B/R NBA Legends 100: Ranking the Greatest Small Forwards of All Time

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 27, 2015

B/R NBA Legends 100: Ranking the Greatest Small Forwards of All Time

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    The small forward position has been flat-out loaded throughout NBA history. 

    Stars like Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek and Jack Twyman dominated during the early years of the Association, and that might actually be the weakest era for this particular spot in a traditional basketball lineup. With standouts like Julius Erving, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird thriving throughout the 1980s, that decade was even more filled with excellence from the small forwards. 

    And how about now? The position is in great hands with LeBron James and Kevin Durant both excelling whenever they step onto the court. 

    But how does everyone stack up throughout NBA history? 

    This is about more than those few standouts who still suit up in the Association. We're interested in how the legends of the small forward position compare to one another, from Cliff Hagan's excellence for the St. Louis Hawks in the 1950s all the way through those winning MVPs in today's NBA landscape. 

    We're not just concerned with the best peaks. It's not about the longest careers. Instead, we're interested in the strength of an entire career, evaluated largely by using numbers. But the prominence of metrics and advanced statistics doesn't mean context can be thrown out the window, either. 

    Everything matters. 

    Note: All stats come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current through March 21, unless otherwise indicated. That's also the source of positional decisions throughout this series of articles. Whichever position a player is listed at for the majority of the seasons in his career is where he'll be placed in the series. 

Important: Glossary of New Metrics That Factor into Evaluation

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Though this article will rely heavily on established advanced metrics like win shares, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage and more, I've also developed a new set of performance metrics that can be used to compare players across eras. 

    As you'll soon see, these metrics will be displayed for every featured player, and they'll be discussed quite often throughout the descriptions of the players in question. Therefore, it's best to familiarize yourself with them now. 

    Understanding the exact calculations is unnecessary for these purposes, but do take the time to understand the principles and purposes, as that will allow you to fully grasp the justifications for the order of this countdown. 

    With traditional metrics, we can gauge how well a player performed during the regular season throughout his career. But with these new ones, we have insight into his playoff performances, as well as how valuable he was to his team and throughout the league in general.

    Playoff Performance (PP)

    Derived by multiplying game score by the number of playoff appearances, this simply shows the strength of a player's statistical production during the postseason. It rewards both quality of play and longevity, as the top scores are only achieved by maintaining excellent performances over the course of multiple deep playoff runs. 

    Advancement Share (AS)

    This shows how deep a player advanced into the playoffs. Different rounds are weighted differently—250 possible points for a title, 100 for an unsuccessful appearance in the NBA Finals and 50 for a conference finals exit—but not every player earns all the possible points. 

    To recognize that some players are bigger contributors than others, the advancement scores are weighted by how much time a player spends on the court. Someone who wins a title but only plays 20 minutes per game will receive a lower percentage of the possible points than a teammate who played 35 minutes per contest. 

    As a result, this shows both playoff success and relative importance during the run of the player in question. 

    Career Contributions (CC)

    Win shares are supposed to be an approximation of how many wins a player provided to his team during a given season, so dividing win shares by team wins should give an estimate of the percentage of value that player was responsible for. Multiplying that by how successful a team was that year (based on TeamRtg+, a combination of DRtg+ and ORtg+) accounts for both a player's value and the strength of the team he was contributing to. 

    Career Contributions sums a player's scores for every season of his career, showing how much value he provided during his NBA life. 

    Career Contributions per Season (CC/Season)

    This shows the number of Career Contributions that a player earned during an average season. It's no more complicated than that. 

    Literal MVPs (LMVPs)

    MVP literally stands for "Most Valuable Player," though the award is usually given to the best player on one of the best teams, depending on the narrative, the glamorous play of the candidate and other factors. A literal MVP, or LMVP, is given instead to the player with the top Career Contributions value during the season in question. 

    An LMVP can go to a player on the best team in the league, but it can also be handed to a player who was essentially a one-man wrecking crew on one of the bottom-feeders. The strength of the team doesn't matter, save for the Career Contributions calculation. 

    Literal MVP Shares (LMVP Shares)

    Rather than only rewarding the LMVP, we're giving credit to every player who was the top contributor for his team during a given season. Team-leading win-share producers were sorted by Career Contributions, then they were handed LMVP shares according to their finish on that leaderboard. 

    The LMVP himself gets a full LMVP share. Second place receives 0.5 LMVP shares. Third place gets 0.33 LMVP shares, and so on and so forth. 

    Ultimate Season

    This appears in the information of each slide, and it's a method of representing a player's peak. Rather than arbitrarily selecting his best season, we're meshing together the best performances of his career for each per-game stat. 

    That means his points per game could come from his rookie year, while his rebounds per game could be drawn from a season five years down the road. The only qualifier is that he must have played in at least 30 games during the season in question, thereby avoiding small-sample-size effects. 

Honorable Mentions

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    NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

    Mark Aguirre

    Had Mark Aguirre shown any dedication to the defensive end of the court, he likely would have worked his way into a featured spot among the NBA's best small forwards throughout history. Sadly, he was quite hesitant to expend any energy on the less glamorous end, saving it instead for his offensive exploits. 

    As good as the 6'6" forward from DePaul was at putting the ball in the hoop—20 points per game with a .542 true shooting percentage throughout his career, which lasted from 1981 through 1994—his lifetime defensive rating is actually one point higher than its offensive counterpart. To his credit, he did improve when he was traded to the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, but it was too little, too late.  

    Bob Dandridge

    As good as Bob Dandridge was on both ends of the court during his prime in the 1970s, that peak portion of his playing days was rather short-lived, and it still didn't allow him to function as the key player on his Milwaukee Bucks teams. With 14.36 Career Contributions per season, he trails all but two of the featured players in the category, and both have some huge exigent circumstances surrounding them. 

    Nonetheless, Dandridge is the leader among the honorable mentions at small forward. He might have been a relatively lackluster rebounder and distributor for his position, but his scoring and defensive abilities give him that de facto No. 26 spot in these rankings. 

