The position of small forward is one of glamour in the NBA. The three is often one of the team’s tops scorers and is also expected to do a fair bit of ball-handling and rebounding. On the flip side, defense is also important as small forwards need to cover the opposite wing.
Most NBA Championship teams feature a high-scoring small forward. And the very best wings have won multiple world championships. Here is a list of the greatest small forwards of all time.
Marques Johnson, raised in South Los Angeles, first became known while playing for UCLA. He was a key part of the last Bruins team to win a title under legendary coach John Wooden and was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1977 draft.
The small forward made his first all-star game in 1979, the first of five appearances. The sharpshooter averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds per game over his career. A terrible neck injury in 1986 shortened Johnson’s fine career.
Still only 29 years old, Paul George is among the youngest players on this list. While he has only been playing in the NBA for nine seasons, his career trajectory put him on the path of an all-time great.
George began his career in Indiana after being drafted 10th overall in the 2010 draft. The small forward has made a total of six all-star games with the first coming in 2013. He took his game to a new level since being traded to Oklahoma City and made his first All NBA team in 2019. He will play for the Clippers in the upcoming season.
Still only 28 years old, Kawhi Leonard is even younger than his new teammate, Paul George. Leonard does have two things that George has yet to acquire yet: a pair of championship rings.
The three-time all-star won his first NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004. After a trade to the Raptors in 2018, he put Toronto on his back and won his second NBA Championship. Leonard made the move over to the Clippers in the 2019 offseason.
Few forwards in the history of the game could fill up the basket like Alex English. The small forward joined the Nuggets in 1980 and immediately became the team’s top scorer.
English wasn’t only a one-dimensional scorer as he also averaged 5.5 rebounds a game and 3.6 assists. But filling the basket was the Nugget’s main attribute and he averaged 21.5 ppg over his career. English was a member of eight all-star teams as well.
Almost everything about Shawn Marion’s game was unorthodox. And despite his strange way of doing things, the small forward was able to contribute to his team’s success in a number of different ways. He was a capable scorer, a terrific rebounder, and a rugged defender.
The teams Shawn Marion played for were often winning ones. He was an all-star four times at the beginning of his career. As he got older, Marion became something of a jack of all trades and won an NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011.
Bernard King was born and raised in the Fort Hamilton neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He played his college ball at the University of Tennessee and made his way to his hometown New York Knicks in 1982.
For a number of seasons, Bernard was the King of Madison Square Garden. The small forward made three all-star teams for the Knicks before suffering a devastating knee injury in 1985. He wasn’t quite the same player after returning, but did make one more all-star team in 1991.
With today’s advanced statistics, it’s easier to understand the way each player affects the game. Back in Bob Dandridge’s day, though, fans mostly scouted the box score. While he was considered an excellent player then, he is now considered to be even better thanks to his hard-nosed defense.
Dandridge came into the league in 1969 and made the league’s all-rookie team. He won his first NBA title with the Bucks in 1971. The four-time all-star captured his second title with the 1978 Washington Bullets.
If things had worked out a little differently in Grant Hill’s career, he may be appearing much higher up on this list. After a dazzling career at Duke, Hill was drafted by the Detroit Pistons.
At the beginning of his career, the seven-time all-star looked destined to be one of the game’s greats. Then, while a member of the Orlando Magic in 2003, he suffered a devastating ankle injury. While he played for many more years it was more as a role player than a superstar.
Adrian Dantley was a star for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and won a gold medal with the 1976 US Olympic team. He bounced around the league for a couple of years before ending up in Utah, where he became a star.
The smooth small forward made a total of six all-star teams during his career. He also won scoring titles in 1981 and 1984. Dantley was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in April of 2008.
Chris Mullin grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and his tough city background was always evident in his play. Mullin knew how to put the ball in the basket and did so frequently in his days at St. Johns.
The small forward became a superstar for the Golden State Warriors alongside running mates Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. For his career, Mullin averaged 18.2 points a game with 3.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds.
After a legendary first season at Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony entered the NBA alongside the greatest draft class of all time. He was selected by the Nuggets and spent the first years of his career in Denver.
Anthony eventually made his way to the New York Knicks. While the 10-time all-star gets credit for his phenomenal scoring ability, his teams never won big and he was a poor defender. Anthony is, however, one of the most decorated US Men’s Olympic basketball players.
During the mid to late 1980s, very few players in the NBA were on Michael Jordan’s level. It says a lot about Dominique Wilkins that he was considered one of his main rivals. The pair had a legendary trilogy of dunk contests.
But “Nique” was more than a dunker. He was a devastating scorer who averaged 24.8 ppg and made nine all-star teams. Wilkins suffered a brutal knee injury in 1992 and when he returned, his trademark explosiveness was gone.
During his career, which was spent entirely within Boston, John Havlicek specialized in excellence and longevity. The Celtics drafted the small forward out of Ohio State in 1962 and he was a member of some whopping title teams.
Havlicek was initially a 6th man for the tail end of the 1960s dynasty teams. After the retirements of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, he became the key player for a second dynasty. The 13-time all-star was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1984.
Drafted out of the University of Miami in 1965, Rick Barry was tough, confident and smart. He began his career with the then San Francisco Warriors and was already playing in his first all-star game in 1966 at the age of 22.
That was the first of eight all-star games for Barry. Over the course of his career, the deadeye shooter averaged 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1987.
James Worthy had the pleasure of playing alongside incredible talents his entire career. At the University of North Carolina, he was teammates with Michael Jordan. After being drafted by the Lakers, he teamed up with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
That’s not to say that Worthy didn’t bring plenty to the table himself. He was an important 3rd scorer for the Lakers and made seven all-star teams. The three-time NBA Champion was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Player’s today think that Michael Jordan was the coolest player who ever lived. When Michael Jordan was growing up, Julius Erving was the coolest player who ever lived. Dr. J not only scored at will, he did so in an incredibly smooth way.
Erving won two ABA championships with the New Jersey Nets before moving over to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. Over the course of his career, Dr. J made 11 all-star teams. The Hall of Famer averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
While he might never chase down the number one player on this list, Kevin Durant may yet end up number two or three. After a season at Texas, Durant was drafted by the Sonics/Thunder and has seemingly been scoring ever since.
The small forward, who has averaged 27 points and 7.1 rebounds over the course of his career, spent his first nine seasons in Oklahoma City. He moved over to Golden State and won two NBA titles before signing with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2019.
When Elgin Baylor entered the NBA in 1958 and no one had ever seen anything like him. Standing at 6-5 and weighing 225 pounds, the small forward was a combination of explosive, graceful and quick.
The 11-time all-star averaged an astonishing 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds a game. Baylor was co-stars on a Lakers that also featured Jerry West, that made a number of finals appearances but never won a title. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
There are a lot of players on this list who had significant faith in their abilities. None of these guys, though, was anywhere near as talented as Larry Bird. The French Lick, Indiana native combined that competitive spirit with immense talent to create a legendary career.
For his career, the offensive wizard averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists a game. He also won big, capturing NBA titles in 1981, 1984 and 1986. He may have won even more if not for a terrible back injury. Bird walked into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003 as maybe one of the best prospects in NBA history. Somehow, he’s been just as amazing as anyone ever could have imagined. James and Michael Jordan are generally considered to be the two best players of all time.
James has averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists over his career. He has played in a ton of playoff games, making eight finals, winning three of them. LeBron hopes to continue to build his resume as a member of the Lakers.