Top 10 Best Small Forwards of All Time

To receive a feat in basketball, the team has to play with one heartbeat. Basketball has five positions: center, power forward, small forwards, pointing guard, and shooting guard, who together bring magic to the court.

Small forwards, also known as three, have to have abilities like quickness, agility, strength. In fact, players having these attributes in mass usually make great small forwards.

The small forwards are seen doing everything inside the court, from handling the ball and rebounding to playing defense. They can be referred to as the “all-rounders” of any basketball team.

LeBron James (Left) and Malik Monk (Right)
LeBron James (left) and Malik Monk (right) (Courtesy: LeBron Wire)

Conventionally, small forwards are smaller in height than power forward and center but taller than point guard and shooting guard.

However, anyone with excellent skills and tactics can be a small forward.

National Basketball Association (NBA) has witnessed a lot of excellent small forwards. Today, we will be talking about 10 of them.

Top 10 Best Small Forwards of All Time

We have taken references from Bleacher Report and ESPN. Here’s a quick view of the list!

S.NPlayers Name
10.Kawhi Leonard
9.Paul Pierce
8.Adrian Dantley
7.John Havlicek
6.Scottie Pippen
5.Elgin Baylor
4.Julius Erving
3.Kevin Durant
2.Larry Bird
1.Lebron James

10. Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Anthony Leonard is an American basketball small forward who currently plays for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played for Toronto Raptors and St. Antonio Spurs in the past.

The Indiana Pacers selected him in the 2011 NBA draft but traded him to the St. Antonio Spurs on the very draft night.

Nevertheless, he got the fourth position in the NBA Rookie of the year voting.

Kawhi Leonard

Apart from that, he was selected to play for the 2012 USA men’s basketball team.

Before getting into NBA, he played college basketball for St. Diego Aztecs men’s basketball team of San Diego State University. In his sophomore year, he was named second-team All American by consensus.

Leonard contributed to leading Spurts to win NBA Championship in 2014. He was also named Finals MBP in the match, averaging 17.8 points on 61% shooting.

He received the honor of All-Star five times and also gained three All-NBA First Team selections.

Likewise, he carries seven All-Defensive Team selections and is the two-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2015 and 2016.

Kawhi Leonard, a fusion of intelligence, athleticism, and size, is indeed one of the best small forwards of all time.

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9. Paul Pierce

Paul Anthony Pierce is a former basketball player who played for Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Boston Celtics picked him the 1998 NBA draft, and the journey that began in the same year of his selection went till 2017. Pierce has a marvelous journey where he collected several feats.

Pierce made to the All-Star team every season from 2002 to 2006 and earned 10 All-Stars overall.

best retired nba players
Paul Pierce with Celtics in 2008. (Source:

Likewise, he got into an All-NBA Third Team selection from 2002 to 2003. He became an all-NBA team member four times. He also led the league in 2002 with 2,144 points.

Moreover, he got selected to play for the US national team in 2002, representing the team in FIBA World Championships. He started all nine games and averaged 19.8 points per game in the championship.

Pierce also led Boston Celtics to their 17th championship with a 4-2 victory in 2008. He was then named NBA Final MVP as he averaged 22 points per game.

Pierce also had a brief experience in broadcasting, working with ESPN. He worked as a studio analyst for several programs like The Jump and NBA Countdown.

8. Adrian Dantley

The American former basketball player and coach Adrian Delano Dantley played in NBA for 15 long seasons.

He played for Buffalo Braves, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Buffalo Braves picked him in the 1976 NBA draft. He won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in 1977.

Adrian Dantley, playing for the Lakers.

Dantley played in the position of power forward, but he was best as a small forward. He ended his NBA career with 24.3 points per game on average.

He shot .540 from the floor, becoming the 16th player in NBA history and .818 from the free-throw line.

Dantley ranks ninth in free throws of all time, leading the league in it six times.

Likewise, he made most free throws in a regular-season NBA game at number 28. Wilt Chamberlain also holds the same record.

Adrian Dantley was indeed one of the best small forwards of all time because he managed to score in the low post even though one of his legs is two inches shorter than the other. He opted for custom-made inserts in his shoes to compensate.

