NBA

The best NBA small forwards of all time

Feb 17, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Team Lebron forward Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (23) reacts with Team Lebron forward Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warrior (35) during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game at Spectrum Center.

In terms of notoriety, the small forward may be the most curious position in all of basketball. Small forwards often don’t run their offenses as smaller and more agile guards do. They also usually don’t protect the rim as well as their taller power forwards and centers. However, there are some exceptions.

Not considering a select few players, many of these middle-sized players find a niche within their team. Whether that be scoring and defense, or just one of the two, many small forwards impact their teams greatly during their time on the court. Over the years, the small forward evolved into one of basketball’s most dangerous positions. Too big for guards to defend and too agile for power forwards and centers. Many players played “the 3,” and some still play today. This begs the question: who are the best small forwards of all time?

In making this list, all aspects of the game had to be taken into account. The offensive threat, efficiency, plus/minus, defensive capability, and many other intangible qualities all affected this list. Some inclusions on the list may seem undisputed, but others may be a shock. Here are the top 10 small forwards in NBA history.

10. James Worthy

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - 1990: James Worthy #42 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks downcourt against the New Jersey Nets circa 1990 at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Career Averages: 17.6 PPG, 3 AST, 5.1 REB

“Big Game” James Worthy opens the list at the tenth spot. The Lakers legend was perhaps the “ideal” small forward for his role within the ‘Showtime’ Lakers of the 1980s. He played alongside the likes of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, yet he still managed to have a colossal impact on the court.

Worthy played 12 seasons in the league, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. In his career, he made 7 All-Star teams and won 3 titles. He even won the 1988 NBA Finals MVP award over Johnson. This feat is even more impressive, knowing that Johnson was an undisputed Hall of Famer. However, Worthy managed to adjust to a team already filled with stars.

Perhaps his college career helped him adjust as he played with future NBA stars Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan. Drafted first overall in 1982, Worthy quickly rose through the Lakers depth chart after a great college career at North Carolina.

Playstyle

His athleticism and length at small forward made him a perfect 2-way player. Often seen receiving Magic’s passes in transition, Worthy became known as a ferocious above-the-rim player. Combined with his impressive speed for a player standing 6’9, he seemed the perfect sidekick for Johnson. Kareem even believed that Worthy was”the fastest player in the league.”

With time, he also perfected his technical skills instead of relying solely on athleticism. His turnaround jumper seemed almost unstoppable as the years went on, and teams feared him away from the rim too. Although his career 24% from beyond the arc is underwhelming, his mid-range game forced defenders to step up when guarding him.

On defense, he wasn’t extraordinary, but he was a respected defender who often started fast breaks with blocks or steals. Even with his 6’9 stature, he managed to average a block a game in 2 seasons. He also averaged more than a steal per game in 8 out of his 12 career seasons.

Legacy

As his career progressed, he earned the moniker “Big Game James” to nod to his performances in important games. In 12 seasons, he played a whopping 34 NBA Finals games. Rather than hide behind other stars on the Lakers roster, he instead elevated his game. His points average in the finals rose to 22.2 from a career of 17.6. Additionally, in the 4 game, 7’s that he featured in his career, it rose further to 27 points a game.

Although he played just 12 seasons after injuries forced early retirement, Worthy’s legacy within the league was already solidified. Many point to his longevity within the stacked ‘Showtime’ Lakers of the 80s as a major reason for his legacy. His outstanding career put him at 6th on the team’s all-time scoring list.

Ranking

Worthy ranked 10 on the list as he never truly was his team’s number one player. In short, fans never saw Worthy on a team or roster without other superstars. While his play alone warrants his inclusion on this list, he fails to rank higher due to this simple fact.

He often showed out and fit the offense perfectly, but he rarely truly orchestrated the offense, serving more like an extremely talented sidekick to Magic. While he did step up his game on big occasions, often leading the team in scoring, he simply never was the go-to guy. Magic was that guy and truly complimented Worthy’s game.

In addition, he never added a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal on offense. Even in his era when shooters were a dime a dozen in the NBA, he failed to make a single 3-point shot in 4 entire seasons. As a small forward, that is almost unheard of.

