Ranking the Greatest NBA Small Forwards Since 2000
Every year, the NBA world debates who is the greatest player in the league. For more than a decade, though, the answer has pointed to a small forward.
LeBron James has put together a legendary career, but the three-time champion has impressive company at the position.
The following rankings are subjective, but we've considered individual production and accolades, contributions to team success and advanced metrics such win shares (WS), value over replacement player (VORP) and player efficiency rating (PER).
Only a player's production since the beginning of the 2000-01 season was taken into account here. Contributions before then are mentioned in career highlights but not measured.
While he was never a star, Battier regularly notched one block and one steal. During his 13-year career, only 11 players provided that defensive impact more often. Battier earned two All-Defensive honors and shot 38.4 percent from long range, winning two NBA titles as a three-and-D contributor for the Miami Heat.
Over eight seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Iguodala averaged 15.3 points and 4.9 assists as a key contributor to five playoff teams. However, his career really took off after the Golden State Warriors traded for him in 2013. Iguodala's defensive versatility helped the three-time champions unleash the "Death Lineup" and pushed him toward a Finals MVP in 2015.
Although his $118 million free-agent contract in 2007 didn't pan out, Lewis was a superb long-distance shooter throughout his career. He made two All-Star teams and owned a 38.6 three-point percentage with 1,787 total trifectas, which is the 17th-most ever.
The Croatian forward had a brilliant 2003-04 season; he averaged 24.2 points with a scorching 43.3 percent long-range clip and finished fourth in MVP voting. A three-time All-Star, Stojakovic is still ranked 18th in league history with 1,760 threes.
Metta World Peace
Formerly named Ron Artest, Metta World Peace's adventurous career covered 17 seasons and six franchises. While most productive on the Indiana Pacers―a tenure that included winning 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year and earning his lone All-NBA mention―he started on the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers squad that hoisted a banner. World Peace landed on four All-Defensive teams throughout his career.
10. Andrei Kirilenko
Career Marks (2001-2015): 2004 All-Star, three-time All-Defensive, 2004-05 blocks leader, 11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 31.0 3FG%, 18.7 PER, .151 WS/48
Though his list of accolades is much shorter than those earned by his counterparts, Andrei Kirilenko merits a place because of elite defense. AK47 was spectacular on that end of the court.
Highlighted by leading the NBA with 3.3 blocks per game in 2004-05, he averaged at least 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals five times apiece. Plus, since 1982-83, he's one of three players―along with Hakeem Olajuwon and Draymond Green―to contribute five rebounds, assists, blocks and steals in a game on multiple occasions.
But he provided consistent value on offense, too.
Kirilenko averaged double figures in nine of his 10 seasons with the Utah Jazz and dished three-plus assists five times.
9. Paul George
Career Marks (2010-present): Six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA, four-time All-Defensive, 2012-13 Most Improved Player, 2018-19 steals leader, 19.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 37.8 3FG%, 19.2 PER, .153 WS/48
Right as Paul George neared superstardom on the Indiana Pacers, a gruesome right leg injury while playing for USA Basketball in 2014 basically cost him a season. Fortunately, he recovered fully and has since become that elite player.
Indiana traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2017, and George assembled a career-best season in 2018-19. He provided 28.0 points and 4.1 assists while posting an NBA-high 2.2 steals per game, which helped him secure a first-team All-Defensive nod.
If he can sustain that production for a couple of years, George will solidify a Hall of Fame-worthy track.
8. Shawn Marion
Career Marks (1999-2015): Four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, 15.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 33.1 3FG%, 18.8 PER, .150 WS/48
Shawn Marion enjoyed the most productive years of his NBA career as a contributor to the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns.
Picked ninth in the 1999 NBA draft, Marion spent eight-plus seasons with the organization. He averaged a double-double four times and posted a combined three blocks and steals in seven campaigns while landing on a pair of All-NBA teams.
Following trades to and from the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, he joined the Dallas Mavericks and started for the 2011 championship-winning squad. Marion tallied 13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game during that NBA Finals.
An ultra-switchable player, Marion offered a level of defense that would've fit the NBA's next generation perfectly.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Career Marks (2013-present): 2018-19 MVP, three-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, two-time All-Defensive, 2016-17 Most Improved Player, 18.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 21.9 PER, .168 WS/48
Give it a few years and Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely have earned a top-five position on a similar list.
Antetokounmpo has increased his scoring and rebounding outputs in all six seasons of his career. Beyond his 27.7-point average in 2018-19, he posted a career-high 5.9 assists per game while propelling the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA's best record and winning MVP.
Through six years, the Greek Freak has career averages (see above) only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chris Webber have matched in an identical timeframe.
Longevity is the only thing stopping Antetokounmpo from reaching a higher standing, and he's compiled a decent argument for one anyway.
