The 20 Best Small Forwards of All Time

Best Small Forwards of All Time: The small forward position in basketball is usually held by really good and versatile players. These players have to do a bit of everything for their team, like shooting, getting rebounds, playing defense, and passing the ball. A good small forward is like a player who can do many things well, but a great small forward is someone excellent at every aspect of the game.


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Who is the Best Small Forwards of All Time?
Best Small Forwards of all time

Best Small Forwards of All Time

Here’s a list of the top 20 players who have played this position in the history of the NBA.

1. LeBron James

  • NBA Rank: 1 in scoring, 4 in assists, 9 in steals, 32 in rebounds, 90 in blocks

LeBron James is considered the best small forward in basketball history. He’s widely regarded as the top player of the 21st century. His speed, passing abilities, and strong physique make him a highly versatile player. LeBron has been named MVP of the finals three times, showcasing his ability to shine in crucial moments. His impressive statistics for points, assists, rebounds, and steals highlight his overall excellence.

NBA All-time Point Scorers
Image Source: Instagram

Starting his career in Cleveland, LeBron spent seven seasons there without winning an NBA championship. However, his performances were outstanding, earning him two MVP titles for the season. He later joined the Miami Heat, where he finally secured his first two championship titles.

LeBron James continued to excel, being voted the best player of the season twice more, bringing his total to four. Upon returning to Cleveland, he achieved victory with his favorite team, becoming an NBA champion for the third time. According to Wikipedia, LeBron James is considered the best small forward in basketball history.

Top Awards:

  • Four NBA titles
  • four Finals MVPs
  • four MVPs
  • 13 All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 19 All-Stars
  • five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

2. Larry Bird

  • NBA Rank: 36 in scoring, 39 in steals, 48 in assists, 56 in rebounds, 161 in blocks

Larry Bird is considered the second-best small forward in basketball history. Staying with the Boston Celtics, Bird is a legendary figure for the franchise. Despite not having exceptional physical abilities, Bird stands out with his excellent game vision and an exceptional sense of positioning on the court.

Image Source: NBA

His accurate shooting, high-quality passing, and strong commitment to the team make him a well-rounded and complete player. The rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, representing the broader Celtics-Lakers competition, played a significant role in renewing American interest in the NBA in the early 1980s.

Remaining loyal to Boston throughout his 13-season professional career, Bird secured three NBA championship titles with the Celtics, accompanied by numerous individual awards. Notably, he earned three MVP titles over three consecutive seasons, including two years where he was also named MVP of the finals. Bird was also a key member of the U.S. “Dream Team,” which won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.

Top Awards:

  • Three NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs
  • three MVPs
  • nine All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 12 All-Stars

3. Kevin Durant

  • NBA Rank: 13 in scoring, 80 in blocks, 100 in assists, 116 in rebounds, 151 in steals

Kevin Durant is considered the third-best small forward in basketball history and is widely recognized as one of the best basketball players overall. Standing out for his remarkable height in the wing position, Durant is not only tall but also an excellent dribbler and passer. His long arms make it nearly impossible for opponents to block his mid-range and three-point shots.

NBA All-time Point Scorers
Image Source: Instagram

Durant’s exceptional shooting accuracy and fierce competitive mindset have elevated him to the status of one of the most renowned basketball players today.

Durant gained recognition on the international stage by winning the 2010 World Championships with the United States team, where he was also voted the best player of the competition. In the NBA, he spent several seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, earning the title of the league’s best player during that time. However, it was with the Golden State Warriors that Durant secured two NBA championship titles.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs
  • one MVP
  • six All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 13 All-Stars

4. Scottie Pippen

  • NBA Rank: 7 in steals, 35 in assists, 65 in scoring, 91 in rebounds, 110 in blocks

Scottie Pippen is regarded as the fourth-best small forward in basketball history, often recognized as one of the greatest sidekicks in the sport. Playing alongside Michael Jordan, Pippen was like Batman’s Robin, helping the duo secure six championship rings and dominate the NBA in the 1990s. Despite not receiving as much individual praise as Jordan, Pippen was an outstanding player in his own right.

Image Source: NBA

Pippen was a seven-time All-Star and was widely regarded as one of the most well-rounded players in the league. Beyond his scoring and passing abilities, he was a reliable defender.

