Top 10 NBA Small Forwards of All-Time

Do you have the NBA Lockout blues?  We feel your pain and have a cure for you.  The Hoops Manifesto has gathered together Bloguin’s best basketball writers to rummage through the annals of NBA (and ABA) history (sounds dirty, but it’s not – honest) to bring you rankings of the best players to have ever laced them up.  Next up: Top Ten NBA (or ABA) Small Forwards of All-Time.

Voting panel: Jeff Fox from The Hoops Manifesto, College Wolf from the TWolves Blog, Philip from Orlando Magic Daily, Diego from Hot Hot Hoops, Don and brumbygg from With Malice and Ezra from the Purple and Gold Blog. 

10) Alex English – Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks – 1976 – 1991


Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– eighth all-time in field goals made in NBA history
– eight-time NBA All-Star
– three-time All-NBA selection

“A pure scorer who never had the supporting cast around him to get anywhere near a title.” – brumbygg

9) James Worthy – Los Angeles Lakers – 1982 – 1994

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– member of three NBA championship teams
– seven-time NBA All-Star
– NBA Finals MVP
– NBA All-Rookie Team
– two-time All-NBA selection

“Big Game James.  No one in the history of the game has a bigger reputation for the ability to “step it up” when the playoffs hit, and deservingly so – he had an almost uncanny ability to rise to the occasion.  Perhaps the greatest testament to him is that he is one of only seven jerseys retired by the L.A. Lakers.” – Don

“Big Game James was an integral part of the great Lakers of the late 80s. His triple-double in Game 7 of the ’88 Finals -36/16/10 – was one of the all-time great Game 7 performances.” – brumbygg

“The main weapon of the Lakers “Showtime” famous fastbreaks. No other player in the game had a better array of post moves or quicker spin move than “Big Game” James. To top it off, he could rebound, spread the floor, make plays for his teammates, defend, block shots and make clutch shots. Truly one of the most dynamic athletes ever.” – Ezra

“”Big Game James” was the quiet member of the Lakers’ big three in the Showtime Era. Magic was all flash. Kareem was the rock down low. Worthy filled in the gaps and often gets forgotten from those Lakers teams.” – Philip

8) LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat – 2003 – present

Career accomplishments:

– fifth all-time in minutes per game in NBA history
– third all-time in points per game in NBA history
– two-time NBA MVP
– NBA Rookie of the Year
– seven-time NBA All-Star
– NBA All-Rookie Team
– seven-time All-NBA selection
– three-time All-Defensive Team selection

“Until a few months ago, I would have said that undoubtedly, LeBron James will one day find himself at the very upper levels of lists like this… but now, well… I do have doubts.  The meltdown in the NBA Finals not only sunk LeBron James down a few spots, but raised some very real question as to his NBA genetic coding.  Is it hardwired to succeed, along the lines of Scottie Pippen?  Or is his basketball DNA more akin to Dominique Wilkins?  Flash, excitement… but no real bang for the buck.” – Don

“No player in the game right now is more dynamic than LeBron James. He stands at 6-foot-8 and weighs 250 pounds, similar to the listed height and weight of Karl Malone. Yet James is so athletic that he covers ground unlike any other. He possesses great ball-handling ability for a player his size and – in recent years – became one of the best defensive playersin the game. He made the regular season MVP Derrick Rose look like a basketball amateur in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. His disappearing act in the 2011 Finals prevents him from getting higher, but his unique talent made all of those general managers grovel at him last summer.”Diego

“Destined to move a long way up this list when it’s all said and done. Has changed the way this position is played and has been a dominant regular season force. Needs to get it done in the post season to be one of the all-time greats.” – brumbygg

“Outside his atrocious mental toughness in the game’s biggest stage, Lebron possesses the rarest combination of size, speed, quickness, athleticism, power, passing and floor vision. His final verdict on this list may still be written, but it will take a monumental change of attitude, work ethic and sacrifice for him to get to a higher level.” – Ezra

“For all the hate that has come James’ way in the last year, it is still hard to deny how talented he is. We are still waiting for James to break through and win a championship to cement his legacy, but his stats should already place him among the best small forwards in league history. His passing ability is really what sets him apart. He has great floor vision and defenses have to respect his driving and scoring ability at all times. He can simply take over games as he did against the Pistons in 2007. And it still feels like he is only scratching the surface.” – Philip

7) Dominique Wilkins – Atlanta Hawks, L.A. Clippers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic – 1982 – 1995, 1996 – 1999


Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– tenth in all-time field goals made in NBA history
– nine-time NBA All-Star
– NBA All-Rookie Team
– seven-time All-NBA selection

“The Human Highlight Reel.  His signature windmill dunk is one of the game’s most dramatic images… but despite amazing athletic ability, and highly entertaining, thunderous jams, ‘Nique never even really came close to the NBA Finals, his Hawks inevitably running into a green wall.” – Don

“Do people forget how truly great he was since there were so many other amazing players in the NBA at that time? I think so. He played during the “Golden Age”, and unfortunately for ‘Nique, he was never able to get over the hump.  A little more assistance on his teams would have helped his cause.” – College Wolf

6) Rick Barry – San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Washington Capitals, New York Nets, Houston Rockets – 1965 – 1967, 1968 – 1980

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– member of one NBA championship team
– NBA Finals MVP
– third all-time in free throw % in NBA history
– 12-time NBA/ABA All-Star
– 10-time All-NBA/ABA selection
– NBA Rookie of the Year

“The patriarch Barry (his sons are John, Brent & Drew) possessed an incredible basketball IQ. Underrated, Barry was a prolific scorer who reinvented himself as a playmaker as he aged.  Perhaps most famous for his “bucketshot” or “granny throw” free throw technique.  It worked, as Rick Barry lead the league in FT% six times, and finished with a career mark just shy of 90%.” – Don

“Rick may have had the most awkward free throw shooting style, but he was nearly automatic from the stripe. An extremely deceptive slasher and ball-handler, Barry was a walking nightmare to the opposing team, whose weapon of choice was his dead-eye jump shots.” – Ezra

“If you can make the granny free throw cool, you must be pretty good. Barry was a pure scorer simple as that. He was often tempestuous, he left the NBA to play in the ABA because of a contract dispute three years into his career, but he came back five years later (after averaging more than 30 points per game there) and helped the Warriors win a championship. He showed he could be a team player. But he was definitely more about himself and that will be his knock – teammates just did not like him.” – Philip

5) Scottie Pippen – Chicago Bulls – 1987 – 2004

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– member of six NBA championship teams
– sixth in steals in NBA history
– seven-time NBA All-Star
– 10-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
– seven-time All-NBA selection

“Say what you will about Scottie Pippen being nothing more than a “second banana”, but the truth is that the man excelled even without Michael Jordan at his side.  While MJ was off shagging fly balls, Pippen came third in MVP voting in 1994, posting averages of 22.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.6 apg and 2.9 spg, while leading the Bulls to 55 wins and the second round of the playoffs” – Jeff Fox

“Is there a man in sports more famous for being a sidekick than Scottie Pippen?  With no Robin to his Batman, do the Jordan years exist the way we know them?  I doubt it.  Obviously, Scottie Pippen doesn’t win those titles without his Airness either, but MJ did need him.” – Don

“Despite playing Robin to MJ’s Batman, Scottie was a great player in his own right. A forerunner of the style now embodied by LBJ, but Pippen was a truly outstanding defensive player. At his prime, Pippenguarding LBJ would be worth the price of admission on its own.” – brumbygg

“Pippen is perhaps the #1 number 2 ever. MJ didn’t star winning titles until he showed up to help set the table, spread the floor, defend anyone, take over offensively or rack-up rebounds. Scottie practically invented the point-forward position and created the versatility category.” – Ezra

4) Elgin Baylor – Minnesota/Los Angeles Lakers – Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers – 1958 – 1971

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame 
– sixth all-time in minutes per game in NBA history
– fourth all-time in points per game in NBA history
– ninth all-time in rebounds per game in NBA history
– 11-time NBA All-Star
– NBA Rookie of the Year
– 10-time All-NBA selection

“Example #1 of why transcendent talent on a basketball court does not necessarily transfer over to the executive offices.  You paying attention, Mr. Jordan?!” – Jeff Fox

“27 points per game.  Nearly 14 rebounds per game.  Career averages.  Perhaps the greatest statistical season ever: 38.3 ppg, 18.6 rpg, nearly 5 assists per.  Are you kidding me?  One of the greatest to ever pull on the jersey for L.A., a legend of the game.  In addition to all of these accolades, Elgin Baylor is also unfortunate enough to also wear the title of “greatest player to never win a title” – Don

“Why is he not in more “best of all-time” discussions?  Is it because he only played 846 career games and never won a title?  Not his fault.” – College Wolf