    Peja Stojakovic

    Though Peja Stojakovic quickly tailed off after leaving the Sacramento Kings, enjoying a strong half-season with the Indiana Pacers in 2005-06 before suffering injuries and declines in New Orleans, let's not forget just how good this small forward was during his prime in Sac-Town. 

    From 2000-01 through 2004-05, Stojakovic averaged 21.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for the Kings, shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from beyond the arc and 89.3 percent from the charity stripe. And it's not as though he was putting up empty numbers while serving as a one-man team; Sacramento made a few deep playoff runs during that stretch and advanced into the postseason during each of the five relevant seasons. 

    Kiki Vandeweghe

    Being a top-notch scorer is great and all, but it's generally not enough when you aren't bringing too many other skills to the table. And that's only made worse when you aren't the true featured player on your teams and don't experience any postseason success throughout your career. 

    Such is the case for Kiki Vandeweghe, who averaged only 13.78 Career Contributions per season throughout his time in the NBA. He was consistently in the 20s during his time with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, but that's just not good enough, seeing as those tenures comprised just over half his career (1980 through 1993). A seven-year peak that featured only a single postseason series victory just won't do the trick. 

    Jamaal Wilkes

    The four rings and wealth of playoff success are nice, but did you know that Jamaal Wilkes was literally never the most valuable player on his own team? Among the 25 featured players and five honorable mentions, only he, Aguirre and James Worthy possess that ignominious mark on their resumes. 

    Using his defensive prowess and knack for scoring, Wilkes still carved out a fantastic career for himself, particularly when he was playing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Still, it's hard to move a guy who never recorded 20 Career Contributions in a single season up any higher. After all, Wilkes topped out at 18.52 while playing with the Lakers in 1979-80. 

25. Connie Hawkins

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    NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1969-76

    Teams: Pittsburgh/Minnesota Pipers (ABA), Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks

    Career Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 17.2 PER, .535 TS%, 98 DRtg, 47.5 WS, 0.132 WS/48, 0.036 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 224.76 PP, 0 AS, 115.44 CC, 16.49 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.125 LMVP Shares

    Connie Hawkins was special during his best days. As talented as he was when it came to putting the ball in the hoop, even his scoring couldn't completely overshadow his well-rounded play, as he thrived on the glass and wasn't exactly a slouch when serving as a distributor. 

    But the length of his career is problematic, even if Hawkins' first few years in the NBA would make it seem as though he deserved even higher placement. Not only did he decline quickly, largely due to nagging injuries, but he also got a late start. 

    To his credit, Hawkins was unbelievably good during his two seasons in the ABA. Playing for the Pipers, who moved from Pittsburgh to Minnesota while he was there, he averaged 28.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field.

    It's fun to mention, but it doesn't actually factor into his ranking here, as we're only concerned with the production from players during their NBA days. And the ABA stint wasn't the only thing that delayed the start of his career—Hawkins debuted for the Phoenix Suns when he was 27 years old.

    A point-shaving scandal ended his collegiate career at Iowa, forcing him to play in the nondescript ABL and for the Harlem Globe Trotters after the league became defunct. It wasn't until a lawsuit and his ABA dominance that NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy lifted Hawkins' ban and allowed him to join the league's new expansion team in the desert.

    With just 499 NBA games under his belt, Hawkins can only fly so high.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

24. Marques Johnson

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1977-90

    Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors

    Career Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 25.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 20.1 PER, .556 TS%, 113 ORtg, 105 DRtg, 79.8 WS, 0.162 WS/48, 0.118 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 894.78 PP, 82.29 AS, 182.72 CC, 16.61 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.68 LMVP Shares

    It's not easy to finish with a career player efficiency rating over 20, but that's exactly what Marques Johnson did during his 11 years in the NBA. 

    Johnson spent his first seven professional seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, debuting with averages of 19.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks. Earning a 21.3 PER—which would be his lowest during his first four campaigns—he made quite a bit of history while making the All-Rookie first team. Throughout the NBA annals, Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson are the only first-year players to average at least 19 points, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block. 

    Neither Olajuwon nor Robinson recorded as many assists.

    Much as was the case with Connie Hawkins, though, the problem here is longevity. 

    Johnson was absolutely fantastic early on in his NBA life, but his career was derailed by a neck injury he suffered with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 1986-87 season. Not only did the ruptured disk limit him to just 10 games that year, but it forced him into what might as well have been a retirement. He'd play another 10 contests with the Golden State Warriors after missing two entire seasons, but he clearly wasn't the same player. 

    Among the featured small forwards, only Hawkins and the next player in the positional rankings suited up in fewer games than Johnson's 691. And really, it should have been 681, though we can't fault the five-time All-Star for attempting a comeback. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

23. Billy Cunningham

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    NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1965-76

    Teams: Philadelphia 76ers, Carolina Cougars (ABA)

    Career Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 26.1 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.4 PER, .503 TS%, 96 DRtg, 63.2 WS, 0.135 WS/48, 0.288 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 568.23 PP, 164.58 AS, 144.63 CC, 16.07 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.243 LMVP Shares

    Let's get the issue of longevity out of the way right now. 

    Billy Cunningham—popularly known as the "Kangaroo Kid," thanks to his always impressive leaping ability—only played in 654 NBA contests, due both to an early retirement at 32 years old and a two-year stint with the ABA's Carolina Cougars. Those seasons were sandwiched by portions of his career that saw him rostered by the Philadelphia 76ers, and unfortunately for him in these rankings, they removed two of his prime campaigns.

    After all, Cunningham averaged 23.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game during his final pre-ABA season, making the All-Star team and earning an All-NBA second team selection. It's not as though he was declining and seeking out easier opportunities to show off his hops.

    As for the retirement, NBA.com explains in a profile of the Hall of Famer:

    His playing days ended on one play in the 1975-76 season. Cunningham had just snared a defensive rebound and was dribbling to the Sixers' free-throw line when, as he later recounted, his knee "just exploded." No one had touched him, although Alfred "Butch" Beard was given a foul on the play. Cunningham would never play again.

    "In a way the injury made things easy for me," he added. "I never had to agonize over that decision all athletes face." 

