biggest legends, who has a respectable case as the best player of all time.
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1998); NBA champion (1981, ’84, ’86); NBA Finals MVP (1984, ’86); NBA MVP (1984, ’85, ’86); Nine-time All-NBA First Team (1980-88); All-NBA Second Team (1990); All-Defensive Second Team (1982, ’83, ’84); NBA Rookie of the Year (1980); One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996); Olympic gold medalist (1992).