Top 10 Small Forwards Of All Time – Who Is The Best SF in NBA?

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Last Updated: May 25, 2024


NBA is one of the top professional sports leagues in the world, and over the years it has been home to some amazing athletes.

However, one position has been dominating the league for the last two decades, and that is the small forward.

It seems, that no era before has had so many great basketball players in the small forward position, but how true is this and what are the greatest small forwards of all time?

In this article, we bring you the top 10 small forwards of all time in the NBA.

10. Paul Pierce

  • Career averages: 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists
  • NBA Titles: 1 (2008)

Some will argue with this choice, but we think that the truth deserves his spot on this list as one of the top small forwards in the NBA, and a lot of NBA legends, including Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal agree with us on this.

Pierce spent his whole NBA career as a member of the Celtics and managed to bring the 2008 NBA Championship to Boston.

In the Celtics’ 4:2 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, The Truth averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds. Forwas voted the Most Valuable Player of The Finals.

Among his other individual achievements are 10 NBA All-Star appearances, an All-NBA 2nd Team selection, 3 All-NBA 3rd Team selections, and an NBA All-Rookie First Team.

9. Kawhi Leonard

  • Career averages: 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists
  • NBA Titles: 2 (2014, 2019)

Unfortunately for basketball fans, Kawhi Leonard has been more on the sidelines lately than he has been on the hardwood.

However, in the 11 seasons he spent in the NBA up till now, he has more than made his case for one of the top small forwards of all time.

While Leonard has been a great player his whole career, the 2019 playoff run is what certified his name on this list.

In the 2019 postseason, Kawhi averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 threes, and 1.7 steals per game through 24 NBA games. But what is even more important is that he led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship.

For his effort in the NBA Finals, he earned the title of the Finals MVP. He became only the third player in NBA history to win this award on multiple teams. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lebron James being the other two)

In addition to this, Leonard has been voted the Defensive Player of the Year 2 times, has 5 All-defense team selections, 3 All-NBA selections, 5 NBA All-Star Selections, and 1 NBA All-Star Game MVP.

If there wasn’t for the injuries, there is no doubt that Leonard would be even higher on this list.

8. Adrian Dantley

  • Career averages: 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists
  • NBA Titles: none

Thanks to the many great small forwards in recent history, some of the great NBA SF from the past have fallen into oblivion. Adrian Dantley is one of them.

Dantley was one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history. During his career he had four seasons where he averaged over 30 points per game on a 60% shooting percentage.

Since the NBA started, there were only 16 such seasons. No one else, except Micheal Jordan (4), has more than two.

Some NBA fans and players will even as far as to call Dantley the greatest scorer in NBA history.

He was able to score, no matter who defended against him. But what is even more impressive is that he achieved these averages while scoring only seven three-pointers in his career – a truly incredible achievement..

Dantley was a 6-time NBA All-Star, was named in the All-NBA Second Team 2 times, was NBA rookie of the Year, and a 2-time NBA scoring champion.

7. John Havlicek

  • Career averages: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists
  • NBA Titles: 8 (1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976)

A player with eight NBA titles is likely to be a part of this list of top 10 small forwards, and John Havlicek did just that. Some will argue that it was easy winning titles with only 15 teams in the league and an all-time great in Bill Russel on your team.

However, Havlicek managed to win even in the 70s.

Havlicek had one of the best all-around games in the history of the NBA. During his career, the legendary Celtics forward scored 26,395 points, grabbed 8,007 rebounds, and dished out 6,114 assists.

One of his most memorable NBA seasons came in 1974. He led the Celtics to a 4:3 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals.

During the series, Havlicek averaged 26.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists and was voted the MVP of the Finals.

Some of his other individual achievements include 13 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA selections, and eight All-Defensive selections.

6. Scottie Pippen

  • Career averages: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists
  • NBA Titles: 6 (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)

In sixth place on our list of the greatest small forwards of all time is Scottie Pippen. Pip is best known as the best sidekick in NBA history. However, saying he was just that would be a big understatement.

Michael Jordan’s Robin was a seven-time all-star who showed a part of his potential in the 1993-94 season when his Airness decided to retire.

In that year, the Bulls finished with a 55-27 record and Pippen led the team in every major category and finished third in the MVP race.

Apart from his offensive repertoire, Pip can proudly say that he was one of the, if not the best, perimeter defenders the NBA has ever seen. He deserved at least one DPOY award.

As for the awards that he did win, they include NBA All-Star Game MVP, 3 All-NBA First Teams, 2 All-NBA Second Teams, 8 NBA All-Defensive First Teams, and 2 NBA All-Defensive Second Teams.