7. John Havlicek

The American professional basketball player John Joseph Havlicek died on April 25, 2019, at 79. He was a great athlete with a really successful basketball career.

The Boston Celtics picked him in the 1962 NBA draft. He played for the team until 1978, after which he retired.

He played collegiate basketball at Ohio State University. Apart from this, John was named an alternate for the 1960 United States national team competing in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Havlicek was not just an excellent basketball player but also an outstanding footballer. The Cleveland Browns of the National Football League also picked him in 1962, the same year of his NBA selection.

John Havlicek (Source: Celtics Blog)
John Havlicek (Source: Celtics Blog)

Likewise, he could play fluently in two positions in the court, one was small forward, and the other was the guard.

John contributed to leading the Boston Celtics to the victory in the 1974 NBA Championship. Moreover, he was named the NBA Finals MVP.

Likewise, with Havlicek on the team, the Celtics won the 1976 NBA Finals in triple overtime. His career ended with eight NBA championships.

In his 16 years of career at the NBA, Havlicek was named to 13 All-star teams and 8 NBA All-defensive teams.

When John retired, he was the all-time leading scorer for Boston Celtics, and he held this position until 2019.

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He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. Havlicek was also selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1997.

Similarly, Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball named him the 14th best player of all time.

6. Scottie Pippen

Scotty Maurice Pippen Sr. is a former basketball player. He played in NBA from 1987 to 2004 and in 2008.

The Seattle Supersonics picked him in the 1987 NBA draft and traded him to Chicago Bulls.

Scottie Pippen

He played for Chicago Bulls most of his career and also played for teams like Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA.

Pippen won six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls. In addition, he was named to the All-star NBA First Team thrice and NBA All-Defensive First team eight times consecutively.

Likewise, he was named an NBA All-Star seven times. He also became the NBA All-Star Game MVP in the year 1994.

Pippen won the Olympic gold medal and NBA title in the same year twice, i.e., he won both of them in 1992 and again in 1996.

Apart from this, the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team” had Pippen as a member.

Similarly, Pippen was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice.

He also received the honor first time for his individual career and then for being a member of the “Dream Team.” Both the induction took place on August 13, 2010.

Pippen is considered to be one of the best basketball players ever. He had extraordinary athleticism, unusually long arms, and good jumping agility that added to a player’s gem.

5. Elgin Baylor

The American basketball player, coach, and executive Elgin Gay Baylor played 14 seasons in NBA for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. He appeared in eight NBA finals.

The Minnesota Lakers selected him in the 1st round of the 1958 NBA draft, 1st overall. The journey with the Lakers continued till 1971.

Likewise, Baylor became NBA Rookie of the Year in 1959. He is an 11-time NBA All-Star and 10-time member of the NBA-First Team.

Baylor was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977. He had a very successful playing career, engraving his identity forever as an excellent shooter, strong rebounder, and careful passer.

Elgin Baylor (Source: Pinterest)
Elgin Baylor (Source: Pinterest)

He is regarded as one of the best small forwards of all time and one of the best basketball players ever.

Baylor ended his playing career with 23,149 points, 11,463 rebounds, and 3,650 assists over 846 games. Elgin scored 61 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 1962, which still has not been surpassed and stands as an NBA Finals record.

Baylor devoted his post-playing life and basketball, serving as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers for 22 years. In fact, he received the NBA Best Executive of the Year Award in 2006.

The SLAM Magazine placed him in number 11 on the Top 50 NBA Players of All Time in 2009.

Gary Tillery and Omri Amrany designed a statue of Baylor, which was unveiled on April 6, 2018, at the Staples Center before a Lakers game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

4. Julius Erving

Julius Winfield Erving is a former basketball player. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him in the 1st round of the 1972 NBA draft.

However, he did not play for the Bucks because of some contract disputes.

Julius Erving on the field

He played for teams like Virginia Squires, New York Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers. He started with American Basketball League (ABA) and was their most influential player, which the league merged with NBA.

Erving stands as the eighth-highest scorer in ABA/NBA history, scoring 30,026 points (combined).

