NBA Power Rankings: Larry Bird and Every Team's Best Small Forward Ever
The game of basketball has seen its fair share of fabulous players at each position, and the small forward is no exception.
Larry Bird is unquestionably the greatest of the bunch, and his inclusion as the Celtics No. 1 3 took away two of the game's 15 best at the position ever in Paul Pierce and John Havlicek.
"Larry Legend" opened up a new era of Celtics basketball, one that featured shooters more so than previous hard-nosed defenders like Bill Russell.
Larry, as well as others, got me thinking: Who is every team's greatest small forward?
In keeping up with my series on the "Greatest Ever," I present to you that same question regarding guys who played the 3.
With that in mind, I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!
Greatest at Each Position for Each Team Series
Point Guard—March 24th
Shooting Guard—March 28th
Small Forward—March 31st
Power Forward—April 4th
Atlanta Hawks: Dominique Wilkins
Years as a Hawk: 1982-1994
Key Achievements: Nine-time All-Star, one/four/two-time All-NBA
Dominique Wilkins is one of the more under-appreciated stars in NBA history.
The 6'8" small forward was as electric as they have ever come in the history of basketball. It is quite unbelievable that he did so much for the Hawks, but unfortunately, he could not take them to the promised land.
"The Human Highlight Film" was the best dunker in the history of the NBA and had himself some epic battles with Michael Jordan and others in the annual dunk contest.
In his time in Atlanta, which spanned 12 full seasons, "Nique" averaged 26.4 points and seven rebounds. He had five different seasons where he averaged better than 29 points, and in 1986, he snagged the scoring title. That's pretty impressive considering the scorers who were in the league then.
It is really a shame that he played in the days of Larry Bird because otherwise, this guy would be an all-time legend.
Sorry Bob Pettit, Dominique Wilkins is the greatest Atlanta Hawk ever.
Boston Celtics: Larry Bird
Years as a Celtic: 1979-1992
Key Achievements: Three-time NBA Champion, three-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, nine/one/zero-time All-NBA, 1980 Rookie of the Year
Where to start with perhaps the greatest shooter the game of basketball has ever seen?
Oh, how about his three championship rings? How about his three MVP awards? How about the fact that every season he played more than 75 games he was apart of the NBA's first or second team?
Regardless, Larry Bird is the best small forward of all time. The numbers coupled with the success that this guy had is ridiculously phenomenal.
Even Red Auerbach, the greatest basketball coach to ever live, called Bird the "greatest player of all time."
Now onto the numbers—and here's where his inclusion becomes obvious: 24.3 points, 10 boards and 6.3 assists per game. He also shot better than 88 percent from the charity stripe.
In 897 games as a Boston Celtic, Larry Bird not only defined Celtic basketball, but he also defined the small forward position. Although some of you may argue that Bird played power forward, remember that Kevin McHale was the 4 for the C's throughout the majority of the 1980s.
You have to feel sorry for Paul Pierce and John Havlicek, though.
Pierce, now an owner of a ring, has averaged 22.4 points and better than six rebounds to go with nearly five assists in almost 1,000 games. Hondo had similar numbers of 20.8, 6.3 and 4.8 during the 1960s for the Celtics and despite having more rings (eight) than Bird (three) was not considered to be an all-out leader like the "Hick of French Lick" was.
They at least get a mention, despite the fact that Bird reigns over all.
Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Wallace
Years as a Bobcat: 2004-2011
Key Achievements: One-time All-Star, one-time All-Defensive
No argument is needed here for Gerald Wallace, the Charlotte Bobcats' best player in franchise history, but I will give one anyway.
He almost single-handedly led the Bobcats to their first playoff appearance last season while being the rock of the club.
He averaged 10 rebounds last season—an amazing feat considering his 6'7" frame—to go with 19 points.
Although he was traded this February to the Portland Trail Blazers, Gerald Wallace undoubtedly will be Charlotte's best small forward for years to come.
Chicago Bulls: Scottie Pippen
Years as a Bull: 1987-1998, 2003-04
Key Achievements: Six-time NBA Champion, seven-time All-Star, three/two/two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Defensive
Simply put, Scottie Pippen is the greatest sidekick of all time, but at the same time, he was so much more. He is the epitome of a champion—someone who will take a dip in his own statistics in order to exchange it for glory.
He clearly had an all-around game. He averaged 17.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals during his days in Chicago.