5. Elgin Baylor

  • Career averages: 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists
  • NBA Titles: none

The first thing that comes to mind when speaking about Baylor, is that he was well ahead of his time. Elgin averaged 30.2 points and 15.4 rebounds in the first seven seasons of his career!

During the time he spent in the league, he was voted to the All-Star game 11 times and made an All-NBA team 10 times.

What is even more impressive is his 1961-62 campaign when he averaged an unbelievable 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds.

While his career numbers look astonishing, Baylor’s biggest legacy is his impact on how the game of basketball is played. He was one of the first players who started using the jump shot and dunking.

Elgin Baylor was the NBA All-Star Game MVP, the NBA Rookie of the Year, and was named in three NBA anniversary teams (35th, 50th, 75th).

4. Julius Erving

  • Career averages: 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists
  • NBA Titles: 1 (1983)

The fourth best SF of all time is Julis “Dr.J” Erving. Erving’s first season in the NBA was also Baylor’s last. It is safe to say that he proved to be a worthy successor. Just like Baylor, when he joined the league, Erving made an instant impact.

During his first five years in ABA, Dr.J averaged 28.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.0 blocks.

After NBA and had ABA merged, Erving, played for 11 more seasons, in all of which he made the All-Star Team.

During this period he was also voted to seven All-NBA teams and won the award for the Most Valuable Player in the 1980-81 season.

His greatest NBA achievement came in 1983. He and Moses Malone led the Sixers to an NBA championship after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals 4:0.

Two NBA All-Star Game MVPs, five All-NBA First Teams, two All-NBA Second Teams, 3-time ABA Most Valuable Player, 2-time ABA champion, and 2-time ABA Playoffs MVP are just some of the many individual awards Dr.J won during his phenomenal basketball career.

3. Kevin Durant

  • Career averages: 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists
  • NBA Titles: 2 (2017, 2018)

In the third spot on our list of top 10 small forwards is Kevin Durant. The Slim Reaper is one of the best scorers that the league has ever seen.

The former Texas Longhorn can shoot threes, score from the mid-range, post up, and attack the rim, and do it all on a supreme level.

At seven feet he handles and shoots the ball like a guard. At 27 points per game, he has the sixth-highest points average in NBA history.

His unique set of skills has allowed him to have the highest shooting percentage of all the players on the list with 61.3.

Durants two best campaigns came in consecutive seasons in 2017 and 2018 as a member of the Golden State Warriors.

In both of these seasons, he led the Warriors to an NBA championship against the Cleveland Cavaliers and won the MVP of the NBA Finals award.

So far in his career, Durant was named to the NBA All-Star game 12 times, was MVP of the All-Star game twice, has six All-NBA First Team and two All-NBA Second Team selections, and was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008.

2. Larry Bird

  • Career averages: 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists
  • NBA Titles: 3 (1981, 1984, 1986)

Kevin Durant might be one of the all-time greats when his career is over. For now, he is still behind Larry “The Legend” Bird. I mean when your nickname is The Legend, you probably achieved a thing or two in your career.

Jokes aside, Bird is one of the most memorable players in NBA history. During his 13 years in the NBA, he was voted to the All-Star game all but once.

Along with this, he has 10 All-NBA selections and three NBA championships.

In 1984 and 1986, he went all the way with his Boston Celtics.  The ‘84 saw the win the finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in 7 games, and in ‘86 they defeated the Houston Rockets 4:2.

In both series. Bird was named the NBA Finals MVP.

During his career, he has had one NBA All-Star Game MVP, three regular season MVPs, nine selections in the All-NBA First Team, and one pick in the All-NBA Second Team. He was also named theNBA Rookie of the year.

1. LeBron James

  • Career averages: 27.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists
  • NBA Titles: 4 (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)

At number one on our list of the top 10 small forwards in NBA history is LeBron James. James is not only considered the best SF to ever wear a pair of basketball shoes, but many see him as the best player in the history of basketball.

The Chosen one has been dominating the league ever since he played his first NBA game in 2003.

In his 18th season (38 years old), he is averaging 27.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.

There is no doubt that the greatest season in LeBron’s career (and one of the greatest individual seasons in basketball history) came in 2016.

In the 2016 NBA finals, LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the greatest comeback in NBA history. The Cavs were down 3:1 in the finals but managed to win the title, something that no team has ever done before.

During the finals, James averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists and was voted the NBA Finals MVP.

Some of his other individual achievements include four NBA Finals MVPs, four regular season MVPs, 18 All-Star Appearances and three All-Star MVPs, 13 All-NBA First Team selections, and five NBA All-Defensive Team selections.

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