Top 20 Best Small Forwards in NBA History

By Ryan Finklestein - December 07, 2018

If there is one thing that defines a good small forward it is their ability to put the ball in the bucket. We have seen high-flying scorers take control of games dating back to the days of Dr Jr, to the current NBA with LeBron James. Here are the top 20 best small forwards in the history of the NBA.

20. Billy Cunningham

Nicknamed the “Kangaroo Kid”, Billy Cunningham played his entire NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers and had his No. 32 jersey retired by the team for his great play. Cunningham helped led the Sixers to an NBA championship in 1967 and was an all-star four times. Cunningham left the 76ers for two years to play for the Carolina Cougars in the ABA. Cunningham dominated the ABA in those years and was named the league’s MVP in 1973.  

19. Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony may no longer be a player that contribute to a winning team in the NBA, but he is still one of the most gifted scorers that we have ever seen. Through his first 14 seasons in the NBA, Carmelo averaged nearly 25 points per game for the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks.  

18. Chris Mullin

Chris Mullin had a decorated collegiate career at St. John University, where he is now the head coach, before entering the NBA as the seventh overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. Mullin was five-time all-star and averaged 18.2 points per game in his career.  

17. Paul Arizin

Known by the nickname “Pitchin Paul”, Paul Arizin retired with the third-most career points in NBA history and led the Philadelphia Warriors to a championship in 1956. Arizin was an all-star in each of his 10 seasons played in the NBA.  

16. Grant Hill

Grant Hill could have been even higher on this list, if injuries did not limit his production on the court. Hill spent the first six years of his career with the Detroit Pistons and was an all-star in five of those seasons. Hill averaged 21.6 points with the Pistons before he signed with the Orlando Magic as a free agent. Hill then spent significant time with both the Magic and the Phoenix Suns, where he was not quite the same star player, but still an effective piece on some really good teams.  

15. Robert Horry

Known as “Big Shot Bob” for his penchant for hitting game-winning shots in the biggest moments, Robert Horry is one of the best clutch players in the history of the NBA. In fact, he is the only player in the history of the NBA to win seven championships that did not play for the Boston Celtics in the 1960s.  

14. Bernard King

Bernard King is one of the most electric personalities and scorers in the history of the NBA, most remembered for his time playing with the New York Knicks. In four years with the Knicks, King scored 26.5 points per game and paced the league in scoring with 32.9 points in the 1984-85 season.  

13. Adrian Dantley

Another gifted scorer, Adrian Dantley led the league in that category twice and averaged 24.3 points per game during his career. Dantley’s best years came when he played for the Jazz as all six of his all-star campaigns came in Utah. Dantley led the league in scoring twice during as a member of the Jazz and averaged nearly 30 points per game.  

12. Alex English

After beginning his career playing for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers, Alex English went to the Denver Nuggets and his career took off. All eight of English’s all-star appearances came when he was in a Nuggets uniform and he averaged nearly 26 points per game across 11 seasons in Denver. English’s No. 2 jersey has been retired by the Denver Nuggets.  

11. Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce is one of the best players in the history of the Boston Celtics franchise and the best player in recent memory. Pierce was given the nickname “The Truth” by Shaquille O’Neil and was one of the more clutch players in the NBA during his career. In 2007, Pierce teamed up with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to form a powerful Big Three that would win the 2008 NBA Finals. Pierce was instrumental to the Celtics success in that championship season and was named the NBA Finals MVP for averaging 22 points per game in the series.

10. Dominique Wilkins

Dominique Wilkins was one of the best dunkers that we have ever seen in the NBA, winning two Slam Dunk Contests in his career. Wilkins was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for his dunks and averaged 25 points per game in his career due to his ability to play above the rim.  

9. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant will probably finish his career in the top-three for greatest small forwards of all time, as he can still add plenty to his legacy over the next decade. Durant started his career with the Seattle SuperSonics, later the Oklahoma City Thunder, and won an MVP and four scoring title as the featured player on the Thunder. Now with the Golden State Warriors, Durant has won two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs.  

8. James Worthy

James Worthy spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers and was one of the great winning players that the franchise has had. Worthy earned the nickname “Big Game James” for his play in the postseason, leading the Lakers to three NBA championships in his career. Worth won the 1988 NBA Finals MVP after a legendary Game 7 performance in which he picked up a triple-double. Worthy scored 36 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out 10 assists in that game.  

7. Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor was the No. 1 pick in the 1958 NBA Draft and would go on to have an amazing Hall of Fame career. Playing entirely for the Lakers, Baylor was an 11-time all-star who constantly put up gaudy statistics. Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in his career and is probably the best player in the history of the franchise to never win a championship.  

6. Rick Barry

Rick Barry was a great scorer during his basketball career and is the only player to ever lead the NCAA, the NBA and the ABA in scoring for individual seasons. Barry was known for his unorthodox style of shooting free throws underhanded. Barry’s underhanded free throws were very successful as he converted .900 percent in his career, which was the best percentage of all time when he retired.  

5. Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen is remembered as the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman during their career with the Chicago Bulls, but Pippen is a top 50 player of all time in his own right. Pippen’s defense and scoring were crucial in taking the Bulls to a championship-level, as he was a big reason for their six championships.  

4. John Havlicek

No player has had a better start to their NBA career then John Havlicek as he won four championships in his first four years in the league. Havlicek never lost an NBA Finals in his career and had a perfect 8-0 record in those series. Havlicek averaged 20.8 points in his career and was an all-star 13 times.  

3. Julius Erving

Julius Erving was credited with being the player that legitimized the ABA leading the merger between the ABA and the NBA. Known prominently as Dr J, Julius Erving won four MVP awards between his time in the ABA and NBA and was a 16-time all-star. Erving won a NBA championship in 1983 for the Philadelphia 76ers and two ABA championships with the New York Nets.  

2. Larry Bird

Larry Bird is one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA and along with Bill Russell, one of the best Celtics ever. Bird was a 12-time all-star and had a three-year window in which he was the best player in the league. Bird won three straight MVP awards from 1984 through 1986. During that span, Bird led the Celtics to two championships, winning the NBA Finals MVP in 1984 and 1986.  

1. LeBron James

LeBron James has his sights on the G.O.A.T. title, as he “chases ghosts” to be considered the best to ever play in the NBA. James has plenty of career accolades to support his case for being the greatest small forward of all-time, but all you really need is the eye test. LeBron James has been one of the most unstoppable forces that the sport has ever seen. James is going on two decades of being the NBA’s best player and still has plenty left in the tank.