    Cunningham would go on to enjoy a fine coaching career, excel in the broadcast booth and help bring the Miami Heat into the NBA as an expansion team. But as stellar as he was in all those extracurricular pursuits, they still can't trump his playing days.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

22. Detlef Schrempf

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    Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1985-2001

    Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 17.2 PER, .586 TS%, 117 ORtg, 107 DRtg, 109.5 WS, 0.156 WS/48, 0.001 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1071.6 PP, 133.03 AS, 250.6 CC, 15.66 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.125 LMVP Shares

    At first glance, Detlef Schrempf's 3.4 assists per game might seem like a rather pedestrian average, but that's due to the inherent flaw with per-game statistics. They don't take playing time into consideration, nor do they factor in team and league context. 

    Schrempf boasts a much more impressive 17.2 assist percentage throughout his career, one that leaves him behind only a dozen of the 47 small forwards who were broken down in detail while researching these positional rankings. During his final season with the Indiana Pacers, the 6'9" forward even averaged six dimes, posting a remarkable 23.2 assist percentage. 

    That was a peak season for Schrempf, whose star never shone quite as bright as many of the players surrounding him throughout this article.

    The greatness of his NBA tenure was due more to his consistent excellence than the prime that left him with three All-Star appearances, one All-NBA selection (third team) and just 0.001 MVP shares, due to a lone vote in 1991-92. Peaking with a 20.3 PER in 1994-95, Schrempf was a high-quality contributor for just about a decade, never succumbing to injuries or prolonged slumps.

    Schrempf also benefits from a solid postseason resume, even if a ring always eluded him.

    His Playoff Performance score of 1071.6 is quite good for a player in this portion of the rankings, and it's due to one campaign after another that stretched beyond the regular season. Though the University of Washington product played 16 years in the Association, he failed to suit up in the playoffs only twice. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

21. Jack Twyman

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    NBA Photos/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1955-66

    Teams: Rochester/Cincinnati Royals

    Career Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists

    Ultimate Season: 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists

    Career Advanced Stats: 17.8 PER, .502 TS%, 75 WS, 0.138 WS/48, 0.066 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 436.22 PP, 72.29 AS, 231.63 CC, 21.06 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 1.033 LMVP Shares

    Back in 2012, SportingNews.com's David Whitley shared a fantastic story about Jack Twyman, one that really summed up who he was off the court: 

    If Jack Twyman had his way, you wouldn't be reading this. He never sought attention, like the time he met NBA All-Star Allan Houston.

    The Knicks' guard was at a golf course, waiting to tee off. Twyman was in the next foursome, and he decided to go over and shake Houston's hand.

    "I really admire you as a player and a professional," Twyman said.

    Houston was cordial, but he couldn't tell the old man from thousands of other admirers over the years. Then he noticed the ring Twyman was wearing.

    "His eyes got so wide," recalled Jay Twyman, Jack's son.

    It was a Hall of Fame ring, Class of '83. It turns out Houston was the one who should have been shaking Twyman's hand.

    But he wasn't exactly the same on the court. 

    An aggressive scorer who averaged 19.2 points per game throughout his career and threw up 31.2 during the average contest in 1959-60, Twyman was perfectly comfortable as the center of defensive attention. He might not have been a flamboyant player, but he got the job done, carrying the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals throughout his 11-year career, one in which he paced the NBA in games played seven times. 

    Remarkably durable, Twyman averaged 21.06 Career Contributions per season. And though he never finished higher than second in the LMVP standings, narrowly losing out to Elgin Baylor during that high-scoring season, he finished his career with 1.033 LMVP Shares, putting him well within the top 10 at his position. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

20. Bernard King

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    Brian Drake/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1977-93

    Teams: New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Washington Bullets

    Career Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 32.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.2 PER, .561 TS%, 108 ORtg, 107 DRtg, 75.4 WS, 0.123 WS/48, 0.625 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 468.72 PP, 0 AS, 204.95 CC, 14.64 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 1.11 LMVP Shares

    It's a shame Bernard King didn't experience more playoff success. 

    His Playoff Performance score of 468.72 leaves him at No. 41 among the 47 small forwards who were analyzed when compiling these rankings, and his null Advancement Shares put him in the same place. Problem is, that means he's tied for dead-last, as he never managed to make it to even the penultimate round of the NBA playoffs. 

    King made it past the regular season five times in his career, and the closest he got to a conference finals came in 1983-84, when he and the New York Knicks bowed out in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after pushing the Boston Celtics to seven games. 

    But during the regular season, this small forward was an unstoppable scorer, one who led the league in 1984-85 by averaging a scorching 32.9 points per game. The highlight was undoubtedly a 60-point performance on Christmas Day, which remained the Madison Square Garden record until Carmelo Anthony dropped a 62-spot 29 seasons later.

    Though a torn ACL forced him into an early decline, King remained a fantastic producer when he transitioned to the Washington Bullets, averaging 22 points per contest during his four seasons calling the nation's capital home.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

19. Chris Mullin

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1985-2001

    Teams: Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 26.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 18.8 PER, .594 TS%, 115 ORtg, 110 DRtg, 93.1 WS, 0.139 WS/48, 0.088 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 729.88 PP, 63.96 AS, 238.68 CC, 14.92 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.367 LMVP Shares

    Chris Mullin was pretty darn good at shooting the basketball. 

    Despite averaging 18.2 points per game throughout his career, he still shot 50.9 percent from the field, 38.4 percent from beyond the arc and 86.5 percent from the charity stripe. Let's put that in perspective by looking at where his scoring rank fits in among all players who have matched those percentages and taken at least two deep attempts per contest, regardless of position. 

    Oh wait.

    Mullin is the only one to do so. 

    If we make the requirements less stringent by dropping free-throw shooting from the equation, he's still the only player whose career qualifies. In fact, among all 88 shooters in NBA history who have connected on at least 38.4 percent of their attempts from downtown while taking two or more per game, only Mullin and Drazen Petrovic made more than half of their shots from the field, and Petrovic's field-goal percentage lags slightly behind Mullin's. 