9. Dominique Wilkins

PORTLAND, OR - 1989: Dominique Wilkins #21 of the Atlanta Hawks looks on against the Portland Trailblazers at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon circa 1989.
Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

Career Averages: 24.8 PPG, 2.5 AST, 6.7 REB

Dominique Wilkins is the list’s next entry. Wilkins starred for the Atlanta Hawks in the 80s and early 90s before moving to the Celtics, Clippers, Spurs, and Magic in the waning years of his career. He even spent a short time overseas playing in Greece and Italy. Along the way, he racked up 9 All-Star appearances and was named to 7 All-NBA teams.

Unlike Worthy, Wilkins often spent his career as a one-man show. He was “that” guy in Atlanta for 12 years before moving to Boston. In his entire time in Atlanta, he played with no other superstars of the time. The closest a teammate came to superstar status was maybe Penny Hardaway, who played just one season in Orlando alongside Wilkins.

The Utah Jazz actually drafted Wilkins 3rd in the 1982 draft, just 2 spots after Worthy. In the months following the draft, Atlanta acquired the future hall of famer as the Jazz had financial issues and were desperate for a trade.

Playstyle

Wilkins’ ability to score the basketball was nearly unmatched by anyone during his era. After his first season adjusting to the league and its defenders, Wilkins went on a rampage. For the rest of his NBA career, he averaged at least 21 PPG up until his last 3 seasons. He even picked up a scoring title along the way in 1986, averaging 30 PPG.

If not for Michael Jordan averaging a ridiculous 35 PPG in 1988, Wilkins would have won it again that year. Wilkins wasn’t a deadeye shooter, but he had a decent 3-point shot and mid-range game, averaging 31% from behind the arc for his career. What defined his play was his outrageous athleticism and finishing ability. Namely, his dunking.

Dubbed “The Human Highlight Reel,” Wilkins scored with ease around the basket. He always seemed to be above the rim when it came to scoring, and fans loved his constant, highlight reel-worthy dunks. His ability also showed as he won both the 1985 and 1990 NBA Slam Dunk Contests.

Legacy

In Atlanta, Wilkins is a hero. His 12 seasons in the city saw him develop into the franchise’s first star in what seemed like ages. Even now, he remains by far the team’s biggest superstar to date.

However, he failed to bring the Hawks a single title. In fact, for most of his time there, the team was never even in title contention. Despite playing postseason basketball in 8 of his seasons in Atlanta, Wilkins and the Hawks never reached past the conference semifinals.

Wilkins is arguably Atlanta’s best player ever, but he moved on from the franchise later in his career. Despite this lack of rings, he remains an all-time legend in the Hawks franchise and within the league.

Ranking

Despite being one of the league’s best-ever raw scorers, Wilkins falls lower on the list due to his lack of winning. By far, he was always his team’s number one option, and that may exactly be why he never earned a ring. He simply had no other stars on any of his teams.

Without a doubt, Wilkins deserves a spot on the list, but he failed to reach the next level despite being one of the league’s best in his time. If Wilkins managed to star on better teams as many of this list’s entries did, his rank would be much higher. However, that is clearly not the case, which is why he makes number 9 on the list.

8. Rick Barry

DENVER, CO � NOVEMBER 9: Golden State Warriors forward Rick Barry #24 shoots a jumper from the corner while being defended by Denver Nuggets forward Bobby Jones #24 during an NBA basketball game at McNichols Arena on November 9, 1976 in Denver, Colorado.
Mark Junge/Getty Images

Career Averages: 24.8 PPG, 4.9 AST, 6.7 REB

Coming in at number 7 is Rick Barry. Starring throughout the 60s and 70s, Barry established himself as one of the most underrated NBA legends ever. His career spanned 15 years in both the NBA and ABA.

The most common franchise with him is the Warriors, who drafted Barry in 1965, then called the San Francisco Warriors. In his rookie year, he burst onto the NBA scene averaging 25.7 PPG and 10.6 REB as a 21-year-old. In the next season, he led the league in scoring with 35.6 points a game while also guiding the Warriors to an appearance in the 1967 NBA Finals.

However, his first stint with the Warriors lasted just two seasons as money disputes with the team’s owner Franklin Mieuli forced an ABA move for Barry. He stayed in the Bay Area, this time around playing his basketball for the Oakland Oaks. Barry continued playing in the ABA for Washington, Virginia, and then New York. His production never ceased in the ABA as he scored no less than 27.7 PPG in 4 seasons. He also won an ABA title in 1969.