Pippen was top-notch defensively, and NBA fans sometimes forget that the Bulls teams of the mid-90s were wizards defensively. Pippen, Dennis Rodman and of course, Michael Jordan, were all exceptional on the defensive side (Rodman didn't really have an offensive game) as well.
Bold as it may be, Pippen is one of the five best defenders of all time in addition to being great on the offensive side of things.
For his efforts, he is easily the Chicago Bulls' all-time small forward. I really do hope his legacy will continue to grow as time goes on.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
Years as a Cavalier: 2003-2010
Key Achievements: Two-time NBA MVP, seven-time All-Star, four/two/two-time All-NBA, two-time All-Defensive, 2004 Rookie of the Year
Sorry Clevelanders, but LeBron is just too darn good to omit from a list like this.
When you average about 28 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, I don't care what kind of departure you had with the city.
When you take a team that "features" Eric Snow, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the NBA Finals, you don't need an explanation.
Understanding that King James didn't handle his departure too well with the Cavaliers and the city, he is still undoubtedly the greatest player in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
I could go on and on about what LeBron has done, but I'll try to keep this short so you don't doze off in the middle of this slide show. Heck, even in his first NBA game he displayed superstar talent, as he recorded 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.
That season, he was just the third player in NBA history to record better than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, the first two being Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson—two of the best 10 players ever.
For most of the last decade, he carried Cleveland on his back and took otherwise mediocre Cavalier teams to five consecutive playoff appearances (looks like there's not going to be a sixth).
When all is said and done, LeBron will likely go into the Hall of Fame with the team he wins his first title with. If he never wins a championship, you've got to think Cleveland will retire the No. 23 jersey that everyone wants burned in Ohio.
Dallas Mavericks: Mark Aguirre
Years as a Maverick: 1981-89
Key Achievements: Three-time All-Star
Mark Aguirre might just be the second-best player in Dallas Mavericks history, with apologies to Rolando Blackman. It's not like Blackman put up 24.6 points, six rebounds and four assists like Aguirre did, though.
Aguirre, the first overall pick in the '81 draft and a Chicago native, was one of the best all-around frontcourt players during the 80s.
His best season came in 1983-84, when he averaged 29.5 points for the playoff-bound Mavs.
Denver Nuggets: Alex English
Years as a Nugget: 1980-1990
Key Achievements: Eight-time All-Star, zero/three/zero-time All-NBA, No. 2 jersey retired
As was the case with my first two Nugget selections, Fat Lever and David Thompson, Alex English was a member of Doug Moe's run-and-gun offense that fans absolutely adored, despite other coaches despising and judging from afar.
Nonetheless, English was the unquestioned leader of the team as well as being the leading scorer of the 1980s with 19,682 to his name.
Although the team never won a title with Moe as head coach, the rainbow-style jerseys were often worn by fans and English was the most popular player on the team, mainly due to his scoring ability—a trait that saw him become the first player in NBA history to post eight consecutive seasons with 2,000 points or more.
The former South Carolina Gamecock averaged 25.9 points and 5.6 rebounds while in the Rockies.
Carmelo Anthony's seven-plus season run with the club deserves a mention, so here it is.
Detroit Pistons: Grant Hill
Years as a Piston: 1994-2000
Key Achievements: Five-time All-Star, one/four/zero-time All-NBA, 1995 Rookie of the Year
Grant Hill was the man when he came into the NBA with the Pistons.
It seems as though everyone had bought themselves a No. 33 Hill jersey, and why the heck not? He was challenging the great Michael Jordan in popularity—but as we all know, this was the Grant Hill that was supposed to be, not the injury-plagued one.
He would routinely average seven rebounds and seven assists for the Pistons, and he put up almost 22 points over his first six seasons.
The only players in NBA history with better numbers after six years? LeBron James, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson, who—once James is done—will all be top 15 players.
Unfortunately, Hill's career never got any better than Detroit.
Golden State Warriors: Rick Barry
Years as a Warrior: 1972-78
Key Achievements: One-time NBA Champion, six-time All-Star, 1975 NBA Finals MVP, three/one/zero-time All-NBA
Yes, Rick Barry is shooting a free throw in the above picture.
Yes, he is one of the three best free-throw shooters of all time.
Famous for coining the "granny" foul shot, Barry was one of the all-time greats at the small forward position and was easily the best when he was in the Association.