“About the only slide to Baylor’s exceptional career is the lack of championships. Elgin was a phenomenal scorer who was also a cerebral talent. He could create shots for his teammate like a point guard, crash the boards like a center, and of course, overwhelm opponents with his ability to score.” – Ezra

“Baylor was the first real above-the-rim player the NBA had seen. He played in the very early days – his jersey hangs at the Target Center in Minneapolis to commemorate his time with the Minneapolis Lakers – and retired before he could win a title (he retired in the middle of the Lakers’ record-breaking 1972 season when they won the title). But Baylor was the Lakers’ first great perimeter scorer and began changing the artistry of the basketball game.” – Philip

3) John Havlicek – Boston Celtics – 1962 – 1978

havlicek stole the ball

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame member
– member of eight NBA championship teams
– NBA Finals MVP
– NBA All-Rookie Team
– 11-time All-NBA selection
– eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection
– 13-time NBA All-Star
– ninth all-time in minutes played in NBA history
– ninth all-time in field goals made in NBA history

“Started life as a 6th man, but quickly became an integral part of the Celtics engine room. Hondo could do everything – score, pass, rebound – but it was his defense which separated him from the rest.  Still most remembered with that famous line “Havlicek stole the ball.”” – brumbygg

“”Hondo” was a total package who could play in any era. He was tough, tenacious on defense, unstoppable on offense, a hard worker and loved nothing better than making things happen for his teammates. Bob Cousy may be the general of the Celtics dynasty era, but Havlicek was the heart and soul of the team.” – Ezra

2) Julius Erving – Virginia Squires, New York Nets, Philadelphia 76ers – 1971 – 1987

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– member of three NBA/ABA championship teams
– 16-time NBA/ABA All-Star
– four-time NBA/ABA MVP
– 12-time All-NBA/ABA selection
– ABA All-Rookie Team
– one-time ABA All-Defensive Team selection
– fifth all-time in field goals made in NBA/ABA history
– seventh all-time in steals in NBA/ABA history
– fifth all-time in points in NBA/ABA history

“How good was Julius Erving?  So good that the NBA was willing to absorb the ABA to get him.” – Jeff Fox

“When I started watching the NBA, our Michael Jordan was named Dr J.  Air Erving was electrifying and with Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks his Sixers team was a joy to watch.” – brumbygg

“Few players have had the cultural impact that Dr. J had. From the afroin the ABA to the high-flying dunks that inspired countless youngsters including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Erving was a magnificent scorer and one of the true artists of the game.” – Philip

1) Larry Bird – Boston Celtics – 1979 – 1992

larry_bird cigar red auerbach

Career accomplishments:

– basketball Hall of Fame
– member of three championship teams
– 10th all-time in free throw % in NBA history
– three-time NBA MVP
– NBA Rookie of the Year
– two-time NBA Finals MVP
– 10-time All-NBA selection
– 12-time NBA All-Star
– NBA All-Rookie Team
– three-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection

“Bird… sigh.  I hated Bird with a passion as a kid.  As a fan of Magic Johnson’s Lakers, how could I not?  Probably for the same reason Rob/Brumbygg loved Bird, I despised him.  The guy didn’t look like a basketball player.  He couldn’t run, he couldn’t jump.  Yet at every turn, there he was.  Winning.  
We often talk of passion for the game, the player’s will to strive, to take their game to higher levels, ever higher.  Kobe Bryant is oft-pointed to as an example of this.  Of course, Jordan.  But I don’t think the story’s complete without the inclusion of Larry Joe Bird.  His will was legendary.  To finish, a quote from perhaps my favourite movie of all time: “And then he showed these men of will what will really was.”” – Don

“Back in the 80s the two big choices you had to make were Madonna or Cyndi Lauper and Magic or Larry Legend.  I was always a Larry Legend kinda guy. Couldn’t run that fast, couldn’t jump that high, but man could he pass and shoot! Coupled with a fierce desire to win (or simply beat YOU) the hick from French Lick was the ultimate competitor.  Finished with a career average of 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.” – brumbygg

“Very few players in NBA history had the competitive streak and the talent to match it that Larry Bird did. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time and had a second sense about what his team needed and the right moment to take over. Bird might have been one of the most instinctual players the game has ever seen. He just seemed to know where that rebound would fall. More importantly though, he took basketball serious – sometimes too serious – but still made it seem like he was playing a game.” – Philip

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