After 5 years away from the NBA, Barry returned to the Warriors. His second time with the franchise defined his NBA career as he won the 1975 NBA Finals and Finals MVP. In his last 2 NBA seasons, he took on a minor role with the Houston Rockets.

Playstyle

Like many players, Barry’s game evolved greatly over the years. Entering the league, his entire game revolved around scoring. He became feared by defenders for both his perimeter shooting and his tenacious drives to the bucket. Fouling wasn’t effective either, as Barry shot exceptionally well from the line with his signature underhand technique.

He even set a now broken NBA record in the 78-79 season, shooting 94.7% from the line. Upon his return to the NBA after several seasons in the ABA, Barry expanded his offensive game greatly. Rather than basing his game off only scoring, he grew into a great passer and floor general. His perimeter game also improved, but the 3-point line, unfortunately, didn’t exist at the time.

On defense, Barry possessed the ability to guard both guards and forwards. With his 6’7 frame, he had the speed to defend smaller guards, but he also had the knack for guarding bigger players as he played at the 3 spot. As a result, he often led the team in steals, averaging 2 steals per game over his career.

Legacy

Perhaps due to his era of play, Barry is wildly underrated in the “legends” category of NBA players. His 5-year absence from the league also plays a part in his legacy, where he doesn’t receive as much attention as he probably deserves.

In a league without the 3 point shot, Barry challenged the norms of the league by extending his offensive range. His outside jumper became almost as effective as his close-range shots. As a result, he became one of the pioneers of the outside shot, even before the 3-point arc even existed.

Barry’s underhand free throw also remained an enigma within the league to this day. Not only did it look unique, but his “granny-style” shot also remained amongst the best in the league from the line. Ultimately, his longevity with the Warriors and his title also contribute to his status as an NBA legend.

Ranking

To be fair, Barry could have been placed anywhere from 6-8 in this list, but a few factors attributed to his relatively low placement. His scoring seemed unmatched during his time, and his outside shot was indeed revolutionary. However, he retreated to the ABA for 5 years. While many argue that this shouldn’t affect his legacy too much, the ABA was indeed a secondary league.

In the end, Barry did end up being wildly successful upon his return to the league, but half a decade away cannot be ignored. Putting him so low is up to debate, but he makes number 8 on this list.

7. Scottie Pippen

BOSTON, MA - 1992: Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls shoots against the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1992 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Career Averages: 16.1 PPG, 5.2 AST, 6.4 REB

When fans think of Scottie Pippen, they usually think, “MJ’s second in command.” That he was, but Pippen was more than a mere sidekick to arguably the best player of all time. Tenacious on both sides of the court, Pippen became a key part of the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 90s.

As an individual, he made 7 All-NBA teams and, perhaps more impressively, 8 All-Defensive teams. Playing with MJ and the Bulls did have its perks, though, as he won a total of 6 NBA titles in his career.

After a very fruitful 11 seasons in Chicago, Pippen moved on to Houston and Portland, where he established himself as a valuable veteran starter despite reduced offensive production. He finished his career in 2004 in the last season with Chicago.

Playstyle

On the floor, Pippen became known for his athleticism and ability to score inside. When Jordan didn’t have the ball or was not on the floor, Pippen was the Bulls’ go-to. His athleticism and craftiness around the rim earned the respect of defenders around the NBA.

Along with his inside play that often resulted in powerful dunks and contested layups, Pippen also had an underrated outside shot. Over his career, he shot 32% from three-point land. Not exceptional, but it kept defenders guessing and added an additional aspect to his offensive arsenal.

However, Pippen’s importance to the Bulls lied in defensive skills. As shown through his 8 All-Defensive team appearances, Pippen became one of the best defenders not only in his time but of all time. His length and speed aided him on the defensive side, where he averaged 2 steals per game during his career. His stats elevated even more in the 2 seasons he played without Jordan, where he averaged nearly 3 steals per game.

Legacy

Throughout his career, Pippen remained Jordan’s shadow as the Bulls drafted him 3 years after MJ. However, he did have 2 years playing without Jordan on the Bulls, where he showed the true extent of his skill.

After starring on the legendary Bulls rosters of the 90s, Pippen continued his career with the Trail Blazers. In Portland, he showed off his play, although his age and loss of athleticism took away from the offensive output in Chicago. Pippen will forever be remembered in Chicago as a franchise great. With both his longevity on a single team and consistently high-level play, he is deserving of his status as an NBA legend.

