The small forward position is truly the do-it-all position in the NBA. Small forwards are asked to do everything on the basketball court, and it makes the position one of the deepest in the history of the league. This is especially the case because many teams throughout NBA history have wanted the three-position to be their best player and leader. While the list wasn't easy to cut down, here are the 25 greatest small forwards in NBA history.
25. Andre Iguodala
Stats: 11.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG
Accolades: 2015 Finals MVP, 1x All-Star, 2x All-Defensive Team
Andre Iguodala's career has been a tale of two stories. In the first half of his career, he was the lead scoring option and best player on the Philadelphia 76ers. Iguodala was an iron man and played heavy minutes in those Philadelphia years. Iggy was a tremendous slasher and had incredible strength that allowed him to thrive defensively. In the back half of his career, he joined the Golden State Warriors. While his production fell off a cliff, Iguodala was an important leader and key role player who helped turn the Warriors into a dynasty. His contributions led to four championships, and he even won Finals MVP in the first.
24. Grant Hill
Stats: 16.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG
Accolades: 7x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Team, 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year
Grant Hill's career was on an upward trajectory towards mega stardom, but injuries stunted his growth and limited him from reaching his full potential. Hill improved in each of his seasons with the Detroit Pistons, and by his final year in Detroit, he was scoring 25.8 points per game. By the next season – after signing a lucrative contract with the Orlando Magic to pair up with a fellow injury-prone star (Tracy McGrady) – ankle injuries would sap his explosion and limit his time on the court. Hill was never the same, but he did manage to stick around for a lengthy 19-year career.
23. Shawn Marion
Stats: 15.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.5 SPG
Accolades: 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Team
The Matrix is one of the most versatile players in NBA history. He was a great defender that could guard multiple positions all over the floor. Incredibly underrated throughout his career, it is a travesty that Marion was never on an All-Defensive team. Offensively, Marion is remembered for his unorthodox shooting form with a low and quick release. While it wasn't pretty, it was effective, and Marion shot 38 percent on over four 3-point attempts per game in his best season. Marion was also a fantastic rebounder for his position.
22. Jamaal Wilkes
Stats: 17.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Accolades: 3x All-Star, 2x All-Defensive Team, 1975 Rookie of the Year
Jamaal Wilkes was a key piece to the early success of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. Nicknamed Silk because of his smooth game, Wilkes embodied everything it meant to play Lakers basketball player in the early '80s. He played hard defense and was lethal in transition, an area that the Lakers thrived in. Wilkes even won a championship before his time in Los Angeles as a member of the Golden State Warriors.
21. Paul George
Stats: 20.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG
Accolades: 8x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Team, 4x All-Defensive Team, 2019 steals leader
Another player whose career has been negatively impacted by injuries. When on the court, Paul George is one of the game's elites. A great two-way player, George can lock up the opposing team's best player on the defensive end, and he has one of the prettiest games on the offensive side of the ball. George's advanced handle and creation ability make him a master at creating his own shot, but he is also an elite catch-and-shoot player. George is best known for his early days with the Indiana Pacers, giving LeBron James a run for his money, as well as his injury-prone time with the Los Angeles Clippers. However, his best season came in one of two years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished third in MVP voting in 2019.
20. Billy Cunningham
Stats: 21.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.8 SPG
Accolades: 4x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team,
Billy Cunningham was nicknamed the “Kangaroo Kid” because of his extraordinary leaping ability. His vertical game allowed him to be an elite rounder. Cunningham was a high-intensity player who always put his body on the line for the betterment of the team. His high-energy play was exhausting for opponents to go up against, making him a real irritant to opponents. Some years in the ABA and a career-ending knee injury meant Cunningham didn't have the longest NBA career.
19. Chris Mullin
Stats: 18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG
Accolades: 5x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team
A lefty with one of the purest strokes in the game, Chris Mullin was a sniper from 3-point land before it was cool. He always had a midrange strap, but he shot over 40 percent from deep in five of his last seven seasons. Mullin was a member of Run TMC, a short-lived but memorable high-scoring trio that led the NBA in scoring in 1990-91.
18. Bernard King
Stats: 22.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.0 SPG
Accolades: 4x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team, 1985 scoring champion
At his peak, Bernard King could go toe-to-toe with anyone. A devastating knee injury limited some of his production, but King was among the best scorers in the league in his prime. His eight 50-point games are the 13th-most all-time. King lacked much postseason success, but his scoring was always elite, and he still managed to score effectively even after tearing his ACL.
