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NBA Icons: The Top 10 Greatest Small Forwards of All-Time

The small forward position has produced some of the most dazzling athletes in NBA history. The position is dynamic one, that has been played by some of basketball's most electric performers.

In today's list, I will be ranking the top 10 NBA small forwards of all time. When determining how great a player truly was, I look at individual accolades and longevity. Those factors will hold the most weight because it lets me know how dominant a player truly was during his era.

Championships will also be factored in, but won't hold as much weight as accolades and longevity. The reason why is because winning a championship hinges on so many factors going right. Some of those are your team, your matchup, and quite frankly luck. I'm also factoring in individual performances in big moments, for example in the playoffs. With that being said, let's start the list.

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10. Elgin Baylor

Career Stats: 27.4 PTS, 13.5 REB, 4.3 AST

Accolades: 11x All-Star, 10x All-NBA (10x First Team), NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA All-Star Game MVP

Elgin Baylor was one of the first players to really catch the eyes of the fans with his sheer athleticism. Many people consider him as a shorter LeBron James of his time standing only at 6'5. He was able to hit jumpers consistently from 15-18 feet out to keep the defense honest, but he also was able to drive past defenders consistently with his hesitation moves. He was really a pioneer of his time with the moves he displayed. Baylor was such a force on the offensive end that at his peak he averaged 38.3 PPG in a season. Another outstanding display of his coring was his 61-point game in the NBA finals.

One knock on Baylor was his ineffectiveness to go out and win a championship. He did in fact have the great Jerry West on his team which many people use as a reason why he should've won. But, as I stated before winning a championship takes so many things to go right for you, it also doesn't help that he went against the dynasty of the Boston Celtics for years.

Baylor was truly ahead of his time, He had an unstoppable mid-range packed with ultra athleticism. Baylor dominated the league with crazy scoring for over a decade. His individual accolades are more than enough to have him included in any all-time small forwards list.


9. Dominique Wilkins

Career Stats: 24.8 PTS, 6.7 REB, 2.5 AST

Accolades: 9x All-Star, 7x All-NBA (4x Second Team, 1x First Team, 2x Third Team), NBA Scoring Champ 1986, NBA All-Rookie First Team

Dominique Wilkins came into the NBA as a uber-athletic player who was liable to dunk on anyone at any time. He was already touted as one of the best slashers in the league but by his 3rd season, his offensive production absolutely took off. Wilkins used his speed and athleticism to blow by most defenders, but could easily step back and hit mid-range shots from time to time, he also was very good at using the bank on his jump shots.

Wilkins is often overlooked because he played in an era with Micheal Jordan, but Wilkins was also dominating at an all-time level as well. Many people believe that Wilkins relied purely on athleticism but that's not true, he was a gifted scorer. Wilkins averaged at least 24 PPG over an 11-year stretch in his long career. He also was a very good rebounder for his size.

Wilkins experienced tore his Achilles during a time when medical science was not really that good. Many fans believed that It would end his career, but it did nothing to him. Wilkins continued to dominate and carve out a hall-of-fame career and prove why he is an all-time great.


8. Rick Barry

Career Stats: 24.8 PPG, 6.7 REB,  4.9 AST

Accolades: 8x  NBA All-Star, 4x ABA All-Star, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 1x NBA Champion, 1x ABA Champion, 6x All-NBA( 5x First team, 1x Second Team), 4x All-ABA First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA Scoring Champion

Known as one of the most prolific scorers to ever play in the NBA, Rick Barry is an absolute 3-level scorer. Barry was one of the first modern wings that were able to handle the ball at a high level. Barry could also shoot the ball lights out from anywhere on the court, this included off the dribble and catch and shoot opportunities. Barry had multiple seasons of averaging 30 points per game.

Barry dominated the ABA for years before he made the switch over to the NBA, he had a very modern game that was unstoppable. He won a championship in both leagues and was known to also show up in the biggest moments. Barry still holds the highest average in NBA finals history at 36.3 points. Barry was also one of the pioneers of wings being able to facilitate.

To most fans, Rick Barry will always be remembered for his underhand free throws, but he was so much more than that. Barry in my opinion was one of the most efficient shooters in NBA history, he did things that most point guards could never do. He will always be thought of as an all-time great because of his game that was ahead of its time.


