20 greatest small forwards ever: The HoopsHype list

20 greatest small forwards ever: The HoopsHype list

Basketball

20 greatest small forwards ever: The HoopsHype list

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We have taken our HoopsHype 76 list and split it into five positions: point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards and centers.

We continue here with what we consider are the best small forwards who ever played basketball, led off, obviously, by LeBron James. At the bottom of the ranking, several players who came close to making our Top 76 list.

There’s a lot to get to so let’s jump right in.

1
LeBron James

LeBron James, LA Lakers

Top accolades: Four NBA titles, four Finals MVPs, four MVPs, 13 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 18 All-Stars, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

NBA rank: 2nd in scoring, 7th in assists, 10th in steals, 38th in rebounds, 93rd in blocks

LeBron James came into the NBA with unreal expectations and somehow managed to surpass all of them – and then some. James is clutch, he can score at a ridiculous level despite that not being his best attribute, rebounds well and is a fantastic playmaker, his most impressive trait. Few players have ever matched James’ absurd basketball IQ, one that he’ll use to continue to dominate for the next few seasons as his late prime winds down.

2
Larry Bird

Top accolades: Three NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, three MVPs, nine All-NBA 1st Team selections, 12 All-Stars

NBA rank: 36th in scoring, 38th in steals, 44th in assists, 55th in rebounds, 159th in blocks

Larry Bird may not rank super high in the stat department – a byproduct of a shorter career than normal for NBA superstars and being part of a star-studded team – but there’s no questioning his status as an all-time great, as the legendary swingman filled the stat sheet and possessed a terrific all-around game, as a shooter, overall scorer, rebounder and playmaker.

3
Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Top accolades: Two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one MVP, six All-NBA 1st Team selections, 12 All-Stars

NBA rank: 21st in scoring, 94th in blocks, 117th in assists, 136th in rebounds, 168th in steals

Scoring comes so easy for him it’s almost ridiculous, as Kevin Durant is a 7-footer with ball-handling, quickness and a pristine jumper that he can hit from legitimately anywhere on the floor. Durant’s also an impactful defender when he needs to be, moving his feet quickly and blocking shots at pivotal moments. Durant may still move up in the ranking, but will not be in contention for the top spot due to missed time because of injury.

4
Julius Erving

Julius Erving, Philadelphia 76ers

Top accolades: One NBA title, one MVP, five All-NBA 1st Team selections, 11 All-Stars

NBA rank: 49th in steals, 51st in blocks, 74th in scoring, 191st in assists, 215th in rebounds

He was 26 by the time he made his NBA debut after years in the ABA, so Julius Erving would rank far higher in the statistical categories had he spent his whole career in the Association. Erving was the most spectacular player to date at the time thanks to his unreal athleticism and ability to fly down the floor in transition to hammer in dunks… and he was a winner, too. Often considered Jordan before Jordan (just without a jumper), Erving was an All-Star every season he played (ABA or NBA).

5
Elgin Baylor

Top accolades: 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 11 All-Stars

NBA rank: 27th in rebounds, 33rd in scoring, 153rd in assists

With ridiculous scoring and rebounding numbers, especially for a non-big man, Elgin Baylor was one of the first players who would awe fans with impressive athleticism. He never got the championship he deserved, however, and the Celtics largely to blame, as out of his seven Finals losses, six came against Boston. Baylor finished his career with as many All-NBA 1st Teams as Kareem.

6
Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen

Top accolades: Six NBA titles, seven All-NBA selections, seven All-Stars, eight All-Defensive Teams

NBA rank: 7th in steals, 35th in assists, 64th in scoring, 90th in rebounds, 110th in blocks

Arguably the greatest Robin in league history, Scottie Pippen was a fierce defender with freakish physical attributes, including long arms and extremely quick feet, who would absolutely stifle opposing stars. Pippen was at his best as a slasher and transition scorer but could also create for teammates at a high level, making him a point forward ahead of his time.

7
John Havlicek

John Havlicek, Boston Celtics

Top accolades: Eight NBA titles, one Finals MVP, 11 All-NBA selections, 13 All-Stars, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections

NBA rank: 17th in scoring, 37th in assists, 74th in rebounds

One of just four players in league history with eight championships, John Havlicek was a great scorer on the wing, a player who could hit mid-range jumpers or get buckets in transition, and who was always willing to do the dirty work, as evidenced by the legendary “Havlicek stole the ball” moment from the 1965 Eastern Finals.

8
Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

Top accolades: Two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, five All-NBA selections, five All-Stars, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, seven All-Defensive selections

NBA rank: 171st in steals

Kawhi Leonard owns the distinction of having the highest winning percentage in NBA regular-season history. Leonard was a secondary character in his first title run (until the 2014 Finals, at least) but led the Raptors to the mountaintop on his back. Always steady, even in the highest of pressure situations, and the King of Load Management.