Pippen’s ten nominations to the All-Defensive Team rank as the sixth-most in history, and he consistently guarded the opposing team’s best player. In recognition of his contributions, Pippen was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Top Awards:

  • Six NBA titles
  • seven All-NBA selections
  • seven All-Stars
  • eight All-Defensive Teams

5. Julius Erving

  • NBA Rank: 50 in steals, 51 in blocks, 75 in scoring, 196 in assists, 221 in rebounds

Julius Erving, also known as “Dr. J,” is recognized as the fifth-best small forward of all time. He was one of the most athletic and spectacular players of his generation. Erving had an interesting journey, starting his career in the ABA (American Basketball Association), where he played for five years before transitioning to the NBA and completing his career there.

Image Source: NBA

In the ABA, Erving achieved significant success, being named league MVP three times and winning two championship rings. His NBA career was equally impressive, winning the MVP in 1981 and earning seven All-NBA Team selections.

Erving secured an NBA championship in 1983. For his contributions to the sport, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • one MVP
  • five All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 11 All-Stars

6. Elgin Baylor

  • NBA Rank: 27 in rebounds, 33 in scoring, 156 in assists

Elgin Baylor is ranked as the sixth-best small forward of all time. Despite Kevin Durant’s impressive career, Baylor holds a notable record for scoring more points per game throughout his career.

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Baylor concluded his playing days with an average of 27.4 points per game, showcasing his scoring prowess. Additionally, he was an outstanding rebounder, securing 11,463 rebounds, the highest all-time for a small forward.

Baylor was renowned for putting up remarkable numbers in his prime and earned 11 All-Star selections during his career. However, he also faced the unfortunate distinction of making the most Finals appearances without winning a championship, with a total of seven. In recognition of his contributions to the game, Baylor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977.

Top Awards:

  • 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 11 All-Stars

7. Paul Pierce

  • NBA Rank: 17 in scoring, 22 in steals, 79 in assists, 89 in rebounds, 169 in blocks

Paul Pierce, also known as “The Truth,” is recognized as the seventh-best small forward of all time. He played in the NBA from 1998 to 2017, with the majority of his career spent with the Boston Celtics.

NBA All-time Point Scorers
Image Source: Instagram

Pierce earned NBA All-Star honors ten times throughout his career and achieved a significant milestone by winning an NBA championship with the Celtics in 2008.

He is widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of the Boston Celtics, leaving a lasting impact on the franchise.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • one Finals MVP
  • four All-NBA selections
  • 10 All-Stars

8. John Havlicek

  • NBA Rank: 18 in scoring, 37 in assists, 76 in rebounds

John Havlicek, the eighth-best small forward of all time, played for the Boston Celtics from 1962 to 1978, winning eight NBA championships and earning 13 All-Star selections. Born in Ohio, he excelled in multiple sports before focusing on basketball at Ohio State.

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Havlicek’s Celtics career included six championships alongside Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, and he became the team’s main player after Russell’s retirement in 1969. He won additional titles in 1974 and 1976, earning NBA Finals MVP in 1974.

Havlicek finished his career as the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, he passed away in 2019 at 79 due to Parkinson’s disease.

Top Awards:

  • Eight NBA titles
  • one Finals MVP
  • 11 All-NBA selections
  • 13 All-Stars
  • five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

9. Kawhi Leonard

  • NBA Rank: 136 in steals

Kawhi Leonard, the ninth-best small forward of all time, has been with the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA since 2019. Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2011 NBA draft, Leonard was quickly traded to the San Antonio Spurs. There, he achieved multiple NBA All-Star selections, won the Defensive Player of the Year award, and was named Finals MVP during the Spurs’ 2014 NBA Championship.

Image Source: NBA.COM

In the summer of 2018, Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, where he played for one season. During that time, he led the Raptors to their first NBA championship in the 2018/19 season. Following this success, Leonard decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

Standing at 2.03 meters tall, Renowned for his excellent defense and scoring ability, he is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world today.