Ranking

Just like Barry, Pippen’s ranking was up for much debate within this list. He easily could’ve swapped places with Barry or even fell a bit further to Wilkins’ spot. However, Pippen proved that he could play without Jordan, as shown in his consistent stats after “Jumpman’s” first retirement.

His outrageous success in the postseason also bumped up his rank as he has an impressive 6 rings to his name. Playing with Jordan was a double-edged sword for Pippen, though he failed to gain stardom in his time without him, and their relationship is now reportedly fractured.

Once he moved on from the Bulls, he already was an aging shell of his prime self. If Pippen moved away from the Bulls during his prime, who knows how good he could have become? Likewise, he also may not have won as many rings. For the reasons above, Pippen makes the list at number 7.

6. John Havlicek

BALTIMORE, MD - CIRCA 1973: John Havlicek #17 of the Boston Celtics dribbles the ball up court against the Capital  Bullets circa 1973 during an NBA basketball game at the Capital Centre in Baltimore, Maryland. Havlicek played for the Celtics from 1962 - 78.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Career Averages: 20.8 PPG, 4.8 AST, 6.3 REB

At number 6 is John Havlicek. Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1962, “Hondo,” as many called him, stayed with the team for 16 seasons. He retired in 1978 as a team and city legend within Boston. Early on in his career, Havlicek starred off the bench for the already stacked Celtics of the 60s.

In his first 4 NBA seasons, he won 4 straight titles. The Celtics dynasty was in full swing. Havlicek went on to win an additional 4 titles to add to his collection. As Bill Russell started to age, Havlicek stepped up his game. By the time Russell retired in 1969, Havlicek had averaged 21.6 PPG and helped the Celtics win a title in Russell’s farewell season. In 16 prolific seasons, he made 13 All-Star teams, 11 All-NBA teams, and 8 All-Defensive teams.

Playstyle

Immediately as his career started, teams noticed his constant hustle and seemingly infinite stamina. Combined with his physicality, it made him a threat in all areas. Havlicek’s athleticism and build translated well into basketball as he even made an appearance on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad in 1962 before his NBA days.

Standing just 6’5, Havlicek often matched up against players larger than him. However, his skill off the dribble and ability to spread the floor lent themselves nicely to his game. Havlicek evolved, becoming a better passer and ball-handler after Russell’s retirement like others on this list.

On defense, he excelled where his size guarding larger players helped him gain a speed advantage. Steals weren’t counted for much of his career, but when they became an official statistic in 1973, he averaged more than 1 a game in his last 5 seasons.

Legacy

Havlicek was a one-team man, and he lived up to the title. Not only did he stay with the Celtics for 16 seasons, but he also contributed individually and helped the team win. His 8 titles prove that he made the team better rather than just being an individual star.

Bill Russell even called him “the best all-around ballplayer [he] ever saw.” Sadly, Havlicek passed away in 2019, aged 79, but his legacy within Boston and throughout the league live on as he is remembered as an all-time great.

Ranking

Like this list’s previous entries, Havlicek’s spot was extremely, extremely debatable. If not for his placement on the Celtics dynasty of the 60s, he may have been a bit higher. However, the fact of the matter is that these teams simply outshined every other team. A whopping 8 titles in a row is impressive, but in the early days of the NBA, it was pretty much them versus everyone else.

Don’t let the stature of Havlicek’s teams take away from his skill, though. He still was a great scoring option and defender on his teams, and he even won the 1974 Finals MVP. If Havlicek starred on a different team without as much talent and proved his winning ways there, he may have been higher. For now, he stays at number 6.

5. Julius Erving

3/5/1985 Action, Philadelphia 76ers' Julius Erving making a basket during unidentified game (dunking).
Bettman/Getty Images

Career Averages: 24.2 PPG, 4.2 AST, 8.5 REB

“Dr. J” starts the bottom half of this list, and quite deservingly. Unlike the other stars on this list, Erving actually started his career in the ABA. Signed by the Virginia Squires in 1971, Erving quickly rose to basketball stardom. In his rookie year, he averaged 27 PPG and made the All-ABA Second Team. His production didn’t stop there as he continued his stellar play in Virginia for another season. Erving then moved to New York, where he won 2 ABA titles with the Nets.