9
Rick Barry

Rick Barry

Top accolades: One NBA title, one Finals MVP, five All-NBA 1st Team selections, eight All-Stars

NBA rank: 72nd in scoring, 118th in assists, 130th in steals

An excellent scorer on the wing, Rick Barry may be best remembered these days for his granny-style free-throw shooting, but he was so much more than that, as he could handle the ball at 6-foot-7, shoot off the dribble or around the rim and do a bit of everything else well, including rebound and create for others.

10
Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins

Top accolades: Seven All-NBA selections, nine All-Stars

NBA rank: 14th in scoring, 62nd in steals, 104th in rebounds, 199th in blocks

One of the most explosive players of all time, Dominique Wilkins was more than just a dunker. He could score with the best of them, using his physical advantages and unreal athleticism to torture opponents in the deep-to-short mid-range area.

11
James Worthy

Top accolades: Three NBA titles, one Finals MVP, one All-NBA 3rd Team, seven All-Stars

NBA rank: 107th in scoring, 158th in steals, 213th in blocks

A 3/4 hybrid, James Worthy had the quickness to get by larger, slower defenders and the size to score over small opponents. Worthy was especially terrific in transition as a member of the Showtime Lakers.

12
Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony

Top accolades: Six All-NBA selections, 10 All-Stars

NBA rank: 9th in scoring, 75th in rebounds, 88th in steals, 175th in assists, 197th in blocks

One of the smoothest scorers in the wing the league has ever seen, Carmelo Anthony has become renowned for his jab step in the mid-range, but he had many more moves than that. Melo also liked to bully smaller defenders and hit them with turnaround fadeaways.

13
Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce

Top accolades: One NBA title, one Finals MVP, four All-NBA selections, 10 All-Stars

NBA rank: 16th in scoring, 21st in steals, 79th in assists, 88th in rebounds, 166th in blocks

Paul Pierce was a beastly scorer in his prime, one who could fill it up from all three levels and score on even the most elite of defenders. Pierce was also quite clutch, hitting a ton of big shots in his day.

14
Alex English

Top accolades: Three All-NBA 2nd Team selections, eight All-Stars

NBA rank: 20th in scoring, 95th in assists, 144th in blocks, 147th in rebounds and steals, 145th in steals

The highest-scoring player of the ’80s, Alex English was ahead of his time as a 6-foot-8 swingman with an elite nose for scoring the basketball smoothly around the rim. Even without a reliable three-pointer, English averaged 26.0 points in the 1980s, all as a member of the Denver Nuggets.

15
Paul Arizin

Paul Arizin

Top accolades: One NBA title, three All-NBA 1st Team selections, 10 All-Stars

NBA rank: 110th in scoring, 171st in rebounds

A champion with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1955-56, Paul Arizin was one of the first players to use the jump shot to his full advantage, becoming a very effective shooter from that area during the NBA’s infancy.

16
Bernard King

Top accolades: Two All-NBA 1st Team selections, four All-Stars

NBA rank: 52nd in scoring

Injuries in his prime really hurt his place on this list, as Bernard King blew out his knee the year he earned the second 1st Team All-NBA of his career, missing the entire following season and never regained his explosiveness after that. Even so, King, the NBA’s leading scorer in 1984-85, was one of the smoothest high-scoring wings of his era.

17
Adrian Dantley

Adrian Dantley, Utah Jazz

Top accolades: Two All-NBA 2nd Team selections, six All-Stars, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year

NBA rank: 31st in scoring, 228th in rebounding

One of the greatest scorers of the 1980s, Adrian Dantley led the league in scoring twice, both times at over 30 points per game. He did so as a slippery wing with great slashing ability and finishing around the basket, though without any semblance of a three-point shot, making his scoring all the more impressive.

18
Paul George

Top accolades: One All-NBA 1st Team selection, five All-NBA 3rd Team selections, seven All-Stars, two-time All-Defense 1st Team selection, two-time All-Defense 2nd Team selection, Most Improved Player

NBA rank: 80th in steals, 142nd in scoring

Already boasting a borderline Hall-of-Fame resume with plenty of his prime remaining, and with a lot of missed time due to a devastating leg injury, Paul George will undoubtedly finish even higher on this ranking once he does call it a career. An elite two-way player, George can score at a high level from three, the midrange and around the cup.

19
Billy Cunningham

Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers

Top accolades: One NBA title, three All-NBA 1st Team selections, one All-NBA 2nd Team selection, four All-Stars

NBA rank: 137th in rebounding, 194th in scoring,

One of the most energetic players the sport had seen in his heyday, Billy Cunningham was known for crashing the glass and going all-out defensively. He played with a lot of strength attacking the rim, could space the floor and was a fantastic rebounder for his size.

20
Jamaal Wilkes

Jamaal Wilkes, Los Angeles Lakers

Top accolades: Four NBA titles, three All-Stars, two All-Defense 2nd Team selections, Rookie of the Year

NBA rank: 151st in scoring, 255th in rebounding, 420th in assists

An elite role player on various championship Showtime Lakers teams, Jamaal Wilkes was a solid muti-positional defender who played with a ton of energy and did the majority of his scoring in transition or as an off-ball slasher. Very smooth scorer when he did attack the basket, earning him the nickname “Silk”.

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