    His passing was also pretty good for a small forward—Mullin's career assist percentage of 16.5 ranks him right among the middle of the featured 3s—but his rebounding was not. Averaging only 4.1 boards per game with a total rebounding percentage of just 6.9 percent is not particularly impressive and qualifies him as one of the worst 3s on the glass among this group of players. 

    In fact, of the 47 small forwards broken down while researching, only Kiki Vandeweghe, Bruce Bowen and Latrell Sprewell fare worse in that category. Dynamic as his scoring game was, Mullin was not an all-around player.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

18. Cliff Hagan

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    Associated Press

    Years Played: 1956-66

    Teams: St. Louis Hawks, Dallas Chaparrals (ABA)

    Career Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists

    Ultimate Season: 24.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.5 PER, .507 TS%, 75.1 WS, 0.166 WS/48, 0.043 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1448.1 PP, 566.46 AS, 180.35 CC, 18.03 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.167 LMVP Shares

    Even when compared to his 19.5 PER and 0.166 win shares per 48 minutes during the regular season, Cliff Hagan was a monster when the pressure cooker was turned up even higher for playoff basketball. 

    During his nine postseason appearances with the St. Louis Hawks, Hagan averaged 20.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while earning a 20.8 PER. His win shares also jumped to 0.172 per 48 minutes, which is even more impressive than the already stellar rate from the regular season. 

    But this isn't just about his individual stats.

    Sure, Hagan's Playoff Performance score of 1448.1 is quite impressive, seeing as it ranks him No. 10 among the 47 reviewed small forwards. But his Advancement Share actually moves him up one more slot, even though he never managed to capture more than a single ring, which he won with the Hawks in 1958. 

    Hagan led the NBA in playoff games played during five seasons, losing in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics on three separate occasions. Though he may have had trouble getting St. Louis over that final hurdle, he put the Hawks in position to thrive so many times, pairing up with Bob Pettit and forming a duo that defenses had far too much trouble stopping. 

    Additionally, this small forward is another player who's hurt by the sheer existence of the ABA. He jumped to the lesser league during the final three seasons of his career, and while he was clearly declining for the Hawks, he still missed out on an opportunity to rack up even more counting stats, ones that presumably would've helped him move even higher up this leaderboard. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

17. Grant Hill

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1994-2013

    Teams: Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.0 PER, .551 TS%, 110 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 99.9 WS, 0.138 WS/48

    Performance Metrics: 434.85 PP, 29.48 AS, 250.88 CC, 13.94 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.81 LMVP Shares

    Grant Hill remains one of the NBA's greatest what-if players.

    During the first six seasons of his career, all of which came with the Detroit Pistons, he averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game while playing great defense and shooting 47.6 percent from the field. His PER over that span was 22.4, and he was earning 0.169 win shares per 48 minutes while putting up numbers that had only been matched by Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird, though LeBron James would join that club later.

    But then ankle injuries derailed everything.

    Hill played in only 47 games during his first three campaigns with the Orlando Magic (2000-03), and he was never the same. Rarely at full strength, he labored away as a role player for much of the rest of his career, only occasionally showing flashes of that first-ballot Hall of Fame upside.  

    To his credit, Hill excelled in his new role, thriving as an underrated stopper and secondary or tertiary offensive contributor. But compared to the torrid start to his professional career, it just wasn't enough. 

    "If he had stayed healthy, Hill would have been in the conversation with Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett as one of the absolute greatest players of his generation," Sean Highkin wrote for USA Today after Hill announced his retirement.

    While that's not an exaggeration, hypotheticals don't count for anything in these rankings. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

16. Shawn Marion

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    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1999-Current

    Teams: Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.7 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 18.8 PER, .542 TS%, 109 ORtg, 102 DRtg, 124.8 WS, 0.15 WS/48, 0.002 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1327.67 PP, 252.23 AS, 278.09 CC, 18.54 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.669 LMVP Shares

    Talk about an underrated career. Don't let his lackluster performance in Northeast Ohio tell you otherwise.

    During his days with the Phoenix Suns, Shawn Marion never received enough credit for his all-around exploits. Steve Nash drew the attention and won MVPs, but the man called "The Matrix" for his ability to fill up a stat sheet was the lifeblood of the organization. His offensive unselfishness was valuable by itself, but it was invaluable when paired with his ability to serve as a lockdown defender, switching onto pretty much any player for short bursts. 

    Even after he left the Suns, Marion continued to thrive. He's been perfectly content to fly below the radar, posting great performances and doing all the little things that lead to success, even coming in the form of a ring with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. That's how he's been able to rack up the No. 13 Playoff Performance mark while earning more Career Contributions than all but five small forwards. 

    And when you take his longevity out of the equation, Marion's 18.54 Career Contributions per season still rank him No. 13 among small forwards. He actually has more LMVP Shares than both Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire combined, even though he never received the credit that was due to him during his run-and-gun days in the desert. 

    The players who have sensational peaks and thrive on the offensive end are generally the ones who draw the most attention and endure the tests of time. But consistent excellence like Marion has enjoyed should matter too, especially when coupled with statistical feats like posting a total rebounding percentage that trails only Larry Bird's among the 47 small forwards researched here

    Seeing Marion this high might surprise you. You may be even more shocked to see him ahead of so many prominent names from NBA history. As teams like the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors found out the hard way, this forward struggled when asked to be a No. 2 option on offense, preferring to be part of stellar collections of complementary talent.

    But if you really evaluate his career properly and look at more than the statistics that only skim the surface, you can't help but be impressed. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

15. Alex English

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    Brian Drake/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1976-91

    Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks

    Career Per-Game Stats: 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 29.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.9 PER, .550 TS%, 111 ORtg, 110 DRtg, 100.7 WS, 0.127 WS/48, 0.167 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1222.64 PP, 39.9 AS, 238.82 CC, 15.92 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.071 LMVP Shares

    From 1979-80 through 1988-89, no player in the NBA scored more points than Alex English. Not Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Dominique Wilkins or any of the other legends who thrived during the '80s. 