In 1976 as the Nets joined the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired him. He would end up turning into perhaps the Sixers’ greatest player ever. His dunks that once captivated the ABA fans continued into the NBA, where he began wreaking havoc on defenses.

For the next 11 seasons in Philadelphia, Erving became a household name in the league. He made 11 All-Star appearances and 7 All-NBA teams and was even named the 1980-1981 NBA MVP. Not to mention that he helped Philly win a title in 1983.

Playstyle

Erving’s TV-worthy dunks captivated fans and became a signature aspect of his offensive arsenal. His “Rock the Baby” slam against the Lakers remains one of the most iconic dunks in NBA history. He also introduced the world to the free-throw line dunk in the 1976 ABA Dunk Contest, which he won.

In short, Erving’s finishing around the basket simply was unmatched in its time, and many see him as the game’s best dunker ever. However, dunks weren’t Erving’s only offensive weapon as he had a potent mid-range game. He also had a decent 3-point shot, averaging roughly 30% for his career. Not bad, considering that many players had yet to adapt to the new concept.

Legacy

Despite playing the first 5 years of his career in the ABA with limited media exposure compared to the NBA, Erving became a legend after his league change in 1976. Staying the entirety of his NBA career with the Sixers, Erving grew into a Philadelphia icon.

Not only did he excite the league with his dunks, but he also became a more team-oriented player in the NBA. When adjusting to the higher level in the league, he played alongside more talented teammates and, together, was able to build a winning team. His Philadelphia success story climaxed in 1983 as the team won the NBA Finals. It ended happily as he retired in 1987, leaving the league an all-time great and Sixers legend.

Ranking

If not for his 5 year ABA stint, Erving may have moved up higher in this list and on the all-time list. Without a doubt, he was a top player, but the shift from the ABA to the NBA was a big one as his production dropped a bit, and he played against tougher opposition.

Without those 5 seasons in the ABA, Erving could have spent his best years in the NBA and earned a higher spot. However, the next 4 entries are arguably irreplaceable as the top 4. It’s the order of these next 4 that is up for the greatest debate.

4. Elgin Baylor

Basketball: Los Angeles Lakers Elgin Baylor (22) in action, shot vs Detroit Pistons. Inglewood, CA 11/23/1967
Photo by George Long /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Career Averages: 27.4 PPG, 4.3 AST, 13.5 REB

Now we crack into the top 4 with Elgin Baylor. Baylor spent 14 years with the Lakers, starting in Minneapolis, and following the team as they moved to their current home in Los Angeles. After a turbulent college career in which he signed to the tiny College of Idaho and then transferred to Seattle University, Baylor became the Lakers savior. Before picking him with the first pick in the 1958 draft, the Lakers were nearing disaster.

The season before, they finished with just 19 wins, and the team was on the verge of folding. However, Baylor completely changed the team for the better. In arguably the best turnaround in NBA history, Baylor helped the Lakers to an NBA Finals appearance in his rookie year. He also averaged 25 PPG and 15 REB.

As he continued with the Lakers, his ridiculous stat lines continued. In the 1961-1962 season, he even managed 38 PPG. Sadly, he never saw Finals glory as he lost 8 Finals series throughout his career.

Playstyle

Baylor is credited with being one of the league’s first dominant scorers. At just 6’5, he stood shorter than many of the forwards who guarded him, but that didn’t stop his offensive domination.

For nearly 14 seasons, he lit up the league. He allegedly invented the now common floater, which stunned defenders of the time. He also became one of the first players to implement the spin move to his game.

Other than literally revolutionizing the game of basketball, Baylor also employed his ridiculous athleticism into his game. There’s a reason why he managed to average 13.5 rebounds a game at his relatively short stature. According to many, he had a tremendous leaping ability that was unusual for the time.

Legacy

His feats on the court were rewarded handsomely as he made 10 All-NBA First Teams and 11 All-Star teams. Unfortunately, his career ended abruptly in 1972 as constant injury problems simply made the game too hard for Baylor.

In his 14 Laker seasons, he stamped his mark in the annals of the franchise’s history. Stellar play and loyalty to one team are usually a recipe for a highly respected legacy. Despite never winning a title, he is still considered a Lakers great and even has his very own statue outside of the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Ranking

Like with many others, Baylor’s lack of a title certainly did have some effect on his ranking. However, it wasn’t nearly as detrimental as the league during Baylor’s years remained lopsided in the Boston Celtics’ favor. After all, he did lead the Lakers to 8 appearances in the Finals.

