Top 10 Best Small Forwards of All Time

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Top 10 Best Small Forwards of All Time!! A small forward in basketball acts as a middleman between offense and defense, which makes them extremely valuable in the team. They work as secondary rebounders behind the power on and center. 

Small forwards, also known as three or Swingmen, need to have abilities like quickness, agility, and strength. 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 Looking Sharp In Los Angeles Lakers Jersey
LeBron Looking Sharp In Los Angeles Lakers Jersey (Source:

Conventionally, small forwards are smaller in height than power forward and center but taller than point guards and shooting guards. However, anyone with excellent skills and tactics can be a small ahead.

NBA has witnessed many excellent small forwards in the last ten years. LeBron James, considered the best small forward in the world, signed a two-year $97.1 contract extension with Los Angeles Lakers on August 18, 2022. 

Now, Let’s look at the top 10 best small forwards list.

Quick Overview

S.N Players 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

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!

10. Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Anthony Leonard is an American basketball small forward who currently plays for the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association(NBA). He previously played for NBA teams like  Toronto Raptors and St. Antonio Spurs. 

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 fourth in the NBA Rookie of the year voting.

Before getting into NBA, he played college basketball for St. Diego Aztecs men’s basketball team at San Diego State University.

Kawhi Leonard Posing With Basketball (Source: Instagram)

In his sophomore year, he averaged 15.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest and won back-to-back conference tournament championships. 

His team even made it into the NCCA tournament but lost to eventual national champions Connecticut. 

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 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.

He missed the entire 2021-2022 season as he was recovering from the torn ACL that kept him on the bench. Before that, he missed 13 games due to a right knee injury. 

Leonard performed his best and led the Clippers to a 102-93 victory against Washington Wizards on December 17, 2022. He put up 31 points, nine rebounds, and three steals.

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

9. Paul Pierce

Paul Anthony Pierce is a former basketball player who played for Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, and Los Angeles Clippers in the National Basketball Association(NBA). 

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

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

best retired nba players
Paul Pierce With The Celtics Tn 2008 (Source:

Likewise, he got into an All-NBA Third Team selection from 2002 to 2003. Paul also led the league in 2002 with 2,144 points.

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

The former NBA player also led Boston Celtics to their 17th championship with a 4-2 victory in 2008. He was then named NBA Final MVP, averaging 22 points per game.

He signed a formal contract with the Celtics on July 17, 2017, to retire from the team. The Celtics announced Pierce’s jersey to be retired on February 11, 2018, in honor of his fantastic career. 

Pierce also had a brief experience in broadcasting, working with ESPN. He joined ESPN on August 2017 as a studio analyst for programs like The Jump and NBA Countdown.

Paul was once again into highlight after he trolled Lebron James after the Celtics’ dramatic victory over the Lakers on December 14, 2022.

He was caught on camera mocking Jame’s signature celebration at the arena suite. 

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 in the National Basketball Association(NBA). 

The Buffalo Braves picked him in the sixth overall of the 1976 NBA draft. He won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in 1977. Dantley was traded to the Indiana pacers during the 1976-1977 season. 

Adrian Dantley Playing For The Los Angeles Lakers (Source: Los Angeles Times)

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 the freest throws in a regular-season NBA game at number 28. 

Adrian is one of the best small forwards of all time because he scored in the low post, even though one of his legs was two inches shorter than the other. 

He was inducted into the Basketball hall of Frames in 2008 for his amazing 17 years of a basketball career.

Andrian retired at 35, playing his last career match for Italia team Breeze Arese. 

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 successful basketball career.

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

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 #7, Of The Top 10 Best Small Forward of All Time (Source: Celtics Blog)

John contributed to leading the Boston Celtics to 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 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 held this position until 2019.

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.

The NBA announced names for their league’s end-of-season awards on December 13, 2022. The sixth man of the trophy is now called after the Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek. 

6. Scottie Pippen

Scotty Maurice Pippen Sr., popularly known as Scottie Pippen, is an American 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. He played for Chicago Bulls most of his career and 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 1992 and 1996. 

Chicago Bulls Player Scottie Pippen
Chicago Bulls Player Scottie Pippen (Source:

Apart from this, the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team” had Pippen as a member. Pippen was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame twice.

He also received the honor first time in his 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, adding to a player’s gem.

Scottie’s son, Scotty Pipeen Jr, is currently making waves on the internet, and his father shared the video on Instagram with a shocking reaction. 

Later, Labron James tweeted Scooty’s reaction on July 21, 2022, by writing,” This kid has a bright future.”

5. Elgin Baylor

 Elgin easily makes it into the top 10 best small forward of all time, all thanks to his amazing career.  The American basketball player, coach, and executive Elgin Gay Baylor played 14 seasons in NBA for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. 

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, #5 In our Top 10 Small Best Forward Of All Time (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. He received the NBA Best Executive of the Year Award in 2006.

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

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

4. Julius Erving

Julius Winfield Erving, known as Dr. J, is a former American basketball player and the top 10 best small forward on our list. He helped to legitimize the American Basketball Association(ABA). The Milwaukee Bucks selected him in the 1st round, 12th overall, in the 1972 NBA draft.

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

Julius Erving Trying to Score By Cutting His Opponent (

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

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

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

Erving is the only player that has been voted MVP in both NBA and ABA. He was inducted  in 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.

At the time of retirement, Erving ranked in the 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 associated with the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. He is listed at #3 in our top 10 small forward list. The Seattle Supersonics picked him in the 1st round of the 2007 NBA draft.

Besides Seattle Supersonics and Brooklyn Nets, Kevin played for the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won championships in 2017 and 2018.

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 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 the NBA MVP award once, the Finals MVP Award twice, and NBA All-Star MVP twice.

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

Kevin has already been named nine All-NBA and eleven NBA All-Star teams. 

The Brooklyn star hit back with 44 points on December 12, 2022, which helped the Nets pull back the losing game against Detroit Pistons. The game ended 121-124 in favor of the Nets. 

He became the first player in the last 25 seasons to score 20 or more in the final four of any quarter. Talented players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry couldn’t do it in their careers. 

2. Larry Bird

The former American basketball player Larry Joe Bird is considered one of the top 10 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, ten rebounds, and five assists in a 114–106 victory in his 1979 debut game.

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

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.

Larry Bird While Playing For The Celtics
Larry Bird While playing for the Celtics (Source:

He won three NBA Championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Similarly, he received NBA Finals MVP Award twice and the regular season MVP Award 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 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 James came to the first position of the top-best small forward. He 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 the Cavaliers and Lakers, he played for Miami Heat.

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. 

 LeBron James Enters The 2022-23 Season Only 1,326 Points Behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA Scoring Title
LeBron James Enters The 2022-23 Season Only 1,326 Points Behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA Scoring Title (Source:

Similarly, James is the only player to win NBA championships with three franchises, i.e., the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, 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.  

James made several records: eighth in career assists, all-time playoff 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.

Apart from NBA, the professional basketball player is a big fan of Soccer. He regularly attends big games like UCL and WorldCup. 

LeBron was totally hyped after Mbappe scored two late goals against Argentina in the world Cup 2022. He tweeted, “Wow, Mbappe,” after the french star scored a banger, equalizing the 2-2 score. 


Are you satisfied with his list? Did we mention the same of your favorite small forward? Did we miss someone? Make sure to comment!

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Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

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