Top Awards:

  • Two NBA titles
  • two Finals MVPs
  • five All-NBA selections
  • five All-Stars
  • two Defensive Player of the Year awards
  • seven All-Defensive selections

10. Rick Barry

  • NBA Rank: 73 in scoring, 120 in assists, 130 in steals

Rick Barry, ranked as the tenth-best small forward of all time, had an illustrious basketball career. Excelling at the University of Miami, he led the NCAA in scoring with an average of 37.4 points per game in the 1964-65 season.

Image Source: NBA

Barry began his NBA journey with the San Francisco Warriors, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1966. Notably, he transitioned to the ABA in 1967. Barry’s achievements include winning the NBA championship in 1975 and being named MVP of the finals. Known for his scoring prowess, he is the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA as the all-time top scorer.

Barry’s career also featured All-Star selections and innovative free throw techniques, leading to his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1987.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • one Finals MVP
  • five All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • eight All-Stars

11. Dominique Wilkins

  • NBA Rank: 15 in scoring, 65 in steals, 106 in rebounds, 203 in blocks

Dominique Wilkins is regarded as the eleventh-best small forward of all time. He had an active NBA career from 1982 to 1999 and is renowned as one of the league’s most prolific scorers. In 1995, his move to the prestigious Greek club Panathinaikos Athens gained international attention.

NBA All-time Point Scorers
Image Source: Instagram

Famous for his repertoire of spectacular dunks, Wilkins was one of the most sensational players of his era. His playing style earned him the nickname “Human Highlight Film.”

In recognition of his contributions to the sport, Wilkins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield in 2006.

Top Awards:

  • Seven All-NBA selections
  • nine All-Stars

12. Billy Cunningham

  • NBA Rank: 140 in rebounding, 199 in scoring

Billy Cunningham is recognized as the twelfth-best small forward of all time. His NBA career spanned from 1965 to 1976, primarily with the Philadelphia 76ers and briefly with the Carolina Cougars in the ABA. Cunningham made an immediate impact, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1966. The following year, he played a crucial role in the Sixers’ 1967 championship, breaking the Boston Celtics’ dominance.

Image Source: NBA

Throughout his career, Cunningham was named to the All-NBA First Team three times (1969–1971) and earned four All-Star selections. Following his playing days, he transitioned into coaching, leading the 76ers from 1977 to 1985. In the 1982/83 season,, he guided the team, featuring Moses Malone and Julius Erving, to their second championship in club history.

Billy Cunningham was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 6, 1986, in recognition of his contributions as both a player and coach.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • three All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • one All-NBA 2nd Team selection
  • four All-Stars

13. James Worthy

  • NBA Rank: 108 in scoring, 161 in steals, 216 in blocks

James Worthy, the thirteenth-best small forward, played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1982 to 1994. Standing at 2.06 meters, he was a key part of the “Showtime Lakers” alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

Image Source: NBA

Worthy won three NBA championships with the Lakers, earning NBA Finals MVP in 1988. A college star, he secured the 1982 NCAA Division I Basketball Championship with the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Worthy, a consistent All-Star, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Since 2015, he has been an assistant coach for player development with the Lakers.

Top Awards:

  • Three NBA titles
  • one Finals MVP
  • one All-NBA 3rd Team
  • seven All-Stars

14. Carmelo Anthony

  • NBA Rank: 9 in scoring, 79 in rebounds, 91 in steals, 176 in assists, 201 in blocks

Carmelo Anthony, the fourteenth-best small forward, most recently played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. Drafted third overall by the Denver Nuggets in 2003, he spent eight years there before joining the New York Knicks in 2011.

NBA All-time Point Scorers
Image Source: Instagram

Throughout his tenure with the Nuggets and Knicks, Anthony earned ten NBA All-Star selections and was named to the All-NBA team six times. In the 2012-13 season, he led the league in points scored and set a new franchise record for the Knicks with 62 points in a game in January 2014.

Additionally, Anthony won three gold medals with the USA national team at the Olympic Games in 2008, 2012, and 2016. In May 2023, he announced his retirement from professional basketball.

Top Awards:

  • Six All-NBA selections
  • 10 All-Stars

15. Alex English

  • NBA Rank: 21 in scoring, 96 in assists, 144 in blocks, 148 in steals, 149 in rebounds

Alex English, the fifteenth-best small forward, played in the NBA from 1976 to 1991 for several teams, notably the Denver Nuggets. A dominant player in the 1980s, he’s one of the top point scorers in NBA history.