Another factor in his ranking was the era that he played in. While this argument is often ridiculed by many, fans, players, and coaches can all likely attest that basketball simply evolved with time. Players got quicker, stronger, and more skilled. If Baylor managed those numbers and performances in a more modern era, his rating might have been bumped up slightly.

3. Larry Bird

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 1987: Larry Bird #33 of the Boston Celtics dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the NBA Finals June 1987 at The Boston Garden in Boston Massachusetts. The Lakers won the finals 4 games to 2.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Career Averages: 24.3 PPG, 6.3 AST, 10 REB

We’re getting close now. Earning a shout as the 3rd best small forward of all time is Celtics legend Larry Bird. Bird and his Celtics ruled the 80s alongside the showtime Lakers that featured earlier entry James Worthy.

Drafted 6th in 1978, the Celtics couldn’t have imagined a better career path for the lanky shooter from rural Indiana. His career started a bit shakily as he didn’t even play in the 1978-79 season, electing to play one more year of college ball. However, he still was a Celtic, and he returned for his rookie year in 1979.

He impressed off the bat in that season, averaging 21 and 10 while helping the Celtics win 32 more games than they did the previous year. Unfortunately for Boston, the team lost in the Conference Finals, narrowly missing out on a Finals appearance. For Bird, things were just getting started. Throughout the 80s, he dominated the league, winning 3 titles, 3 league MVPs, and earning 9 All-NBA First Team selections.

Playstyle

Too many, Bird was a sneakily dominant scorer. At first glance, he never looked a physical specimen, standing at 6’9 and weighing 220 pounds. Both about average for his position. However, this deceptive look mirrored almost nothing in his game.

Bird was a sharpshooter, floor general, post-player, and ball-handler all in one. Legendary coach Red Auerbach even anointed Bird as the best player he’d ever seen. He regularly was a threat from beyond the arc, and when driving the ball, he also had a soft touch around the rim.

Fouling Bird was also futile, as he regularly averaged over 90% accuracy from the line. On defense, Bird also gained acclaim for his basketball IQ and ability to read the game. As a result, he averaged 1.7 steals per game over his career.

Legacy

Throughout the NBA community, Bird is recognized as one of the greatest to do it. His status in Boston is even more elevated as he spent his entire 13-season career with the Celtics.

He single-handedly propelled the Celtics into a dynasty, where they renewed their rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers as both teams vied for domination in the 80s. His humble beginnings in small-town Indiana also helped his case as he seemingly rose from country kid to NBA star. All within less than 4 years.

Ranking

This was perhaps the hardest decision of them all. Bird easily could have taken the second spot, but the “era argument” is in play once again. Bird was fantastic, and no credit should be taken away from him.

However, the following 2 players edge him out ever so slightly, which is why he takes 3rd on the list and not higher.

2. Kevin Durant

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 07:  Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates a basket against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center on June 07, 2021 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Career Averages: 27 PPG, 4.2 AST, 7.1 REB

Now we delve into the top 2, and for the first time in the list, 2 currently active players. Kevin Durant takes 2nd as arguably the most lethal scorer in NBA history. “KD,” as he is commonly known, first appeared on the Seattle Supersonics before they became the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After his selection in the 2007 draft, he averaged 20 PPG in his only season in Seattle before the team’s relocation. It was in Oklahoma City where he became the player that so many know today. Here, he became the league’s most feared scorer, winning 4 scoring titles and taking OKC to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat.

However, he managed to bounce back and continue to perform at a high level in the seasons after the loss, winning the 2014 NBA MVP award. After years of failing to win titles, Durant made one of the NBA’s most controversial moves ever in 2016 as he joined the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. The Warriors were fresh off an NBA title and already had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green running the show.

Durant’s addition made them by far the league’s most hated team. Regardless of public opinion, Durant continued his play, winning 2 titles in the bay. With the Brooklyn Nets, Durant suffered injury issues in his first two years, but he looks to build upon his career next year as the Nets remain a likely title contender.

Playstyle

What makes Durant so deadly on the floor is his extreme length. Listed at just 6’9, speculation surrounded his true height, which he later revealed to be 7’0 as he grew during his time in the NBA. Paired with his skill on the ball, he is unstoppable for many defenders.

