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Top 10 Small Forwards in NBA History

Updated on July 1, 2016

These guys have to be the most versatile players on the court. Today I rank the top 10 small forwards in NBA history.

10. Kevin Durant

He quickly developed into one of the top small forwards playing today.

The second overall pick in 2007, Kevin Durant was an instant factor for the Seattle Supersonics as he averaged 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1 steal per game as he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year. After the team relocated to Oklahoma City and being renamed the Thunder, the team drafted Russell Westbrook and the two formed one of the top guard/forward tandems in the NBA. By the 2010-2011 season, Oklahoma City had developed into one of the top teams in the West as the team began making deep runs in the playoffs. In the 2011-2012 season, Durant led the Thunder to the NBA finals before losing to the Miami Heat in five games. In the 2013-2014 season, Durant averaged 35.9 points per game while scoring 30 or more points in 12 straight games and was named the NBA MVP.

In his nine seasons, Durant has been a seven time All-Star, five time All-NBA first team, four time NBA scoring champion, the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, and the 2014 NBA MVP.

9. Paul Pierce

"The Truth" has been one of the most consistent small forwards over the last decade and a half.

The tenth overall pick by Boston in 1998, Paul Pierce emerged as one of the top players in the Eastern Conference. By 2002, he helped lead the Celtics to the playoffs for the first time in seven years and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the acquisitions of All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Durant prior to the 2007-2008 season, Pierce became a better all around player and helped Boston reach the NBA Finals. In game 1 of the Finals, Pierce was carted off the court late in the game, but returned to spark a victory. Boston went on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games and Pierce was named the Finals MVP. Over the next five seasons, he helped lead Boston to deep runs in the playoffs. After 2013, he was traded to Brooklyn. He then played for Washington and is now currently playing for the Clippers.

In his 18 seasons, Pierce has been a 10 time NBA All-Star, four time NBA team, 2008 NBA champion, and the 2008 Finals MVP.

8. John Havlicek

"Hondo" revolutionized the sixth man role.

The seventh overall pick in 1962, John Havlicek became the guts of the Celtics for over a decade and a half. He became known for his ability to play both forward and guard, his relentlessness and tenacity on both offense and defense, his outstanding skills in all facets of the game, his constant movement, and his tireless ability to run up and down the court without wearing down. Havlicek is probably best remembered for his clutch steal in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference championship which would help lead Boston to their third straight NBA title. A devastating fastbreak finisher, he could score in bunches when his Celtics team would shut out the other team and grab defensive rebounds. At the time of his retirement, he was the NBA career leader in games played and third in points.

In his 16 year career, Havlicek was a 13 time All-Star, 11 time All-NBA teamer, eight time All-NBA defensive team, the Boston Celtics all time leading scorer, eight time NBA champion, and the 1974 NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.

7. Dominique Wilkins

"The Human Highlight Film" was electric as any player in history.

After being drafted third overall by Utah in 1982, Dominique Wilkins was traded to Atlanta months after the draft due to the Jazz's financial troubles and Wilkins reluctance to play in Utah. In 11 of his 15 seasons NBA seasons, he never averaged fewer than 20 points per game and led the league in scoring in the 1985-1986 season. He was instrumental in the Atlanta Hawks' prominence in the 1980s when the team recorded four consecutive 50 win seasons during the decade. One of the greatest dunkers in league history, Wilkins trademarked the windmill dunks that are so common today. He spent time with the NBA teams the Clippers, Celtics, Spurs, and Magic, and also played for two European squads before retiring in 1999.

In his 15 NBA seasons, Wilkins was a nine time All-Star, seven time All-NBA team, two time NBA Dunk Contest champion, the 1986 NBA scoring champion, and the Atlanta Hawks all time leading scorer. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.


6. Rick Barry

"The Miami Greyhound" is the only player in history to lead three levels of basketball on scoring in an individual season.

The second overall pick in 1965, Rick Barry helped the Warriors improve from 17 to 35 wins as a rookie. By his second year, he led the league in scoring and forced one of the greatest teams in history in the 1966-1967 76ers to a six game series in the NBA Finals. Known for his underhand foul shots, he retired with the best free throw percentage in league history. Upset that he was not paid incentive money that he believed due to him by the Warriors ownership, Barry jumped ship to the ABA in 1968 who offered him a lucrative contract. After spending four years in the ABA, Barry rejoined the Warriors in 1972. By that point in his career, his knees began to break down and he became more of a perimeter shooter and passer. In 1975, he helped the Warriors sweep the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. He spent his final two seasons in Houston before retiring in 1980.

In his 15 seasons in basketball, he was an eight time NBA All-Star, four time ABA All-Star, six time All-NBA team, four time All-ABA team, the 1966 NBA Rookie of the Year, the 1967 NBA scoring champion, the 1975 NBA steals leader, 1969 ABA champion, 1975 NBA champion, and the 1975 NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.

5. Scottie Pippen

"Pip" helped form the Bulls into a contender.