Image Source: NBA

English earned eight All-Star selections and was the league’s top scorer in the 1982/83 season. Beyond his playing career, he served in leadership roles with the National Basketball Players Association.

In 1997, English was rightfully inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his outstanding contributions to the game.

Top Awards:

  • Three All-NBA 2nd Team selections
  • eight All-Stars

16. Paul Arizin

  • NBA Rank: 112 in scoring, 173 in rebounds

Paul Arizin, the sixteenth-best small forward, stood at 1.93 meters and played for the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors from 1950 to 1962. Notably, he was selected to the All-NBA First Team in 1952, 1956, and 1957, earning ten NBA All-Star Game nominations. Arizin won the championship with the Warriors in 1956.

Image Source: NBA

Arizin was a pioneer in developing the jump shot, a technique he discovered while playing in smooth-floored dance halls during hobby leagues.

Following his NBA career, Arizin played for the Camden Bullets in the EPBL, winning the title in 1964. In 1978, he was rightfully inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his significant contributions to the game.

Top Awards:

  • One NBA title
  • three All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • 10 All-Stars

17. Bernard King

  • NBA Rank: 52 in scoring

Bernard King, the seventeenth-best small forward, had a prolific career in the NBA from 1977 to 1993. Selected seventh overall by the New York Nets (later New Jersey Nets) in the 1977 NBA draft, King made an immediate impact, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1978.

Best Small Forwards of All Time
Image Source: NBA

Throughout his career, King received four NBA All-Star Game nominations. He was named to the All-NBA First Team twice and earned selections to the All-NBA Second and All-NBA Third Teams. In the 1984/85 season, King showcased his scoring prowess with an impressive average of 32.9 points in 55 games.

In recognition of his contributions to the sport, Bernard King was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on September 8, 2013.

Top Awards:

  • Two All-NBA 1st Team selections
  • four All-Stars

18. Adrian Dantley

  • NBA Rank: 31 in scoring, 234 in rebounding

Adrian Dantley, the eighteenth-best small forward, played in the NBA from 1973 to 1991 for various teams. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008, he showcased scoring prowess but missed out on joining Magic Johnson’s Lakers dynasty.

Image Source: NBA

Known for his effective scoring, he played a significant role with the Utah Jazz before joining the Detroit Pistons, reaching the NBA Finals.

Dantley’s career continued with the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks. Post-retirement, he worked as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets for eight years.

Top Awards:

  • Two All-NBA 2nd Team selections
  • six All-Stars
  • Rookie of the Year
  • Comeback Player of the Year

19. Jimmy Butler

  • NBA Rank: 85 in steals

Jimmy Butler, the nineteenth-best small forward, is currently with the Miami Heat in the NBA. Drafted 30th in 2011 by the Chicago Bulls, he played there until 2017 and joined the Miami Heat in the 2019/20 season. With the Heat, Butler reached the NBA Finals in 2020 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2022.

Best Small Forwards of All Time
Image Source: NBA

Butler, a six-time NBA All-Star, was named the NBA Most Improved Player in 2015. He earned four All-NBA Team selections and five NBA All-Defensive Team honors.

Additionally, Butler won a gold medal with the USA national team at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Top Awards:

  • One Eastern Conference Finals MVP
  • five All-NBA Team selections
  • six All-Stars
  • five All-Defensive 2nd Team selections

20. Paul George

  • NBA Rank: 69 in steals, 107 in scoring

Paul George ranked as the twentieth-best small forward, has been active in the NBA since 2010 and has been with the Los Angeles Clippers since 2019. He began his career with the Indiana Pacers, who drafted him in 2010 and later played two years with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Image Source: NBA

Over his career, George has been an NBA All-Star eight times and earned the title of Most Improved Player in 2013.

Currently with the Los Angeles Clippers, he continues to be a prominent figure in the league.

Top Awards:

  • One All-NBA 1st Team selection
  • five All-NBA 3rd Team selections
  • eight All-Stars
  • two-time All-Defense 1st Team selection
  • two-time All-Defense 2nd Team selection
  • Most Improved Player

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