6. Vince Carter
Career Marks (1998-present): Eight-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, 1998-99 Rookie of the Year, 17.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 37.4 3FG%, 18.8 PER, .132 WS/48
Although he's remembered as a dunker―and, oh, that's true―Vince Carter did so much more than grace highlight reels with the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets.
From 2000-01 through 2008-09, he averaged 23.6 points and 4.4 assists. He was one of eight players to provide at least 23 points per game and total 10,000-plus points during that stretch, which included nine of his 10 All-Star nods.
After brief stints on the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns, Carter entered the second stage of his career as a top backup for the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies. He's since played for the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks.
Carter announced he will retire after the 2019-20 season. But, barring injury, he will become the first to play in an NBA game across four different decades. His 22-year career will be the longest ever.
5. Carmelo Anthony
Career Marks (2003-present): 10-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA, 2012-13 scoring champ, 24.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 34.7 3FG%, 20.3 PER, .127 WS/48
Despite his elite scoring, Carmelo Anthony has a complicated resume.
The No. 3 selection of the 2003 draft averaged 20-plus points in 14 straight seasons to begin his career. As of 2019, only four players―LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar―have achieved the same thing. Melo is a top-25 scorer in league history.
However, his teams advanced through the first round of the playoffs just twice in 11 postseason appearances. Anthony reached the Western Conference Finals with the Denver Nuggets in 2009 but never went beyond that stage.
That overwhelming lack of success is a glaring stain on his NBA career, though Melo is still a worthy Hall of Famer based on the combination of his scoring prowess, three Olympic gold medals and NCAA title.
4. Paul Pierce
Career Marks (1998-2017): 2007-08 Finals MVP, 10-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, 19.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 36.8 3FG%, 19.7 PER, .157 WS/48
Paul Pierce's list of "never" may be surprising. He never finished in the top five of MVP voting, never made first-team All-NBA and never started an All-Star game.
The Truth won a Finals MVP, landed on four All-NBA teams and reached 10 All-Star games. From 2000 to 2006, only five players averaged more points than Pierce's 24.8. He earned the coveted NBA title alongside Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2008.
So, let's add one more "never" to the list: The strong majority of NBA players will never be as productive as Pierce.
3. Kawhi Leonard
Career Marks (2011-present): Two-time Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, five-time All-Defensive, 2014-15 steals leader, 17.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 38.3 3FG%, 22.6 PER, .219 WS/48
Between his tireless work ethic and a San Antonio Spurs coaching staff known for its development, Kawhi Leonard went from a lockdown defender to an all-around superstar.
Initially, he was a competent scorer who thrived defensively. Perhaps there's no greater sign of respect than LeBron James being visibly annoyed when Leonard checked back into the game during the 2013 NBA Finals. The Spurs star then won Finals MVP in 2014.
But as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker stepped back into complementary roles, Leonard emerged as the featured player. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, he averaged a combined 23.4 points on 49.4 percent shooting with a 40.7 percent three-point clip.
After an injury and trade demand, Kawhi forced his way out of San Antonio in July 2018 and landed with the Toronto Raptors. He couldn't have asked for a better result in 2018-19.
The Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals, and Kawhi earned his second Finals MVP.
2. Kevin Durant
Career Marks (2007-present): 2013-14 MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA, 2007-08 Rookie of the Year, four-time scoring champ, 27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 38.1 3FG%, 88.3 FT% 25.2 PER, .217 WS/48
Regardless of one's thoughts about Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors, the decision unquestionably paid off.
KD spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Seattle SuperSonics and Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he developed into a lethal scorer. He earned four scoring titles for the franchise, but the Thunder only reached the NBA Finals once and lost that 2012 series.
During the summer of 2016―immediately after OKC coughed up a 3-1 lead to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals―Durant packed his bags and headed for Oakland. In three seasons with the Warriors, he's celebrated two championships and secured Finals MVP both times.
Calf and Achilles injuries derailed his 2019 postseason and outlook for 2019-20, but Durant is already a Hall of Fame lock.
1. LeBron James
Career Marks (2003-present): Four-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-NBA, six-time All-Defensive, 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, 2007-08 scoring champ, 27.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 34.3 3FG%, 27.6 PER, .235 WS/48
There is no argument for anyone else.
As the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft, LeBron entered the NBA with unparalleled expectations. He's met and surpassed them all, turning into one of the greatest players in league history.
James dominated the Eastern Conference for a decade, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat to a combined nine NBA Finals from 2007-18. He carried those franchises to three championships, including two in Miami and one with Cleveland.
LeBron is the only player in NBA history to average at least 25 points in 15 seasons and has a good chance to end his spectacular career as the league's all-time leading scorer.