The Five Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History
Welcome back to everyone. This article is relates to, what I consider a unique, hard to define position, the small forward.
All the other positions in the league are pretty much self-,defined, from Center to Point Guard, Shooting Guard and Power Forward, but the small forward is more of a chameleon-type position, as it can be filled by a player who is close to a seven footer to someone who is only 6’3” or so.
Because of this there are many players who a lot of you will feel got slighted and that may very well be the case, such as Scottie Pippen, Alex English, Rick Barry, and James Worthy, three of these who actually made the NBA’s top 50 at 50 list (Barry, Pippen, and Worthy).
Anyway, here are my top five small forwards in NBA history.
No. 5 – Dominique Wilkins – “The Human Highlight Reel” 15-year career
Personally I find it hard to believe that Dominique was left off the 50 greatest players list, as he is the only one of the top 15 leading scorers of all-time not be on the list. When he retired he was the seventh leading scorer of all-time with 26,534 points and an average of 25.3 point per game.
He made the all-rookie team after leaving Georgia as a junior with an average of 17 points per game, his second season he averaged more than 21 and continued this streak for 11 straight seasons topping it in 1986 by leading the league in scoring, averaging more than 30 points per game.
After spending the 1995-96 year in Europe, he returned to the San Antonio Spurs for the 96-97 season and led the Spurs with an 18-point average at age 37.
His most memorable game was the seventh game of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics when Wilkins shot an unbelievable 19- 23 from the field for 47 points, while Larry Bird answered with 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics escaped with a two-point win 118-116.
He was a two-time winner of the All-Star Slam Dunk Championship and finished second two other times including the "Chicago rip-off" against MJ.
No. 4 – John (Hondo) Havlicek – 16-year career
Nicknamed “Hondo” Havlicek played his entire 16-year career with the Celtics and is still the teams all-time leading scorer, he made 13 straight All-Star games and was All-NBA four times, played on eight Boston championship teams.
He appeared in 13 consecutive NBA All-Star Games, earned 11 selections to the All-NBA First or Second Team, and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First or Second Team eight times.
Havlicek is also credited with making the term sixth man acceptable and for the first five years of his career, he “patented” this term by coming off the bench at either the guard or forward position and providing the Celtics with offense.
Hondo was a tireless player and was always in motion in the Celtics' offense. Whether it was filling the lane on the fast break or playing defense on the opponent’s best player.
Havlicek finished his career as the NBA’s fifth leading scorer, third in games played, fourth in minutes played, fourth in field goal made, third in field goal attempts, and eighth in assists. After all that, there is no question that Hondo EARNED this spot on the list.
No. 3 – Elgin Baylor – 14-year career
Although the record books show Baylor as playing for 14 years, the truth is he only had a 12 full-year career, as his last two seasons were limited to two and nine games due to injuries.
If Elgin had played 25 years later (from the '70s forward) he would easily be regarded in the same breath as Michael Jordan, with shoe contracts and cereal endorsements.
Strong and graceful at 6'5" and 225 pounds, Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds during his 14-year career with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers.
In 134 playoff games, he averaged 27.0 points and 12.9 rebounds. At one time he held the record for points scored in a regular season and playoff game.
In 1962-63, he became the first NBA player to finish in the top five in four different statistical categories-scoring, rebounding, assists, and free-throw percentage.
Baylor never won an NBA title or scoring championship because his career coincided with the great Wilt Chamberlain and during the great Boston Celtic run. From 1960-61 through 1962-63 he averaged 34.8, 38.3, and 34.0 points, respectively.
He led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times, was a 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, and played in 11 NBA All-Star Games. WOW what a career.
No. 2 – Larry Bird – 13-year career
The “Hick from French Lick”, Larry Bird is one of those rare players that comes along once a generation or so that can truly be called a “Superstar”.
Bird, along with Magic Johnson, is credited with raising the NBA up from the ashes where even the NBA finals were broadcast via tape delay prior to their arrival in 1979 to levels where even non-fans knew about Bird and Magic.
Bird is one of three players in NBA history (Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain the others) who won the NBA MVP award three times in a row from 1983-1985.
Bird played with a swagger that was unsurpassed, one year walking into the locker room at the all star game prior to the three point competition, asking the question among his other competitors who was going to finish second.
Then promptly going out and winning the competition for the third straight years, walking away right after releasing the last shot, needing to make it the shot to win, raising his index finger, signaling he was No. 1 before the ball gently settled into the basket. Now that’s MOXY!
Bird was joined on the Celtics' front line with Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale forming what is arguably the greatest front line on any NBA team. Birds two seasons following the last of MVP awards may have been his best, even if he didn’t win the MVP award.
In the 86-87 season Larry averaged 28 points, nine rebounds, almost eight assists, while shooting 52 percent from the field and 91 percent from the free throw line, becoming the first and only player in NBA history to shoot better than 50 percent and 90 percent in the same season.
To prove that it wasn’t a fluke, he did the same thing again the following season, even raising his scoring average to almost 30 per game, the highest of his career.
Bird was named to nine straight all NBA first teams to begin his career and was a 12-time All-Star as well as being an original member of the 1992 Dream team.
No. 1 – Julius “Dr. J. Erving – 16-year Career
Julius Erving, the great and wondrous "Dr. J," was the dominant player of his era, an innovator who changed the way the game was played. He was a wizard with the ball, performing feats never before seen: midair spins and whirls punctuated by powerful slam-dunks.
Erving, came along with advent of Cable and ESPN and set the stage for Michael Jordan to become “Air Jordan.” In his five ABA seasons, Erving won three scoring titles, three Most Valuable Player Awards and two league championships.
During his 11-year NBA career, Erving was an All-Star each season, the league's Most Valuable Player in 1981 and a five-time member of the All-NBA First Team. He scored 30,026 points in his combined ABA and NBA career; A number that only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain surpassed.
In the 1972 NBA draft he was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks, a year after he was already playing in the ABA, if he had went to the Bucks he would have been teammates with Kareem and Oscar Robertson, but instead he attempted to join the Atlanta Hawks in 1972-73 season, he was all suited up and ready to play for the Hawks when a court order sought by the Virginia Squires of the ABA forced his to return to the ABA.
When the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976 Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers. Dr. J. led the Sixers to the NBA championship against the Portland Trailblazers where they lost in six games.
Back in the championship round for the 1979-80 season In Game Four, against the Los Angles Lakers, Erving made the legendary "Baseline Move" which is the headline picture of this article, that would go down as one of the most spectacular shots in NBA history.
First he drove past defender Mark Landsberger along the right baseline and left his feet on that side of the backboard with a layup in mind. Abdul-Jabbar’s outstretched arms quickly blocked his route to the rim.
Erving brought the ball back down and just continued to float, seemingly forever, passing behind the backboard while appearing to glide slightly to the left in midair. He finally cleared all the way to the other side of the hoop, reached back in toward the court and put up a soft, underhanded scoop for the score.
"Here I was, trying to win a championship, and my mouth just dropped open," Magic Johnson, then a rookie, recalled. "He actually did that. I thought, 'What should we do? Should we take the ball out or should we ask him to do it again?'"
It wasn’t until the 1982-83 season, when the Sixers obtained Moses Malone that Dr. J. and Moses were able to put together one of the greatest teams of all-time and win the NBA championship, going 12-1 including sweeping the Los Angles Lakers in the Finals.
Well there you have my choice as the top five greatest small-forwards in NBA history.