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15 greatest small forwards in NBA history

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Small forward has become the NBA’s money position. A 6’8″ wing player that can switch onto any player, shoot threes, and attack the rim is a front office’s wet dream. Teams like the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks often roll out lineups that are almost all these types of players. It’s no surprise some of the best small forwards in NBA history are playing today. But who are the greatest small forwards of all time?

Greatest small forwards of all time

We have ranked the 15 greatest players at the position ever.

15) Carmelo Anthony

If we were listing the greatest scoring SFs in NBA history, Carmelo Anthony would rank much hire.

Melo had an inside/outside game that was to die for. Whether he was backing the defender down or taking opponents off the dribble, Anthony was gonna get his. Carmelo’s touch around the rim remains the envy of many, and he was one of the most picturesque scorers of all time.

14) Jimmy Butler

I know his raw stats don’t stack up to many of the other greats — but if you start a team with Jimmy Butler, he is getting you to the playoffs. That can’t be said about all the greatest small forwards of all time.


Butler dragged a raw Minnesota Timberwolves team to the playoffs in 2018. He led an underdog Miami Heat squad to the NBA Finals two years later. If Jimmy G. Buckets is on your team, you’ll be competitive even if the rest of the roster says otherwise. That doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet.

13) James Worthy

Big Game James — is there a more prestigious nickname than the one bestowed on James Worthy?

Worthy’s reputation was well earned. When the playoffs came around, Worthy got better cause that’s what greats do.

He was the small forward for three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 80s titles and even captured a Finals MVP. None of his regular season stats jump off the page, but they almost always went up in the playoffs.

12) Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce never reached the heights of contemporaries Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — but he went toe-to-toe with both of them.


Pierce was another great shooter in a long line of great Boston Celtic shooters. That alone would make him one of the best small forwards in NBA history. The Truth’s wicked cold jumper and flair for the moment are just icing on the cake.

11) Paul George

If LeBron James is your top-of-the-line, luxury brand small forward, the greatest model ever made — Paul George is a step or two down from that. It’s seriously like someone took LeBron and turned most of the sliders down. Passing vision and creativity were turned way down (although still above average), and three-point shooting was turned up slightly.

PG-13 has even gone up against King James four times in the playoffs and held his own. More than just held his own, he looked amazing, but he was going against one of the best to ever do it, so he fell short.

We’d view Paul George more favorably if he weren’t in the shadow of LeBron and Kawhi Leonard, but I believe his swiss army knife versatility and Hall of Fame-level defense make him one of the best SFs ever.

10) Dominique Wilkins

‘Nique racked up dunks in bunches throughout the 80s and 90s. The Human Highlight Film posterized everybody.

He wasn’t just a flashy dunker either — Dominique Wilkins also had a sick turnaround jumper to fall back on when defenses packed the paint. While he didn’t win a title, Wilkins still brought out the best in Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. There’s no shame in going out on your shield against those legends.

To frame his ridiculous scoring prowess, Dominique Wilkins had ten(!) consecutive seasons scoring 25+ points. Truly one of the best SFs ever.

9) John Havlicek

Being the Boston Celtics’ all-time leading scorer and an eight-time NBA champion for the NBA’s greatest dynasty will get you on a lot of lists. The greatest small forwards of all time is one of them. Hondo was the first great sixth man, paving the way for players like Manu Ginobili down the road.

He was the Celtics’ x-factor, constantly stressing opponents on both ends of the floor with his endless motor and clutch play. Havlicek is also the star of the most famous radio call in NBA history.

8) Elgin Baylor

When Elgin Baylor retired, he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds for his career. Keeping that level of productivity throughout an entire career is insane. Unfortunately for Baylor, his time in the league was spent in the shadow of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

He doesn’t get mentioned as one of the great NBA pioneers cause he always played second fiddle to those guys and never got the accolades or championships.

He was the prototype for the small forwards of today. Baylor could shoot, attack the basket, pass, and gobble up rebounds. The league’s first swiss army knife.

7) Rick Barry

If you’re unfamiliar with Rick Barry, his career requires further reading. On a list of great scorers, Barry has a strong argument for the best out of all of them. He’s one of the greatest free throw shooters of all time and did it shooting granny style.