    And frankly, it's not even close

    English, who now sits at No. 17 on the career scoring leaderboard, scored 21,018 of his 25,613 points during the time period in question. No one else topped 20,000. In fact, Moses Malone was in second place, all the way back at 19,082, while Adrian Dantley, Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the only other players on the right side of 15,000.  

    Plus, English achieved such a feat in efficient fashion. 

    Not only did he average 21.5 points per game throughout his storied career, but he did so with a 19.9 PER and a .550 true shooting percentage, both of which rank among the top half of the studied 3s. That PER actually lets him fit into the tail end of the top dozen. 

    Nonetheless, there are a few things holding this high-release shooter back from a spot within the top 10 small forwards of all time. He wasn't a defensive stalwart by any stretch of the imagination, his 15.92 Career Contributions per season aren't quite elite and he never found much success in the playoffs, even if he went to the first round year in and year out. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

14. Carmelo Anthony

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Years Played: 2003-Current

    Teams: Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks

    Career Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 28.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 21.2 PER, .546 TS%, 108 ORtg, 108 DRtg, 86.1 WS, 0.137 WS/48, 0.453 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1083.72 PP, 39.9 AS, 190.98 CC, 17.36 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.24 LMVP Shares

      

    At this point, Carmelo Anthony has played more than enough games for us to have an accurate idea of where he ranks among the historical elites. Entering the 2014-15 campaign, he was four games shy of Rick Barry, 46 behind Julius Erving, 56 shy of Elgin Baylor and 107 short of Larry Bird. When he was shut down for the season with knee trouble, he did so with only six appearances to go before catching Dr. J.

    He's already put together quite a lengthy professional tenure.

    Anthony doesn't have a stellar playoff resume, though, failing to win many postseason series at any point. However, the 2013-14 campaign with the New York Knicks was the first time his season ended after the 82nd game, and even in that year, he was absolutely fantastic. 

    On the 37-win Knicks, a group that was mired in constant turmoil, he earned 10.7 win shares, giving him 28.52 Career Contributions in that one season and earning him the No. 7 finish in the LMVP standings. Throughout his career, he's been able to rack up Career Contributions just as he does points, though his placement would be aided if he ever became a defensive stopper. 

    But Anthony does more than just score. He's also been a great rebounder throughout his career, boasting a total rebounding percentage that ranks him No. 13 among the 47 players studied here. Plus, that number is trending up as he ages, as Anthony has realized that he has to do more than put the ball in the basket. 

    Is he a flawed player? Sure, but who isn't? 

    At this point in his ongoing career, the positives already outweigh the negatives by a huge margin. 


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

13. James Worthy

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1982-94

    Teams: Los Angeles Lakers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 21.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 17.7 PER, .559 TS%, 112 ORtg, 108 DRtg, 81.2 PER, 0.13 WS/48, 0.009 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 2310.88 PP, 833.57 AS, 156 CC, 13 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0 LMVP Shares

    Only nine small forwards went through their entire careers without ever leading their team in win shares during a single season, and they can be sorted into three groups: 

    • Unranked Small Forwards: Bruce Bowen, Sean Elliott, Stephen Jackson, Glenn Robinson, Hedo Turkoglu, Metta World Peace
    • Honorable-Mention Small Forwards: Mark Aguirre, Jamaal Wilkes
    • Ranked Small Forwards: James Worthy

    James Worthy is the clear outlier here, ranking far higher than his 13 Career Contributions per season would dictate. After all, he's worse than all other featured 3s by a wide margin in that particular category, with Grant Hill's 13.94 coming in as the second worst and being pulled down by the post-injury portion of his career.

    Of course, there are some extenuating circumstances for the man who gained the "Big Game James" moniker after his exploits in the 1988 NBA Finals. He played alongside Magic Johnson throughout the vast majority of his career, and the Los Angeles Lakers were never exactly short on talent.

    It's hard for a player to rise much higher when he was literally never "the man" on his team, but Worthy's career was stellar nonetheless. After all, he has a great postseason resume, shined in some huge games (most notably his triple-double in Game 7 of the aforementioned series) and thrived as an all-around player throughout his 12-season career.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

12. Rick Barry

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    NBA Photos/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1965-80

    Teams: San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Oakland Oaks (ABA), Washington Capitols (ABA), New York Nets (ABA), Houston Rockets

    Career Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 35.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 20.2 PER, .510 TS%, 105 ORtg, 99 DRtg, 93.4 WS, 0.156 WS/48, 0.592 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1364.56 PP, 390.14 AS, 216.65 CC, 21.67 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 1.222 LMVP Shares

    Was Rick Barry always the most pleasant person? Not really, as one of his most famous traits was his inability to get along with virtually any of his teammates. But that didn't affect how effective he was on the basketball court, whether he was raining in jumpers, dishing out the ball adeptly or using his iconic underhanded free-throw motion at the charity stripe. 

    Barry's career assist percentage comes in at 20.3, and that's undoubtedly one of the elite marks at this position. In fact, of the small forwards studied, only Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James and Scottie Pippen have higher scores. 

    But Barry wasn't exactly a pass-first 3. He was a scorer who just happened to see the court so well he had no trouble racking up the dimes, as evidenced by his 23.2 points per game, which makes him the No. 12 scorer among the same group. 

    A six-time member of the All-NBA teams, Barry might have ended up enjoying an even better career if he hadn't jumped to the ABA early in his professional tenure. After two seasons with the San Francisco Warriors, he moved to the Oakland Oaks, where he'd begin a four-year stint out of the primary league, one that coincided with much of his athletic prime. 

    During those four seasons, Barry averaged 30.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, making 47.7 percent of his shots from the field, which happens to be higher than any mark produced during his two NBA stretches.

    Just imagine if those numbers had been added to his NBA resume. Barry likely would have been a top-10 small forward with room to spare. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

11. Paul Arizin

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    Charles T. Higgins/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1950-62

    Teams: Philadelphia Warriors

    Career Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists

    Ultimate Season: 26.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists

    Career Advanced Stats: 19.7 PER, .506 TS%, 108.8 WS, 0.183 WS/48, 0.495 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 838.88 PP, 337.06 AS, 288.6 CC, 28.86 CC/Season, 2 LMVPs, 2.25 LMVP Shares

    The conversation with Paul Arizin has to center around the performance metrics, as he was insanely valuable for the Philadelphia Warriors throughout the 1950s, when the NBA was just starting to take off. 

