The 10 best small forwards in NBA history

Of all the positions in basketball, the small forward is considered the most versatile and unique. They are the jack-of-all-trades of basketball. In the 60s and 70s, wings were used to supplement the power of an all-time great guard and/or big man. Small forwards weren’t the stars of the show as often as they are today, as it’s only recently that the sport of basketball has given a higher priority to fielding unique all-round players in the best possible situation to succeed. Since small forwards have the most balanced mix of size, athleticism, and skill, they can be placed anywhere and do just about anything. Wing abilities haven’t changed, but their role and value to a team has. It is for this reason that this list is perhaps the most difficult to order of all.

John Havlicek | Years: 1963-1978 Teams: Boston Celtics

John Havlicek is best known for his decisive steal in Game 7 of the 1965 ECF against the 76ers. This piece really marked the beginning of his peak. Havlicek joined the already dominant Celtics teams led by Bill Russell in the early 60s and started as a role player. Slowly but surely, Havlicek became the number two player on the back half of the Celtics’ 60s rings. After Russell faded into the sunset and retired, Havlicek was the main man. From 1967 to 1974, Havlicek averaged 24 PPG, seven RPG and six APG on 44% of the field. Hondo has gone brilliantly from a companion piece to Boston’s main designer. This was most evident by his sharp increase in minutes during the 1970–72 seasons. During that two-season stretch, Havlicek played 45 MPG and took nearly 25 shots in those minutes. Predictably, his scoring volume swelled by 28 points, but his efficiency also showed a slight increase to 45%, two percent above his career average. The increases in his production proved how Hondo could thrive in many different roles and be a great all-around player in the NBA.

Rick Barry | Years: 1966-1980 Teams: San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets

The king of the sneaky free throw, Rick Barry had more than just an awkward but effective foul line routine. He set the league on fire in his first two seasons, with 30 PPG and 10 RPG on 44.6% shooting. This included a league-leading 35 points per night in the 1967 season. Then Barry transferred to the ABA where his scoring greatness continued. He produced two out of four 30 PPG seasons in the ABA, and was arguably at the peak of his powers. Like other big names, Barry’s stats dropped slightly when he returned to the NBA for the rest of his career in the early ’70s. However, over the next six seasons, Barry was still a 24 PPG scorer. with 45% shooting. The Miami Greyhound also averaged 6 rebounds and assists in his early years in the NBA. His free-throw routine has paid off – Barry is one of the best charity-strip shooters in league history. He led the league in free throw percentage and shot over 90% seven times. Barry is also in the record books for the second-highest NBA Finals PPG average of 40.8 in 1967 and won Finals MVP in 1975.

Dominique Wilkin | Years: 1983-1999 Teams: Atlanta Hawks, LA Clippers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic

Few players have reached the heights (literally and figuratively) that Dominique Wilkins reached on the basketball court. Wilkins was first and foremost a handsome dunker. His one- or two-foot vertical explosion was special as he regularly took off from odd angles and always dipped the ball with authority. It was called the landmark human film for a reason. But cool dunks were just the beginning of his skills. Wilkins combined special upright athleticism with a massive frame. He had enough speed with the ball in his hands to be an unstoppable force attacking downhill. All of this allowed Wilkins to maintain elite levels of cutting and finishing ability that propelled his numbers insane. Over a 10-year sample from 1985 to 1994, Wilkins averaged 28 PPGs and seven RPGs on 54% TS. This production is extremely impressive for a player like Wilkins whose main trait was his athleticism, a trait that has declined over time. Wilkins maintained an excellent production into his mid-thirties. It shows how he has developed high-level skills to pair with his one-of-a-kind athleticism.

ElginBaylor | Years: 1959-1972 Teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers

One of the NBA’s first superstar players, Elgin Baylor was a statistical beast and a player ahead of his time. Baylor dominated from the first time it stepped on NBA soil in 1959. In its first game, it scored 25 points on 10/21 from the field and added 13 rebounds. His rookie campaign saw Baylor average that much, 25 PPG and 15 RPG. To say Baylor took the league by storm was an understatement – ​​he was one of the best players in the league right away. Motormouth continued to tear apart the start of the NBA even more over the next four seasons, averaging an astounding 34 PPG and 17 RPG on 43.5% shooting. It was Baylor’s high and is one of the most impressive four-year pure box scoring stat lines in the league’s 75-year history. Baylor was considered a “playoff choker” because it went 0-8 in the NBA Finals, but the evidence doesn’t support that false narrative. In fact, The Big Hurt produced over 30 PPG points in four playoff series from 1960 to 1963 and averaged 38 PPG in two of those series. He was a playoff lifter most years and an absolute scoring machine before the modern game came along.

Scottie Pippen | Years: 1988-2004 Teams: Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets

Take a look at all of Batman and Robin’s victories together and you’ll see that while most of the credit and fame goes to Batman, the job wouldn’t be done without Robin. The same can be said for the Bulls adventures of the 90s in which Scottie Pippen served as Robin to MJ’s Batman. Pippen made a difference for the Bulls right away, becoming their top defenseman and assist while being the team’s second-best rebounder and scorer. On offense, he averaged 20 PPG, seven RPG, and six APG on 55% TS for his peak of around eight years. Not exactly superstar status offensively, but we all know that’s not where Pippen’s best talent is. Pippen has the merit of being the best non-bigger defender of all time. Truly a nightmare for his own position, Pippen was a world-class wing stopper while actively shutting down guards and bigs too. He was light-footed to follow his man with the flexibility and reach to snatch any ball or steal any pass. More than anything, it was his defensive off-the-ball instincts on edge assist rotations that raised his value at this end to unusual heights for a wing.

Comments are closed.