His hair was a cross between Steve Nash and Hulk Hogan. Rick Barry averaged over 30 points per game four separate times and scored 40+ points in 16(!) different playoff games. Three of those times, he went over 50. A certified sniper.

He’s also a world champion and legendary asshole. The season after bringing an NBA title home for the Golden State Warriors, he quit on his team in game seven of the Western Conference Finals because he felt they didn’t join him in a fight soon enough. He’s one of the greatest small forwards of all time and one of the best players of the 70s, yet is rarely talked about cause nobody liked him. Rick Barry, ladies, and gentlemen.

6) Scottie Pippen

If Michael Jordan says you’re the best teammate ever, you already have a strong case for one of the best SFs of all time. But, in case you’d like a little more on someone’s resume, he’s fifth all-time in playoff defensive win shares, a six-time NBA champion, seventh in all-time regular season steals, and second in all-time playoff steals.

Scottie Pippen was a 6’8″ do-everything octopus. When you watch him on defense, it feels like he takes up half the court as he suffocates his opponents’ offense.

On offense, he was an excellent slasher, cutter, and shooter. Always in the right spot, ready to make the smart play. Like MJ says, the perfect teammate. You couldn’t create a more versatile player in a lab.

5) Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard’s counting stats will fall behind most guys on this list when it’s all said and done. Injuries have robbed him of posting prolific numbers. That doesn’t matter cause when he is healthy, and on the court, Leonard is one of the best small forwards in NBA history. You could make a strong argument he’s the greatest two-way wing of all time when at his peak.

Not only can Leonard erase his opponent’s best player, but he’s also who you trust to make the game-winning shot. His mid-range game is reminiscent of Jordan, even contested shots look easy. Kawhi’s playoff qualifications are exquisite — nobody becomes a two-time NBA Finals MVP by accident.

4) Kevin Durant

He won’t go down as many people’s favorite player, but Kevin Durant‘s scoring prowess can’t be denied. The seven-foot sniper can shoot it from anywhere. He’s impossible to defend.

Whether KD has his back to the basket in the paint or is stretched out beyond the three-point line, he’s money. If your team is playing against Durant, he feels like a cheat code. There’s no defense for someone with his height, range, and touch — you pray everybody else misses their shots.

Like everybody else in the top five, having Durant on your team guarantees you’re in title contention. We may never understand his bizarre off-court Twitter persona, but don’t let that overshadow his on-court wizardry. When it’s all said and done, he may climb even higher on the greatest small forwards of all time list.

3) Julius Erving

Dr. J made basketball cool. He pioneered the dunk contest and turned a game into art. It wasn’t enough just to put the ball in the basket for Julius Erving — he suspended himself in the air and performed acrobatics before coming back down to earth. The high-flying aerialist is one of a few players who can truly say they changed the game.

Not to say he was just a performer, the Doctor was also a winner. He was a two-time ABA champion and won the 1983 NBA championship with the Philadelphia 76ers. Erving didn’t just dunk either, his bag of tricks was legendary. Filled with an array of jumpers and equipped with a delicate touch, nobody wanted to be stuck on an island with Dr. J.

2) Larry Bird

Armed with a deadly shot, insane passing vision, and the gift of gab, Larry Bird was a legend from the moment he stepped on the court. The three-time MVP and champion helped save the NBA along with Magic Johnson in the 80s. Whether he was restoring Celtics glory, putting up 40 with his left hand, fighting Julius Erving, or going to war with the Lakers, the Legend’s career was made up of big-time moments.

The Hick from French Lick wouldn’t just shoot you out of the gym while running his mouth, either. He’s one of the greatest passers of all time and would elevate his teammates by getting them the ball in the perfect spot. When the moment came, it was never too big for Larry Bird, cementing him as one of the greatest small forwards of all time.

1) LeBron James

If you want a glimpse into how picky and dismissive we are as a society, think of this — LeBron James has won four NBA titles, four Finals MVPs, is a four-time league MVP, went to eight(!) consecutive NBA Finals (ten total), and some people still look at his career as a disappointment.

The man was a basketball prodigy who made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school, lived up to that reputation, and became the greatest small forward ever.

But all the talking heads still try to discredit his career and call him overrated. Just being famous as a teenager is enough to ruin most people’s chances of success.

LeBron overcame that, accomplished almost everything you can achieve as an athlete, and became the second greatest basketball player of all time.

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