7. John Havlicek

Career Stats: 2o.8 PPG, 6.3 REB, 4.8 AST

Accolades: 13x All-Star, 8x NBA Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 8x All-Defensive Team( 5x First Team, 3x Second Team), 13x All NBA Team( 4x First Team, 7x Second Team), NBA All Rookie First Team

"Havlicek Stole the Ball". This is a phrase still known today because of how important it was, John Havlicek stole the ball in the eastern conference finals in 1965 to seal the Celtics ticket to the NBA finals. That was also the same year they went on to beat the Lakers to win the title. Hondo as many called him, was known for his all-around tenacious play.

Hondo was a great shooter who was a very gifted athlete, so much so that he was drafted into the NFL. Hondo possessed the speed and endurance most players didn't have and were really one of the first 3 and D wings to ever play. Hondo could affect the game in so many ways, he was a very good passer as well and always got his teammates involved. Hondo did a lot of the dirty work for the Celtics and really toned his game back to be able to play with other stars. His play on the court was one of the main catalysts to the Celtics dynasty.

Hondo truly could do anything on the court that the coach asked him to do. His unselfish offensive game and his unshakeable defense led him to be an all-around star. He racked so many individual and team accolades that It is impossible to deny his greatness.


6. Scottie Pippen

Career stats: 16.1 PPG, 6.4 REB, 5.2 AST

Accolades: 6x NBA Champion, 7x NBA All-Star, 7x All-NBA (3x First Team, 2x Second Team, 2x Third Team), 10x All-Defensive Team (8x First Team, 2x Second Team), NBA steals leader 1995

Widely regarded as one of the best 3 and D wings of all time, Scottie Pippen was a huge catalyst to the Chicago Bull's dominance over the 90s. Scottie had a rugged slashing offensive game that physically outmatched smaller guards but also was too quick for bigger players. Scottie had supreme athleticism that was used to regularly used to dunk on people and block shots. Pippen at 6'8 was able to rebound down low very well, and he was also a very underrated distributor while running the Bull's offense.

Pippen routinely guarded the other team's best perimeter players to give Jordan a break on the defensive end of the basketball. Pippen had multiple seasons of at least 2 steals and 1 block per game, while also contributing on offense. Pippen was a very good slasher as I mentioned but he could also make mid-ranges and sometimes a couple of threes.

Pippen's impact on the Chicago Bulls dynasty is probably just as important as Jordan's. Pippen revolutionized the small forward position and kept it evolving. His impact on both ends of the floor is neck and neck with most all-time greats, hence why he made the list.


5. Kawhi Leonard

Career Stats: 23.8 PTS, 6.5 REB, 3.9 AST

Accolades: 5x All-Star, 5x All-NBA (3x First Team, 2x Second Team), 7x All-Defensive (3x First Team, 4x Second Team), 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, NBA All-rookie First Team, NBA Steals leader 2015

 Coming into the league Kawhi was seen as an athletic forward and good defender who needed to improve his offensive game. Once Kawhi took massive leaps in his shooting and ball handling, he exploded onto the scene as a star in the league. But where Kawhi made his name was in the playoffs,  elevating his play from an all-star level to an all-time level. One example is when Kawhi won a Finals MVP at the tender age of 23.

Some fans could argue that Kawhi's availability and injury history should keep him out of the top 5, but I totally disagree. From 2017 to today in the playoffs, Kawhi has consistently averaged over 27 points per game while also racking in 1.5 steals per game. Kawhi has shown on the biggest levels that he is a 3-level scorer who will lock up your best player.

Kawhi Leonard's regular season and playoff resume are so stacked with individual and team accolades that I think it's impossible to keep him out of the top 10. He has multiple All-NBA selections and multiple DPOY awards, and he has also led his teams to multiple deep playoff runs resulting in championships. One underrated part of Kawhi is that he is a flat-out winner, he holds a 73% win percentage. There could be arguments for other players but I see the gap between Kawhi and his counterparts as too big and could continue to get bigger as Kawhi's career unfolds.


4. Julius Erving

Career Stats: 24.2, 8.2 REB, 4.2 AST

Accolades: 16x All-Star, 1x NBA Champion, 5x All-ABA (4x First Team, 1x Second), 2x AS-MVP, ABA All-Time Team, 4x MVP, 7x All-NBA (5x First Team, 2x Second Team), ABA All-Rookie First Team, 3x ABA Scoring Champion

Dr.J is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play Basketball. His size made him a matchup problem for most people and his skill was ahead of its time. He was a nightmare in transition with his speed and athleticism because he could finish over anyone. Dr.J isn't just a normal slasher, he could dunk on you or pull out flashy finishes while hanging in the air. He could also space out and hit timely three-pointers when needed.

