King James is Coming for his Crown: Top 10 Small Forwards of All-Time
In part three of the ongoing series published by the creators of celticstown.com, we take a look at the top 10 small forwards of all-time. This list was rather difficult outside the top five, because there was not much from the standpoint of superstars winning titles, or players posting outstanding numbers.
The combination of the qualities is what will land players on this list and these rankings were very difficult to decide.
I think I got them right, but I challenge ANYONE to post comments, thoughts, and their own list regarding the top small forwards of all-time. We at celticstown.com have been trying hard to determine who the best at each position is, so we need as much feedback as possible.
For more on NBA articles or Boston Celtics news, please visit our brand new site, celticstown.com. Thank you and enjoy our list of the top 10 small forwards of all-time.
Grant Hill, Bernard King, Chris Mullin, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Bill Cunningham, Detlef Schrempf, Bobby Jones, Toni Kukoc and *Carmelo Anthony
The players on this list were very good players in this league. Some were obviously better than others, but I felt that they all need some recognition.
Had he not gotten hurt, Grant Hill would have been in at least the top five, possibly the top three. The rest of the guys put up good numbers or were crucial to their teams winning titles. Carmelo Anthony made this list by being the best player on the 2008 “Redeem Team,” leading USA basketball back to the top.
No.10 James Worthy
“Big Game James” was his name for a reason, as he was a part of three of the Los Angeles Lakers championship teams. Coming out of college very touted, he lived up to all of the hype.
Worthy is not higher on my list because he was never the best player on his team and in most cases, he was just the third best. He was a great player on a great team, however, when you play with guys like Magic and Kareem, it is easy to get overshadowed.
For his career, Worthy produced 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest in 12 years. He was a seven time All-Star and one time NBA Finals MVP. He was never better than an All-NBA third-team selection, which shows me that he was nothing more than just a great role player.
All the players I put in front of him on this list would at least the same or better credentials if they had played on the teams he played on.
No.9 Paul Pierce
When I made my initial list, I also had Worthy in front of “The Truth,” but their resumes are very close. I believe Paul surpassed him after the 2008 Playoffs.
He was arguably the best player on a Celtics team that absolutely dominated the NBA throughout the 2008 season. Although they struggled in the first two rounds of the playoffs due to matchup problems, “The Truth” was able to rally his squad and win No. 17 for the Boston Celtics.
Pierce has career averages of 22.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in 11 seasons. He was always a good free throw and three point shooter with shooting percentages of 79.8 and 36.6 respectively. He was the 2008 NBA Finals MVP and he has seven NBA All-Star appearances. Pierce will have some more work to do in order to climb this list and with at least five more good years left in him he is destined to at least jump one or two spots.
Ultimately, he will go down as one of the Celtics all-time greats and 20 years from now you will see the No. 34 hanging from the rafters in between 33 and 35.
No.8 Dominique Wilkins
“The Human Highlight Reel” earned his nickname by electrifying fans with monster dunks and vicious attacks to the basketball. When you look at his resume, you do not see him winning titles, MVPs, All-NBA First-Team awards or Olympic gold medals, but he played in the era with Bird, Magic and then Michael.
For his career Wilkins averaged 24.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in 17 NBA seasons. That is remarkable and it puts him amongst the all-time great scorers in this league. In the 1988 dunk contest, he and Michael Jordan put on a tremendous exposition of dunks that changed the game of basketball forever.
Wilkins was a nine time All-Star, one time All-NBA first team selection, and a one time NBA scoring champ. In 1996 Wilkins took his game overseas and absolutely went to work. He won a Greek Cup Championship, Greek Cup MVP, Euroleague Championship 1996, and won the MVP of the Euroleague Finals. At this time Dominique was 36 years old.
In my opinion, I believe Dominique was the biggest snub to the NBA’s 50 greatest players.
No.7 LeBron James
Yes, I did it. This man has already surpassed some of the NBA’s all-time greats. In six seasons (should have been seven had the NBA let him enter the league after his junior year of high school), LeBron has lived up to all the hype.
I know this may seem premature to some, but looking at the candidates I had to select from LeBron’s credentials were already better just six years in. For his career he averages 27.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assist per game. His numbers are looking more and more like Magic’s and Oscar’s as time goes on. LeBron’s list of being the youngest player to achieve something goes on and on (Most notable youngest player to score 10,000 points).
Already, LeBron has one MVP, three selections to the All-NBA first team, five All-Star appearances, one selection to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and a Rookie of the Year (potentially the best rookie class of all-time).
King James has made one of the biggest splashes in sports in recent memory. He has won an Olympic gold medal with the “Redeem Team” last summer in Beijing. The kid simply has serious credentials and with a couple more years at this level, he will continue to pass players on this list and be considered a lock for the Hall of Fame.
No.6 Rick Barry
Barry was surely a talent deserving of at least the No. 6 rank that I am giving him. He is probably most known for his under hand free throw shooting technique (this helped to secure him the No. 3 all-time only behind Mark Price and Steve Nash).
Barry was not just a great free throw shooter, though. He was a tremendous talent that had an exceptional ability to score. Originally, he started off in the NBA, then moving to the ABA, then moving back to the NBA. He won a title and a finals MVP in 1975 with the Golden State Warriors.
He was an eight time NBA All-Star, six time All-NBA First Team selection and was also named selected as one of the 50 greatest players of all-time. For his career, Barry averaged 23.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
In 1966-67, he produced his best season, averaging 35.6 points and nine rebounds per contest. Barry is also the only NBA player ever to have three children play in the NBA.