After being selected fifth overall in 1987 by Seattle, Scottie Pippin was quickly traded to Chicago. Mentored by Michael Jordan, the two worked after practices to refine Pippen's skills and developed additional ones to become one of basketball's most versatile players. As a the primary defensive stopper and versatile scoring threat in Phil Jackson's triangle offense, he helped the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships between 1991-1993. After Jordan surprisingly retired before the start of the 1993-1994 season, Pippen lead the Bulls in scoring, assists, and blocks, and was second in the NBA in steals per game. With the return of Jordan and the addition of Dennis Rodman in 1996, the Bulls posted the best regular-season record in NBA history at the time at 72-10 and marked the way for Chicago's second three peat of the decade. He spent his final years in Houston, Portland, before retiring with the Bulls in 2004.

In his 17 seasons, Pippen was a seven time All-Star, eight time All-NBA team, 10 time All-NBA defensive team, the 1994 All-Star Game MVP, the 1995 NBA steals leader, and six time NBA champion. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

4. Julius Erving

"Dr. J" helped popularize a modern style of playing above the rim.

After spending five seasons in the ABA with the Squires and Nets, Julius Erving's contract was bought out by Philadelphia in 1976. Despite a smaller role that focused just on scoring, Erving stayed unselfish and became the leader of his new club and led them to an exciting 50 win season. In the following years, he coped with a team that was not yet playing at his level after the Sixers were eliminated twice in the Eastern Conference Finals. Finally in 1982, Philadelphia acquired center Moses Malone and the team was able to coast through much of the 1982-1983 season to win the NBA championship. He maintained his all-star caliber of play into his twilight years and retired in 1987.

In his 17 seasons of basketball, Erving was an 11 time NBA All-Star, five time ABA All-Star, seven time All-NBA team, five time All-ABA team, three time ABA MVP, two time ABA champion, two time ABA playoffs MVP, the 1981 NBA MVP, and a 1983 NBA champion. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

3. Elgin Baylor

"The Rabbit" is one of the greatest players never to win a championship.

The first overall pick in 1958 by the Lakers, Elgin Baylor helped save the struggling organization. A gifted shooter, strong rebounder, and an accomplished passer, he became renowned for his acrobatic maneuvers on the court and regularly dazzled Lakers fans with his trademark hanging jump shots. As a rookie in 1958–59, Baylor finished fourth in the league in scoring, third in rebounding, and eighth in assists while leading the last place Lakers to an NBA Finals appearance. From 1960 to 1964, he averaged over 34 points per game and repeatedly broke his own NBA record for points in a game. Baylor retired nine games into the 1971–72 season because of his nagging knee problems. The timing of his retirement could not have been worse as this caused him to coincidentally miss the Lakers NBA championship that season.

In his 13 seasons with the Lakers, he was an 11 time All-Star, 10 time All-NBA team, the 1959 NBA All-Star Game MVP, and the 1959 NBA Rookie of the Year. He was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1977.

2. Larry Bird

"The Hick from French Lick" immediately made Boston into a contender.

After being selected sixth overall in 1978 by Boston, Larry Bird decided to not sign with the Celtics right away and instead returned to play his final year at Indiana State. When he did join Boston, he instantly transformed the Celtics into a championship contender, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in his rookie year. In 1980, Boston selected power forward Kevin McHale in the draft and acquired center Robert Parrish from the Warriors to form a dominant trio that lasted over a decade. A versatile wing man who played the small forward and power forward positions, Bird's sharp shooting gave him a reputation for stepping up his performance in critical situations, and is credited with a long list of dominating games, buzzer beaters and clutch defensive plays. His multidimensional game made him a consistent triple-double threat.

Bird retired after 1992 as a 12 time All-Star, 10 All-NBA team, three time NBA All-Defensive team, three time NBA 3-point shootout champion, two time 50-40-90 club member, three time NBA MVP, three time NBA champion, and two time NBA Finals MVP. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.

1. LeBron James

"The King" is widely considered the best all around player in the NBA today.

The first overall pick by Cleveland in 2003, LeBron James made an instant impact on the Cavaliers. With career averages of 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, he is considered one of the most athletic and versatile players in the NBA. Being able to play all five positions, James was already formidable offensive threat and has increasingly improved as a defender as time's gone on. By his fifth season, he had already surpassed Brad Daugherty as the Cavalier's all time leading scorer and is the youngest player to score 25,000 career points. In 2007, he led Cleveland to their first NBA Finals appearance, but they were swept by San Antonio. In 2010, he left Cleveland in free agency for the Miami Heat. In his four years with the Heat, he led Miami to the NBA Finals each year with two championship in 2012 and 2013. Following his final season with the Heat, James opted out of his contract and re-joined the Cavaliers. Behind his leadership, Cleveland advanced to the Finals before losing to the Warriors in six games. Finally in 2016, James was able to lift the Cavaliers out of a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to five Cleveland its first professional sports champion in 52 years.

In his 14 seasons, James has been a 13 time All-Star, 12 time All-NBA team, six time NBA All-Defensive team, the Cavalier's all time leading scorer, the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year, the 2008, NBA scoring leader, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA champion, and three time NBA Finals MVP.

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