Dr.J was not a good rebounder he was amazing, he could easily go grab the ball off the rim and dunk on the other end. Dr.J averaged multiple double-doubles throughout his career showing his versatility on offense. Julius could also defend at a really high level, he averaged 2 steals and 1 block for his whole career, that's absurd.

DR.J was one of the best players on and off the court for the league. He did everything on both ends of the floor and brought flash and style to his game that no one had. He showed an unreal amount of longevity, he made the all-star game every year of his playing career.


3. Kevin Durant

Career Stats: 27.3 PPG, 7.1 REB, 4.3 AST

Accolades: 2x NBA champion, 2x Finals MVP. 1x NBA MVP, 13x NBA All-Star, 10x All-NBA( 6x First Team, 4x Second Team), NBA Rookie of Year, 4x NBA scoring champion, 2x 50-40-90 club

Durant is truly a unique player. His mix of skill and size is something that I never see being matched by anyone at least right now. Durant can handle the ball like a guard and cross up any player who tries to defend him. He can shoot from anywhere on the court no matter if it's off the dribble or on the catch. He has such high release that it makes it almost impossible to block, at least consistently. He is the best 3-level scorer at his size to ever play in the league.

Although no one can deny Durant's greatness he does get a lot of flack for joining the Warriors in 2016, but his dominance has never been questioned. Durant has had multiple deep playoff runs where he has scored at insanely efficient rates. There truly are no holes in Kevin Durant's offensive game.

No matter how you personally feel about Kevin Durant, he will be remembered as one of the most unique players in NBA history. He has had over a decade of dominance despite dealing with two major injuries in his career. Durant has an impeccable resume and has the chance to continue to add to it.


2. Larry Bird

Career stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 REB, 6.3 AST

Accolades: 3x NBA champion, 2x Finals MVP, 3x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 10x All-NBA (9x First team, 1x Second Team), 3x All Defensive Team (3x Second Team), NBA Rookie of the Year, 2x 50-40-90 club

Larry Bird had no weaknesses on the basketball court. He could do everything well on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Bird had a very good jumper from the midrange and three, he was also a very crafty finisher around the rim. Bird's size helped him on the boards rack up double-digit boards regularly.

Bird could handle and facilitate like a guard whenever his team needed him to, and also he could defend the post and perimeter against other guys. Bird was not the most physically gifted but his inside-out game allowed him to run circles around players.

Bird's unique skillset helped propel the Celtics to multiple championships and also allowed them to take out juggernauts. The Celtics were consistently contending for championships because of Larry Bird and his impact will never go unnoticed.


1. LeBron James

Career Stats: 27.2 PPG, 7.5 REB, 7.3 AST

Accolades: 4x NBA champion, 4x NBA Finals MVP, 4x MVP, 19x All-Star, 19x All-NBA (13x First Team, 3x Second, 3x Third Team), 6x All-Defenseive (5x Second, 1x Third), NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA scoring champion 2008, NBA assists leader 2020

This was an easy choice for who would be at the top of the list. Next to Shaq, LeBron is probably the most physically dominant player to ever play in the NBA. At 6'9 250 pounds, LeBron has the size and speed that nobody has ever been able to match ever in the league. Too big for guards and too quick for bigs, it takes a team effort to stop LeBron, unlike other players. At his peak, LeBron could average almost 30 points per game with ease, while also throwing in almost 10 assists.

Lebron has a daunting vertical to leap that he used to make iconic chase-down blocks with and finish over anyone in the lane when going full speed. He is one of the most intelligent players ever, he uses his IQ to set up plays on offense and stop plays on defense. James at his Defensive peak was also something out of the world. He was able to consistently able to guard perimeter players but also guard the paint with his routine blocks. He has also developed a reliable jumper to not allow defenses to just sag off him. With James's all-around dominant skillset, any team with LeBron on their roster has competed and won multiple championships consistently.

The last why Lebron has been so amazing is because of his longevity, he has been playing at a hall-of-fame level for almost two decades. This is something that no one could have ever predicted even when he was given the name "The King". James has broken many All-time Records that most fans believed would have never been touched. The most recent one is the All-Time scoring record and many more to come. I don't think there will ever be another player who displays the all-around dominance that LeBron has.

So there you have it, this is the end of my top 10 small forwards of all time list. I'll quickly reiterate that individual accolades, performances in big games, and dominance of the era were held at a higher rank rather than team success and championships. If you have any questions or differing opinions I would love to hear your thoughts!

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