No.5 Scottie Pippen
Pippen was the ultimate sidekick in the NBA, playing second fiddle to the greatest player to ever step foot on an NBA court.
Pippen is one of the best players in the history of the NBA to not be drafted in the first round of the draft. Pippen was a 6’7" point guard that had triple-double written all over him. He could matchup defensively at four positions on most nights.
Pippen lands on my list at No. 5 because of how he impacted games with his defensive presence. The Bulls dynasty is arguably the best we have seen so far and Pippen was one of the anchors. No one man team can win this many championships, especially not in the era that the Bulls were winning in. For his career, Pippen produced 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers might seem average, but he played six years after his prime, really dragging his career averages down. However, the list of accomplishments for Scottie Pippen goes up and beyond average. He won six titles with the Bulls in the 90s and made seven All-Star appearances.
He was a three-time All-NBA first team selection, and most impressively he was an eight time NBA all-defensive first team selection. If you add those credentials to the fact he was also a member of “The Dream Team” and was named to the 50 greatest players, you can see why he ranks among the top five of my list.
No.4 John Havlicek
Hondo was one of the league's true pioneers. He was not only a tremendous basketball player, but also a real class act. Havlicek was indeed a real winner in his career, winning eight titles with the Boston Celtics in the 60s and 70s.
When any basketball fan hears the name Havlicek, the sound clip from the 1965 NBA Finals probably rings out. The sound of “Havlicek steals the ball” is what I am referring to, and this is one the most memorable sounds I relate to the NBA.
For his career, Hondo averaged 20.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those numbers are excellent, especially for a player who played on eight separate championship teams. I know he played with the likes of Bill Russell and Dave Cowens, but Havlicek played a large role in securing those rings. He played an exceptional role in 1974 championship when he was the NBA Finals MVP.
Hondo was a 13-time all-star, four time all-NBA first team selection, and five time NBA all-defensive first team selection. He is the NBA’s ultimate “sixth man” as he provided a tremendous spark of the bench for the dynamic Boston Celtics.
No.3 Julius Erving
In a close race for the third spot on my list, I chose to go with “Dr. J.”
Erving would have been higher (probably No.2) on this list if he posted his ABA numbers in the NBA. In his collegiate career at the University of Massachusetts, he put this school on the map, as he averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds for his career.
Instead of joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972 and linking with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, Erving decided to sign with the Atlanta Hawks of the ABA (that trio would have been the best of all-time in my opinion. It would have changed a lot of outcomes in the NBA throughout the 70s).
He dominated in the ABA winning two championships and three MVP awards in five seasons. After five seasons in the ABA he joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 1975-76. In his NBA career, he produced 22 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. With that came 11 all-star appearances, one MVP award, and five first team All-NBA selections. He helped the Philadelphia 76ers win a championship in 1983, which to me solidifies his spot in my top 10.
His ability to change games with his leaping ability is sometimes overlooked. He is one of the original “dunkers” in this league and growing up players like Jordan, Wilkins and Drexler emulated their games like his. The list of those who followed those guys is rapidly growing.
Dr. J was truly a trend setter and his mark on the game of basketball will never be forgotten.
No.2 Elgin Baylor
People do not understand how great of a player that Baylor was. He was unable to win a championship in eight chances due to the most storied dynasty in the history of sports.
Baylor was the best player on the second best team in the league in most of the years during his career. He does not have a single MVP in his trophy case because during his career due to Wilt winning four and Bill winning another four.
For his career, Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. Those numbers are flat out ridiculous for a big man, let alone a small forward. He made 10 All-NBA first teams, add that to 11 all-star appearances and you should see why he is ranked at No. 2 on my list.
This former No. 1 overall pick of the NBA draft posted outstanding numbers at Seattle University. He averaged 31.3 points and 19.5 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the floor in his collegiate career. The most impressive thing that Baylor did in his career was scoring 61 points on the Boston Celtics in game five of the 1962 NBA Finals.
Even though the Lakers lost that series it was one hell of a performance. In the 1960-61 season he posted his best numbers averaging 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds per game. Years and games like these show me that Elgin Baylor was the real deal and one of the greatest small forwards to play in the NBA.
No.1 Larry Bird
Bird averaged 24.3 points and 10 rebounds per game in his “Legendary” NBA career. LB had a wonderful collegiate career at Indiana State, averaging 30.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per contest.
Winning three separate players of the year awards in college with two first team All-American selections Bird was destined to be a good player at the next level. Some critics might have believed that he was not going to dominate in the NBA because he was not the fastest, the biggest, or could not jump the highest, but Larry proved people wrong as he is most likely the consensus No. 1 small forward of all-time.
He won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics during the 80s, which was no easy task playing against the dynasty Los Angeles Lakers in several NBA Finals. That was undoubtedly the biggest rivalry in NBA history.
Larry Bird is one of the only players in NBA history to have won three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards. Add that to the fact that he was a nine time All-NBA first teamer and a 12-time NBA All-Star and you have one hell of a player. Bird was known for his sweet stroke which helped him win three consecutive three-point contests.
He was a member of the best team ever assembled that being the “Dream Team”. This team stormed through the 1992 Olympics winning by over 30 points in almost every game.(They beat Puerto Rico by 28 in the quarterfinals) This “Legend” will always be known as one of the all-time greats as he Magic and Michael truly revolutionized the game of basketball.