    Over the course of his 10-season career—two years of basketball were sacrificed when he served with the U.S. Marine Corps—Arizin racked up 28.86 Career Contributions per season, a mark that leaves him trailing only three of the featured small forwards in these rankings, none of whom we've gotten to yet. 

    He even earned two LMVPs—one in 1951-52 (47.23 Career Contributions) when he produced 16 win shares on the 33-win Warriors, and another in 1958-59 (38.34 Career Contributions) when his 13 win shares paced Philadelphia's 32-win squad. Regardless of position, he's one of only 11 players (two of whom are 3s) with multiple LMVPs throughout NBA history, and his 2.25 LMVP Shares place him at No. 22 all time. 

    And that's only factoring in the regular season. 

    He helped carry the Warriors to a title in 1956, leading the playoffs in scoring in the process, and his Playoff Performance and Advancement Share scores, while mediocre in a vacuum, are quite impressive for a player with only 10 seasons to his credit. He might have played more had he been willing to move away from Philadelphia and follow the Warriors to their new home in San Francisco, but instead he chose to retire with plenty more quality basketball in the tank.

    Even still, it's amazing what you can do without using any arc on your ahead-of-its-time jumper. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

10. Adrian Dantley

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    Ron Koch/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1976-91

    Teams: Buffalo Braves, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks

    Career Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 30.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 21.5 PER, .617 TS%, 119 ORtg, 109 DRtg, 134.2 WS, 0.189 WS/48, 0.151 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1135.15 PP, 108.65 AS, 552.95 CC, 36.86 CC/Season, 5 LMVPs, 5.605 LMVP Shares

    A ball-stopping small forward who never played much defense, Adrian Dantley was far from being a perfect player throughout his NBA career. But he was one of the best scorers in league history, and he was an ultra-valuable player, especially while serving as a one-man team for the Utah Jazz in the early 1980s. 

    First, let's take a look at how many people in NBA history have managed to record a career true shooting percentage in the 60s while playing at least 300 games. There are only 23, and some of them are big men who do nothing but dunk—Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Ryan Hollins, for example. 

    Of that 23-player group, James Harden, Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant and Dantley are the only members who have averaged at least 18 points per game, and Durant is the only one who has scored more than Dantley. So not only does he have the No. 4 true shooting percentage of all time, but he's one of the scoring leaders in that above-60 club. 

    And how about value? 

    Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan are the only players with more LMVPs than Dantley, though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moves past him when LMVP Shares are looked at instead of the more glamorous first-place finishes. The reason is that early portion of his career that came with the Jazz, when he racked up win shares despite playing for largely overmatched teams. 

    From 1980 through 1986, he only finished out of the No. 1 spot in 1983, when injuries limited him to 22 games, and in 1985, when he played just 55 times. His Career Contributions during that stretch went as follows: 39 in 1979-80, 43.4 in 1980-81, 45.59 in 1981-82, 13.3 in 1982-83, 33.05 in 1983-84, 19.55 in 1984-85 and 30.29 in 1985-86. 

    Playing on better teams would've allowed him to build a stronger playoff resume. The one-man ventures did allow him to showcase his individual value, but they also doomed him to the realm of stars that history has allowed to become quite underrated.

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

9. Dominique Wilkins

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1982-99

    Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic

    Career Per-Game Stats: 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 30.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 21.6 PER, .536 TS%, 112 ORtg, 108 DRtg, 117.5 WS, 0.148 WS/48, 0.849 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 943.6 PP, 0 AS, 279.79 CC, 18.65 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.593 LMVP Shares

    Whether he was going toe-to-toe with Larry Bird or putting up monstrous slam after rim-rattling dunk, Dominique Wilkins was always an incredible scorer. After averaging 17.5 points per game during his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks and then 21.6 as a sophomore, he'd reel off 10 consecutive seasons in which he produced at least 25 points during the typical contest. 

    However, his sustained excellence as a scorer is the only elite part of his resume.

    Wilkins was a good, but not great, rebounder, a lackluster distributor and a star who only played defense when he really needed to. And even then, he wouldn't fully commit on the less glamorous end of the court, instead leaving that task to his non-scoring teammates. 

    Larry Bird has since confirmed this

    As a result, he doesn't fare too well in the performance metrics. Wilkins' Advancement Share in particular is a lackluster one, as he never managed to move into the conference finals even once. During the late 1980s, he consistently got close, but his Hawks could never get over the hump. Granted, that was a particularly strong portion of NBA history for the Eastern Conference, as it was Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons that kept knocking them out. 

    Wilkins will always be remembered as an unquestioned superstar, but many portions of his career ring a bit hollow. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

8. Kevin Durant

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Years Played: 2007-Current

    Teams: Seattle SuperSonics, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Career Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 32.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 24.7 PER, .601 TS%, 115 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 93.4 WS, 0.207 WS/48, 3.005 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 1604.54 PP, 175.61 AS, 202.16 CC, 28.88 CC/Season, 1 LMVP, 2.367 LMVP Shares

    Trust me when I say Kevin Durant was the single toughest player to rank at any position. 

    The 26-year-old already has four scoring titles and an MVP under his belt. He's won LMVP once (in 2013), and his 2.367 LMVP Shares put him at No. 21 all time, regardless of position. He's racked up more Career Contributions than all but 20 of the studied small forwards, and the 28.88 he's earned per season leave him trailing just Adrian Dantley and one standout who has yet to appear in the countdown.  

    Though a title has eluded him thus far, he's already posted a Playoff Performance score of 1604.54, which puts him in the top 10 at his position.

    All the while, he's averaged 27.3 points per game with a .601 true shooting percentage (remember that club we talked about when discussing Dantley), and he's done so with a more well-rounded game. In many ways, he's the evolutionary version of Dantley, so evolved that he ranks slightly ahead of him despite being only a short way into his career.

