The Small Forward is generally the most versatile player on the court due to their athleticism, strength and offensive nature, with the ability to attack the rim or shoot from downtown, being usually the most complete player on the team.
Over the course of the years, we’ve seen some incredibly talented small forwards spend their careers in the NBA finding a lot of success, leading their respective teams to championships with their offensive contributions and sometimes even being lockdown defenders to round out themselves as outstanding two-way players.
After seeing the incredible performances by LeBron James through the playoffs, and the importance of the absence of Kawhi Leonard for the San Antonio Spurs against the Golden State Warriors, we wanted to honor the best athletes to ever play the Small Forward position, so take a seat and enjoy watching if your favorite player makes our list.
Honorable mention: Alex English and George Gervin
10. James Worthy
The first guy to make our list is definitely worthy of it (get it?) as the 3-time NBA Champion was one of the most important pieces on a team that also featured Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, even winning the 1988 Finals MVP Award.
Worthy was known for his goggles, which he started wearing after a severe eye injury back in 1984. Averaging 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3 assists over 11 years, Worthy made his way into the hearts of the Lakers fans and the NBA Hall of Fame.
9. Adrian Dantley
Dantley was a fierce scorer and competitor and he just wouldn’t back down from anybody, even playing an entire season through a wrist ligament injury, while players nowadays won’t suit up if they have a tummy ache.
The Teacher averaged 24.3 points, 5.7 boards and 3 helpers per contest, winning the 76-77 Rookie of the Year Award as well as making 6 All-Star Game appearances, and he’s considered to be one of the greatest scorers in Utah Jazz history.
8. Dominique Wilkins
Wilkins is one of the most athletic and impressive players the league has ever seen with his ability to take flight and dunk over pretty much everyone, being considered the best player to ever wear an Atlanta Hawk uniform.
Wilkins spent 16 full seasons in the NBA, being chosen for 9 All-Star Games and 7 All-NBA teams, although he was never able to win an NBA Championship. Through his entire career, Wilkins averaged 24.8 points and 6.7 boards on 46.1% from the floor.
7. John Havlicek
Havlicek has to be one of the ultimate two-way players in the history of the game, putting up more than 20 points on a nightly basis while also being one of the peskiest and capable defenders you’d find on an NBA court.
If it wasn’t for Havlicek, the Celtics probably wouldn’t have found it so easy to succeed, as the 8-time NBA Champion was also a 13-time All-Star, an 8-time All-Defensive team member, and he even managed to win the 1973-74 Finals MVP.
6. Rick Barry
The 1965-1966 Rookie of the Year spent a very successful 14 years iin the NBA, in which he made the All-Star team 12 times due to his offensive versatility and explosiveness, leading the Golden State Warriors to the 1975 Championship while being the MVP of those Finals.
Barry averaged 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 45.6% from the field with 2 steals per night, showing great awareness on both ends of the floor with his frenetic pace and determination to score.
5. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen surely wasn’t the first two-way small forward in NBA history, but he was definitely the best in that department before LeBron’s arrival to the league, being one of the greatest lockdown defenders to ever play the game while being able to score in a great variety of ways.
Truth to be told, even if the Bulls were definitely Jordan’s team, they probably wouldn’t have been that successful if it wasn’t for Pippen’s tireless nature and willingness to sacrifice his personal glory to achieve bigger things.
4. Julius Erving
Dr. J was one of the league’s most dominant players during his prime, inspiring youngsters like Michael Jordan that wanted to copy his style and his moves, as the prominent small forward was a regular name in the highlights films due to his leaping ability, strength, and athleticism.
Erving is considered to be one of the greatest players in Philadelphia 76ers history, averaging 24.2 points, 8.5 boards and 4.2 assists per game on over 50% from the court, winning 2 ABA Championships, 1 NBA Ring and 4 MVP Awards.
3. Elgin Baylor
Baylor is definitely one of the unluckiest athletes in NBA history, as the former Laker led the team to 8 different NBA Finals but was never able to succeed against the dominant Boston Celtics, and the Lakers actually won the ring the very same year he decided to retire.
Elgin was a terrific scorer that could put up absurd numbers on a nightly basis, scoring 71 points in one opportunity and holding the all-time record for most point in an NBA Finals game with 61. Over his career, he averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
2. Larry Bird
Before the surge of LeBron James, there was absolutely no doubt that Bird was the best small forward in the history of the game due to his great versatility and unstoppable offensive power, being able to put up points from everywhere on the floor while using both hands.
Despite his lack of athleticism, Larry Legend was actually pretty quick at both ends of the court, and he always had the upper hand against his defender due to his limitless offensive arsenal, being able to stretch the floor and pull up for three, as well as taking the ball all the way to the rim.
1. LeBron James
We’re running out of words to describe LeBron’s greatness, as The King is on the verge of winning his 4th NBA Championship and back to back rings with his Cleveland Cavaliers after playing the best ball of his life despite being in what could be the sunset of his career.
James has become the ultimate playoff player as well as the undisputable best small forward in NBA (and basketball) history due to his unique physique and understanding of the game, his clutchness, his defense, his leadership and his talent, being the greatest athlete in the history of Ohio, a future Hall of Famer and arguably a top 5 player in the history of this beautiful game.