For years, Durant has been a threat from anywhere on the floor. He has a 3-point percentage that has hovered around 40% for most of his career. Combine that with decent handles at his size, and scoring comes almost with ease for him.

If not shooting from the perimeter or mid-range, he also can soar over defenders at the rim with his lanky and long build. On defense,e he also slowly grew into a competent rim defender due to his size. His lateral quickness also allows him to guard nearly any position on the floor.

Legacy

Once a fan favorite across the league when in OKC, Durant gained a bit of a “villain” status when he joined the Warriors in 2016. This status only elevated in stature when he joined the Nets, combining forces with Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

He already has rings, but his final legacy is still yet to be determined. Many love him, but an equal amount, if not more, hate him. Many criticize his often “soft” attitude that showed through his burner account scandal and moves to superteams. However, he is yet to retire, so his end legacy is still up to his control.

Ranking

KD misses out on the number 1 spot, but not narrowly. While he is one of the NBA’s most gifted scorers, he still is yet to have a knack for running the floor and distributing the ball.

In addition, the top player on the list is simply much more well-rounded. He competes for the title of “Best Player Ever,” not just among small forwards. KD simply is not there yet. In reality, KD never could have made the top spot with the player above him.

1. LeBron James

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 12: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates his three point basket at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on February 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Career Averages: 27 PPG, 7.4 AST, 7.4 REB

Finishing off the list is none other than “The King” LeBron James. As if there was ever a doubt in this, James is arguably the best player of all time, with Michael Jordan the only other being included in that discussion.

James entered his name into the NBA just out of high school when Cleveland Cavaliers first selected him in the 2003 NBA draft. Not bad for an 18-year-old. James lived up to the hype, becoming the face of the franchise in his first stint.

Year after year, he put up incredible numbers with the Cavs. He even won back-to-back MVPs in 2009 and 2010. However, the Cavs failed to build a team around James and, as a result, failed to win a single title. In 2010, he joined the Miami Heat, forming the now notorious “Big 3” with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In South Beach, he won a further 2 MVPs, but it was here where he won his first-ever ring, winning in 2012 and 2013.

James returned to Cleveland in 2014 and eventually won the franchise’s first title in 2016. Currently, he plays with the Lakers, who won last year’s title in the NBA bubble. However, with a disappointing season riddled with injuries this year, the team looks to bounce back, and James looks to win another ring.

Playstyle

Regarded as one of the best “jack of all trades” players in NBA history, James has few weak spots in his game. At 6’9 and 250 pounds, James is still lightning quick. Although time has taken its toll, he still gets to the basket frequently, where he often slams down powerful dunks or finishes in traffic with a soft hand around the bucket.

He also has the ability to sink threes. While not as competent as Kevin Durant or other sharpshooters, James’ career 34.5% efficiency from 3 forces defenders to step up when guarding him. Perhaps more impressive than his scoring is his outstanding passing ability, which often sees him running the offense rather than a traditional point guard.

Just last season, he averaged 10 assists as the Lakers won the title. His passing ability is so highly rated to the point where he receives comparisons with Magic Johnson. On defense, he also lends himself as a great 1 on 1 defender who also has an ability to defend the rim if needed.

Legacy

Already, LeBron has established himself as arguably the best player ever. One player stands in the same category, and that is none other than Michael Jordan. With 4 rings and 4 Finals MVPs, James isn’t just a star without winning. He is an established winning superstar.

His ability to excel in almost all facets of the game forces people to wonder who the better player is. If he manages 1 or even 2 more rings before his career ends, James has a realistic opportunity to overtake Jordan as the undisputed “GOAT” of basketball.

His determination in the city of Cleveland also cements his legacy in the league, especially in the city, which is starved of major success in most sports. Just a short drive away from his hometown of Akron, Cleveland seems to be a home for him too.

Further adding to his positive legacy is the 2016 NBA Finals. James somehow led his Cavaliers from being down 3-1 to the record-breaking 73-9 Warriors to win in 7 games. It will no doubt live forever in NBA history as one of the greatest Finals ever.

Ranking

Was this ever really in question? LeBron James is the greatest small forward of all time. Period. He has the scoring ability to match anyone in the league, the passing ability of any great point guard, and the tenacity and leadership that define a truly great player.

Most players on this list have some facets where they fall short, but he really has none in LeBron James’ case, which is why he rounds out the list at the top spot.

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