    Durant is becoming a quality defender, he already shines on the boards and he plays like an above-average distributor. Those aspects of his game have gotten significantly better in recent years, leaving no doubt the NBA's reigning MVP is more than a scoring specialist.

    His 24.7 PER is the No. 2 mark at the small forward position, only 14 players at the 3 have racked up more career win shares and just one is earning a higher number per 48 minutes. His 3.005 MVP shares already put him at No. 12 all time, regardless of position. Yes, that places him ahead of NBA luminaries like Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Jerry West, Dirk Nowitzki and Elgin Baylor, among many others.

    But he's played only 542 games heading into the 2014-15 season.

    Every other small forward in the top 20 is at 713 or higher, and six of them have hit four digits in the games-played category. What he's accomplished in such a short time is nearly unsurpassed throughout the history of the Association, but we can't just assume he'll continue producing at such a ridiculous pace. We can in real life, just not when placing him in these rankings.

    Be content with a top-10 ranking for now, but don't expect him to stop moving up the leaderboard any time soon, so long as his recurring foot issue doesn't hold him back. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

7. Paul Pierce

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1998-Current

    Teams: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards

    Career Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 26.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 20.2 PER, .570 TS%, 109 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 148.9 WS, 0.162 WS/48, 0.04 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 2185.96 PP, 360.08 AS, 357.21 CC, 22.33 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.918 LMVP Shares

    It's a travesty that Paul Pierce only has 0.04 MVP shares throughout his excellent NBA career. 

    He's found himself receiving at least one vote on five separate occasions, but only once has he finished in the top 10 of the MVP standings in any given season. That came in 2008-09, when he was No. 7 after averaging 20.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. 

    At least Pierce fares better in LMVPs, as he's growing closer to earning an LMVP Share over his lengthy career. Franky, it's unlikely he gets there, given the fact that he's playing out the twilight of his career, but 0.918 Shares is an impressive mark nonetheless. 

    To be fair, Pierce has never been an MVP-caliber player.

    He's another guy who didn't have a ridiculous prime, but instead sustained his excellence over the course of a lengthy career, the vast majority of which came with the Boston Celtics. Pierce carried the C's during down years, teamed up with other great players to win a title and never experienced anything even resembling a prolonged slump. 

    That adds up over time. 

    Among the 47 studied small forwards, Pierce ranks fifth in Career Contributions per season, and he's played long enough that only Adrian Dantley has earned more during an entire career. Longevity has its perks, and Pierce has shown few signs of slipping.

    Even now that he's out of his prime and no longer sparking offenses for long stretches of any given outing, he's still changed his game to remain valuable. Pierce's perimeter defense, for example, has been massively underrated for years.  

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

6. Scottie Pippen

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    NBA Photos/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1987-2004

    Teams: Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.9 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 18.6 PER, .536 TS%, 108 ORtg, 102 DRtg, 125.1 WS, 0.146 WS/48, 0.716 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 3111.68 PP, 1397.51 AS, 254.39 CC, 14.96 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.263 LMVP Shares 

    Did Michael Jordan make Scottie Pippen, or did Scottie Pippen make Michael Jordan? 

    Why can't it be a little of both? 

    There's no doubt that Jordan was the most valuable player for the Chicago Bulls throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, but Pippen certainly played a huge role in the two three-peats. His 14.96 Career Contributions per season are by no means an elite mark, but context has to be factored in, as he was playing on some of the greatest teams of all time and surrounded by talent. The same goes for his LMVP marks. 

    But how about his Playoff Performance and Advancement Share scores, both of which are top five among small forwards? How about the well-rounded nature of his game, which allowed him to excel in just about every statistical category? How about the defense, which established him as one of the greatest point-preventing players of all time while racking up 10 All-Defensive selections?

    Not only was Pippen a valuable point forward, but he was so good on the less glamorous end that he might have been a borderline Hall of Fame player if he'd just sat down every time his team had the ball. Instead, he thrived with possession, posting a 23.1 assist percentage that trails only the top two 3s in the rankings. 

    Jordan and Pippen's careers will always be intertwined, but don't make the mistake of discounting one because the other existed. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

5. Julius Erving

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    Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images

    Years Played: 1976-87

    Teams: Virginia Squires (ABA), New York Nets (ABA), Philadelphia 76ers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 26.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 22.0 PER, .558 TS%, 111 ORtg, 101 DRtg, 106.2 WS, 0.178 WS/48, 1.407 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 2475.96 PP, 548.5 AS, 207.32 CC, 18.85 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 0.668 LMVP Shares

    Here comes that pesky ABA again. 

    Julius Erving spent the first five years of his professional career playing for the Virginia Squires and New York Nets in the league that would eventually merge with the NBA, winning three scoring titles, two championships and three MVPs. None of that counts here, though. 

    Due to his exploits, he entered the NBA in 1976 as a 26-year-old who had already logged 455 games between the regular season and the deep playoff runs. In these rankings, he's basically working from behind the eight ball, but he still managed to put together a lengthy 11-year NBA career in which he stayed remarkably healthy and was always productive. 

    Until the final two go-rounds in the NBA, Erving averaged at least 20 points per game, bringing his high-flying and entertaining above-the-rim style to the Association. He helped revolutionize and popularize the sport with his soaring dunks, his scoop shots from under the basket and his year-after-year athletic superiority. 

    Even with the delayed start, Erving played in 836 regular-season NBA games, and his numbers are impressive across the board. He was even one of the best 3s at blocking shots, although his overall defensive work was a bit lackluster. 

    Erving could have ranked much higher had he always played NBA ball, likely even challenging for a top-two spot. But instead, he thoroughly dominated a different league and still managed to cement his status as a top-five small forward in NBA history, though Kevin Durant could soon come challenging him for that final spot. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

4. Elgin Baylor

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    Wen Roberts/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1958-72

    Teams: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers

    Career Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists

    Ultimate Season: 38.3 points, 19.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists

    Career Advanced Stats: 22.7 PER, .494 TS%, 104.2 WS, 0.148 WS/48, 1.659 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 2927.9 PP, 755.29 AS, 259.84 CC, 18.56 CC/Season, 1 LMVP, 1.843 LMVP Shares

    One of the greatest ringless players in NBA history, Elgin Baylor was absolutely dominant for the vast majority of his career, playing for great Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers teams that kept coming up just short of a title. Regardless, his Advancement Share still trails only four other small forwards, and his Playoff Performance mark puts him in the same boat. 