17. Jimmy Butler
Stats: 18.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.6 SPG
Accolades: 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Team, 5x All-Defensive team, 2015 Most Improved Player, 2021 steals leader
A little bit of a throwback type of player, Jimmy Butler isn't the best shooter in the modern NBA, but he does just about everything else at an elite level. Butler is the ultimate competitor and does what it takes to win. It has led him leading two unsuspecting Miami Heat teams to NBA Finals appearances. A great slasher, an incredible defender, and an even better hustler, Butler does all of the little things on the court that don't show up in the box score. He is also fantastic at setting his teammates up for success because of his great playmaking knack. Butler has played on four different teams in his NBA career, and he has found success at every stop.
16. Paul Arizin
Stats: 22.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.3 APG
Accolades: 10x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team, 2x scoring champion
One of the game's forgotten greats, Paul Arizin, dominated in the '50s and '60s. One of only five players to be selected as an All-Star in every season during their career, Arizin retired young instead of moving cities when the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco. At the time of his retirement, his 21.9 points in his final season were the most to end someone's career.
15. Adrian Dantley
Stats: 24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG
Accolades: 6x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Team, 1977 Rookie of the Year, 2x scoring champion
A legendary scorer, Adrian Dantley retired ninth on the all-time scoring list. Dantley didn't provide much on the less glamorous side, and he was kind of a ball stopper when he got the ball, both of which limit his placement on this list. Still, Dantley's scoring ability was enough to warrant recognition amongst the greatest small forwards ever.
14. James Worthy
Stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG
Accolades: 1988 Finals MVP, 7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Team
Another Showtime Laker that thrives in transition. James Worthy was never the top dog in Los Angeles, but he was always a fringe All-Star who has the accolades to confirm that he is one of the greatest small forwards in the history of the NBA. While Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar usually ran the show, Worthy's time to shine was in the 1988 NBA Finals, a series that he won MVP of after an impressive Game 7 in which he had a 36-point triple-double to seal the series.
13. Alex English
Stats: 21.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG
Accolades: 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Team, 1983 scoring champion
If you were to guess who scored the most points in the NBA in the '80s, you would probably guess Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or Michael Jordan, but it was Alex English who accomplished that feat en route to 25,613 career points, the 21st-most ever. English led the Doug Moe Denver Nuggets offenses that were extremely high-scoring. English was a part of the highest-scoring game in history, a 186-184 Nuggets loss to the Detroit Pistons. He also helped the Nuggets score over 100 points in an NBA record 136 consecutive games. Five English-led Nuggets teams averaged over 120 points per game, including the 1981-82 team that holds the record for points per game with 126.5.
12. Rick Barry
Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 SPG
Accolades: 1975 Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Team, 1966 Rookie of the Year, 1967 scoring champion, 1975 steals leader
Rick Barry may have shot free throws granny-style, but don't get it confused, the small forward knew how to ball. Barry was dynamic on offense, seeing the court extremely well and being an efficient scorer. Barry even had five seasons in his prime out of the NBA. If his ABA accolades were added to his résumé, he could be even higher on this list.
11. Paul Pierce
Stats: 19.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Accolades: 2008 Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team,
Paul Pierce was one of the most productive scorers riding solo in his early days with the Boston Celtics. Eventually, he formed a big four with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo, finally getting enough talent around him to win a championship. His 2,143 3-point makes rank 12th all-time, but he was a three-level scorer who could get it done in a number of ways.
10. Carmelo Anthony
Stats: 22.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.0 SPG
Accolades: 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Team, 2013 scoring champion,
The master of the pump fake, Carmelo Anthony, is one of the game's great midrange scorers. The Denver Nugget-turned-New York Knick forward was extremely physical, and a number of his opponents have said he was their toughest guard. Never known for his defensive ability, Anthony always stepped up in the biggest moments on that end, for example, in his battle against Kobe Bryant in the 2009 Western Conference Finals. While his collegiate and Olympic success doesn't count for anything on this list, they at least somewhat make up for his lack of an NBA title.
9. Dominique Wilkins
Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Accolades: 9x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Team, 1986 scoring champion
The Human Highlight Film didn't get his nickname by chance. Dominique Wilkins' is one of the best aerial athletes in NBA history. Wilkens' dunking ability is among the best ever, and it made him a premier scoring threat. Wilkins scored 25-plus points in 10 consecutive seasons during the prime of his career.
8. Kawhi Leonard
Stats: 19.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG
Accolades: 2x Finals MVP, 5x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Team, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 7x All-Defensive Team, 2015 steals leader
Kawhi Leonard is nicknamed “The Klaw” because of his massive hands, and he has definitely used those palms to his advantage. A true stopper, Leonard is one of two small forwards to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award twice. The other was Dennis Rodman, and while he was listed as a small forward when he won the award twice with the Detroit Pistons, Rodman was more known as a power forward. Leonard single-handedly turned the Toronto Raptors into champions, and after he left Toronto, the team fell back to mediocrity. The Toronto years came after Leonard kept the San Antonio Spurs dynasty afloat in its later days. Now, along with his teammate Paul George, Leonard hasn't been able to stay healthy with the Los Angeles Clippers. He may not be a guy who can play 82 games in a season at this point in his career, but Leonard always returns strong from injury and is one of the best players in the NBA when healthy.