He is still regarded as one of the best dunkers NBA ever had, and in his playing days, he was known for slam dunking from the free-throw line that he displayed in slam dunk competitions.

Erving is the only player that has been voted MVP in both NBA and ABA. He was into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Similarly, he was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team in 1994. Also, he was elected into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

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At the time of retirement, Erving ranked at third position in scoring, third in field goals made, fifth in field goals attempted, and first in steals. He is indeed a phenomenal basketball player.

3. Kevin Durant

Kevin Wayne Durant is a professional basketball player currently associated with the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. The Seattle Supersonics / Oklahoma City Thunders picked him in the 1st round of the 2007 NBA draft.

Other than Brooklyn Nets and Seattle Supersonics, Kevin played for the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won championships in 2017 and 1018. Durant also played collegiate basketball for the University of Texas for one season.

Referred to as one of the most active players in the NBA, Durant has won several awards and honors. He used to be the second-best player in his class in his high school.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant during his time with the Golden State Warriors (Source:

Similarly, he was the first freshman named Naismith College Player of the Year while he played at the University of Texas.

In his professional career, Durant has already won two NBA Championships. He has also received NBA MVP award one, Finals MVP Awards twice, and NBA All-Star MVP twice.

Similarly, he has already grabbed NBA scoring titles for times. He is also the recipient of two Olympic gold medals and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

Moreover, he has already been named to nine All-NBA teams and eleven NBA All-Star teams. The list is even bigger.

Durant is packed with money off the court. He is one of the most-earning basketball players in the world. He has been indulged in endorsement deals with big companies like Nike and Foot Locker.

2. Larry Bird

The former American basketball player Larry Joe Bird is considered one of the best small forwards of all time and one of the best basketball players the NBA has ever witnessed.

Bird has also worked as a coach and Executive within NBA. The Boston Celtics selected him in the 1978 NBA draft. He scored 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in a 114–106 victory in his 1979 debut game.

The journey that began in 1978 with Celtics went on until his retirement, i.e., 1992. He then worked as a coach for Indiana Pacers. He later became the president of Pacer’s basketball operations.

Larry Bird while playing for the Celtics

Bird is the only man in NBA history to have won NBA MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the year. He was equally good inside and outside the court.

He won three NBA Championships in the years 1981, 1984, and 1986. Similarly, he received NBA Finals MVP Award twice and regular season MVP Awards thrice in consecutive years.

In his NBA career, Bird scored 24.3 points per game on a .496 field goal percentage, .886 free throw percentage, and a 37.6 percentage on three-point shots on average.

Similarly, he recorded 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game on average.  

The famous Bird became the first player in NBA history to have shot 50% or better than that on field goals, 90% on free throws, and 40% on three-pointers in one NBA season. He built this record twice.

Larry Bird was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice, first as an individual player in 1998 and then as a “Dream Team” member in 2010.

1. Lebron James

LeBron Raymone James Sr. currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers in NBA. The American professional basketball player is regarded as one of the best basketball players of all time and has been compared to the best players NBA ever had.

The Cleveland Cavaliers picked James in the 2003 NBA draft. He then became the first player for the Cavaliers to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Apart from Cavaliers and Lakers, he played for Miami Heats.

James has scored 27.2 points, 7.2 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 1.4 threes per game on average in his career.

Similarly, James is the only player to win NBA championships with three franchises, i.e., the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heats, and the Los Angeles Lakers, also becoming the NBA Finals MVP.

He has played in ten NBA Finals and has won four NBA championships. Similarly, he is also the recipient of four NBA Finals MVP awards and four NBA MVP awards. He has also won Olympic gold medals twice.  

LeBron James on Jersey

James made several records in his career: eighth in career assists, all-time playoffs points, and third in all-time points.

He is also the 17-time All-NBA Team, 5-time NBA All-Defensive First Team, and 17-time All-Star.

James’ life outside the court is equally fascinating and inspiring with his bulky net worth and philanthropic projects.

Here we end the list of best small forwards of all time. You might also be interested in reading: Ten Best Power Forwards Ever in NBA >>


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