    Baylor thrived as one of the Association's first do-everything players. One of the best athletes in the league, he could score from all areas of the court, pull down rebounds like a center and dish out the rock to whoever was open. During the 1960-61 season, his third in the league, he even managed to average 5.1 dimes per game, which is more impressive than you might think. 

    Points where harder to come by back then, and scorers were more hesitant to give players credit for an assist. That season, Richie Guerin's 6.4 dimes per contest gave him the No. 5 mark in the entire NBA, just for example. 

    Though he wasn't the defender that John Havlicek or Scottie Pippen was at this position, he made up for that with every other facet of his game. It's just a shame he couldn't add hardware to that resume, even if everything points toward him deserving some. 

    Again, he might not have a ring, but he has an elite number of Advancement Shares. Similarly, he never won MVP, but his 1.659 MVP shares leave him trailing only Kevin Durant and the three remaining 3s in these rankings. 

    Sometimes, the easiest ways to evaluate players aren't necessarily the best ones. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

3. John Havlicek

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1962-78

    Teams: Boston Celtics

    Career Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 28.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 17.5 PER, .492 TS%, 101 ORtg, 99 DRtg, 131.7 WS, 0.136 WS/48, 0.217 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 3140.72 PP, 1796.74 AS, 277.26 CC, 17.33 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 1.025 LMVP Shares

    What couldn't John Havlicek do? 

    He was an adept scorer, knocking in some mid-range jumpers and using his athleticism to finish plenty of plays around the rim. He was a terrific rebounder for his position, especially in his prime, when he even averaged nine boards per game. He was a dynamic distributor, ahead of his time when running the show for the Boston Celtics as a point forward. 

    But above all else, he was a stellar defender, a man who made the All-Defensive squad eight times during his storied career.

    And for those who want to discredit his achievements in the playoffs, it's not as though he won every single title in his career while playing with Bill Russell. Though six of his rings came while suiting up alongside the legendary center, two were earned after Dave Cowens had replaced Russell in the paint. The combination helps give Havlicek a Playoff Performance score that trails only the remaining two small forwards, as well as the top Advancement Share at his position. 

    It's also notable that he was so good for such a long time. Havlicek never had a bad season, was remarkably durable throughout his career and ended up playing 1,270 regular-season games, more than any other 3 in NBA history. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

2. Larry Bird

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Years Played: 1979-92

    Teams: Boston Celtics

    Career Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 29.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 23.5 PER, .564 TS%, 115 ORtg, 101 DRtg, 145.8 WS, 0.203 WS/48, 5.693 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 3580.12 PP, 979.67 AS, 275.43 CC, 21.19 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 1.843 LMVP Shares

    Larry Bird deserves to be considered a basketball legend, a statement that remains true even if numbers are completely taken out of the equation. His trash-talking exploits are nearly unrivaled throughout NBA history, and stories about his performances in clutch situations have almost become mythologized. 

    Whether he was calling his shots, predicting victories in shooting contests, making opposing benches applaud for him or thoroughly embarrassing overmatched opponents, he fully earned the "Larry Legend" moniker. 

    Of course, the numbers are pretty damn good too. 

    Bird racked up titles while playing alongside Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and he was routinely the most valuable player on his Boston Celtics teams. Earning 21.19 Career Contributions per season puts him in an elite class, as he's one of just eight small forwards on the right side of 20, and his 1.843 LMVP Shares leave him trailing just four players at the position. 

    Frankly, everything about Bird's career is undeniably impressive, although it was cut too short by the back injuries that plagued him at the tail end. Though he valiantly fought through the pain, he clearly wasn't the same player after the 1987-88 season, and that limits just how high he can rise, legend or not. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)

1. LeBron James

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Years Played: 2003-Current

    Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat

    Career Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Ultimate Season: 31.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats: 27.7 PER, .581 TS%, 116 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 177.3 WS, 0.24 WS/48, 6.1 MVP Shares

    Performance Metrics: 3735.12 PP, 747.57 AS, 351.21 CC, 31.93 CC/Season, 0 LMVPs, 4.333 LMVP Shares

    LeBron James has already moved past Larry Bird in career games played. Longevity can no longer be used as an argument against him, as he has 11 impressive seasons under his belt and has never suffered a major injury. Even with the extra workload created by Team USA ventures and constantly deep playoff runs, he's been unbelievably durable. 

    At this point, the James vs. Bird debate shouldn't exist.

    It's no longer a valid one, as James has become the superior player in just about every conceivable category. Bird does have more rings and a higher Advancement Shares score, but that and rebounding are the only areas in which he's been superior. 

    James has been a much better passer, not based on per-game stats, but rather assist percentage, where he's nearly 10 percent higher throughout his career. He's posted a significantly higher PER, beaten the legendary shooter in both scoring volume and efficiency, earned more win shares and done so while racking up an additional 0.07 per 48 minutes. Not only does he have an extra MVP on Bird, but his additional 0.407 MVP shares have already allowed him to move past Bird for No. 3 on the all-time leaderboard, regardless of position. 

    Bird's 21.19 Career Contributions per season pale in comparison to James' 31.93, and the league's current No. 1 small forward has more than double the LMVP shares Bird earned throughout his career. 

    So again, this is no longer particularly close. James has taken over the positional crown, and he actually did so before turning 30 years old.

    The separation he creates throughout the rest of his career is going to be terrifying. 

      


    Metric Cheat Sheet (refer to the second slide for more detailed descriptions) 

    PP = Playoff Performance (individual success and longevity in the playoffs)

    AS = Advancement Shares (team postseason success weighted by importance of contributions)

    CC = Career Contributions (scaled importance to team with team quality factored in)

    LMVP = Literal MVP (earned with highest Career Contributions score in the league)

    LMVP Shares = Literal MVP Shares (gives credit to non-first-place finishers in the LMVP standings each year)