7. Scottie Pippen
Stats: 16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 SPG
Accolades: 7x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Team, 10x All-Defensive Team, 1995 steals leader,
Scottie Pippen's career is full of accolades and winning. While he was usually second fiddle to Michael Jordan, Pippen's contributions to the Chicago Bulls are evident. Pippen is one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, and he often got the toughest matchup assignment instead of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman, two fellow great defenders. On top of his lockdown defense, Pippen contributed to the Bulls by being a great passer. One of the first point-forwards, Pippen was able to get his talented teammates the ball when and where they needed it.
6. John Havlicek
Stats: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
Accolades: 1974 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 11x All NBA Team, 8x All-Defensive Team
Hondo always played high minutes because of his great stamina and athletic abilities. John Havlicek was such a great athlete that he even had an opportunity in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. Havlicek played his entire career with the Boston Celtics, and he wore many hats for arguably the greatest dynasty in NBA history. The small forward started his career coming off the bench for Boston, but he still found championship success as their best player even after the departure of many Hall of Fame teammates.
5. Julius Erving
Stats: 24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG
Accolades: 1981 MVP, 11x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Team,
Dr. J's NBA accolades are impressive, but he was even better in the ABA. The best player in that league's history, Julius Erving came to the NBA at age 26 and still dominated. One of the most impressive acrobatic finishers ever, the magic that Erving made while in the air was jaw-dropping. His ability to float through the air hasn't been replicated as gracefully since.
4. Elgin Baylor
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG,
Accolades: 11x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Team, 1959 Rookie of the Year,
Arguably the greatest ringless player in NBA history, Elgin Baylor's Los Angeles Lakers didn't win the championship until the year after he retired, although at no fault of his own. Baylor was one of the first great athletes in the NBA, and he formed a dynamic duo with Jerry West. Baylor is by far the best rebounding small forward in league history. His 13.5 rebounds per game are over two more per game than the next closest rebounding small forward, and he is one of only five small forwards with career rebounding averages in the double digits.
3. Kevin Durant
Stats: 27.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.1 SPG
Accolades: 2x Finals MVP, 2014 MVP, 13x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Team, 2008 Rookie of the Year, 4x scoring champion
Kevin Durant is not your typical small forward. He is nearly 7 feet tall and is as skinny as can be, yet he is arguably the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA. Nobody his size has been able to shoot as efficiently as he does. A two-time 50-40-90 shooter, Durant can get the ball over defenders' outstretched arms with ease. His four times leading the NBA in scoring are tied for the third most ever. Durant dominated as a scorer with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he brought home rings with the Golden State Warriors. His later years have been filled with injuries, but now, with the Phoenix Suns, he is still a threat to collect more accolades.
2. Larry Bird
Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG
Accolades: 2x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Team, 3x All-Defensive Team, 1980 Rookie of the Year
While his playmaking may lack a hair on that of LeBron James and Magic Johnson because of a lack of elite burst, Larry Bird does have a case as the best pure passer in the history of the league. Bird's court awareness was unmatched, and his 6-foot, 9-inch stature allowed him to see over the top of defenders. Bird excelled at making entry passes to the post, but he could also tap and touch the ball to make quick, highlight-worthy passes. His passing was phenomenal, but his scoring was arguably better. Bird won the first three 3-point contests and is one of the best jump shooters ever. His high-level skill is illustrated by the fact that he is a two-time member of the 50-40-90 club. On top of all of that, many people don't realize that Bird was a great defender. The Legend was on the All-Defensive Second Team three times. Bird is the only player since the '60s to win back-to-back-to-back MVP awards.
1. LeBron James
Stats: 27.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.5 SPG
Accolades: 4x Finals MVP, 4x MVP, 19x All-Star, 19x All-NBA Team, 6x All-Defensive Team, 2004 Rookie of the Year, 2008 scoring champion, 2020 assists leader
LeBron James can do it all on the basketball court, and it has led to sustained success over a period of time never before seen in the NBA. A bully ball finisher who is impossible to guard going to the rim, King James is also one of the best playmakers ever. James is fourth all-time with 107 career triple-doubles, demonstrating his versatility and the impossibleness of attempting to guard such a physically gifted player. The Chosen One is tied for the most All-Star appearances (19), is the NBA's all-time leading scorer (38,652), and has better basketball IQ than any of his peers. Wherever LeBron James is in the NBA, his team is always a threat to win the whole thing. Fans' only critique of James is he didn't win more Finals, but the fact that he went to eight straight Finals is one of the most impressive accomplishments ever, and winning the whole thing four times is still quite a feat. James accomplished all of this despite having tremendous pressure on him as a teenager as the most highly anticipated prospect in the history of sports.