He was a prolific scorer, averaging 25 points per game throughout his career. He was one of the better rebounders at the position, grabbing seven rebounds on any given night. His passing was additionally exceptional for his size, as he dished out five assists per game.
In 1975, Barry put up 30, six and six en route to his first (and only) NBA Finals trophy courtesy of a 4-0 sweep of the Washington Bullets.
Houston Rockets: Rudy Tomjanovic
Years as a Rocket: 1970-1981
Key Achievements: Five-time All-Star
Unfortunately for Rudy Tomjanovich, the thing he is most remembered for in his NBA career was the punch that nearly killed him in 1977, courtesy of the enraged Kermit Washington. Thankfully, he was sidelined for a year and recovered fully before having a decently successful finish to his career.
Because his last name was so long, jerseys would only say "RUDY T" on the back, and fans alike gave him the nickname.
In his 11 years as a Rocket, the 6'8" Tomjanovich averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while collecting five All-Star appearances along the way. He is third in Houston Rockets history in scoring behind Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger
Years as a Pacer: 2005-present
Key Achievements: One-time All-Star
Danny Granger has been the uncontested leader for the Pacers ever since Reggie Miller retired and he has put together some good numbers (17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds) ever since he was selected out of New Mexico in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft.
Some might argue and say Detlef Schrempf's four-year run with the team merits a spot here, but I believe Granger's success shadows that of the German.
Take a look at Granger's best season in 2008-09: He averaged 25.8 points and five rebounds while shooting better than 40 percent beyond the arc and 88 percent from the stripe.
Try comparing that to anything of Schrempf's.
Los Angeles Lakers: James Worthy
Years as a Laker: 1982-1994
Key Achievements: Three-time NBA Champion, 1988 NBA Finals MVP, seven-time All-Star, zero/zero/two-time All-NBA
"Big Game James" Worthy had a successful career and its entirety lasted in the city of angels with the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was there that he won three NBA titles with Magic Johnson and Co. in the mid 80s.
It was there that he was selected to six All-Star Games.
It was there that James Worthy cemented his legacy as one of the game's 50 greatest players ever. Stats didn't matter to the tertiary option that was Worthy because quite frankly, all he cared about was winning—and he did a lot of it.
Remember, guys: Elgin Baylor played power forward, thus making him ineligible for this position.
Los Angeles Clippers: Danny Manning
Years as a Clipper: 1988-1994
Key Achievements: Two-time All-Star
Danny Manning's NBA career was somewhat of a mystery. Expected to be a star right away in the Association, Manning took quite a long time to reach his potential due to injuries in his knees—and even when he did, fans were disappointed.
His most productive season was his fifth as a Clipper, as he put up nearly 23 points per and was selected to the mid-February Classic. He was also selected to go the following year, his final in the city of angels.
All in all, he put up nearly 18 in Los Angeles every night and averaged better than six rebounds and three assists.
It's a pretty puzzling story, one that can't be made much of, but Danny Manning is still the best small forward to suit up in Clipper red, white and blue.
Memphis Grizzlies: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Years as a Grizzly: 1996-2001
Key Achievements: None
The first five seasons of Shareef Abdur-Rahim's productive career came above the border in Vancouver as a member of the Grizz.
Although he enjoyed his best success as a Grizzly, averaging more than 20 points in four-straight seasons, "Reef" was never awarded with an All-Star appearance or an All-NBA listing.
Instead, he went about his business, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds to go with a block per as the new millennium struck.
He was traded to Atlanta the following offseason, and it was there where he finally would be rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game.
Miami Heat: Glen Rice
Years as a Heatle: 1989-1995
Key Achievements: None
To explain Glen Rice's importance to the Miami Heat, one must look at the numbers rather than the "Key Achievements."
He is in the Top Three in many of the Heat's historical statistics, including games played (second), three-pointers made (third) and points as well as points per contest (both third).
He was one of the greatest shooters ever and hit a tremendous 38.6 percent from beyond the arc as a member of South Beach's finest.
In total, he averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 478 games.
Milwaukee Bucks: Marques Johnson
Years as a Buck: 1977-1984
Key Achievements: Five-time All-Star
Although the Milwaukee Bucks would never make it to the NBA Finals during his tenure, Marques Johnson still reigns supreme as their all-time small forward.
In a stay that lasted seven seasons, Johnson would take them twice to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling each time. Regardless, he scoring 21 points on average, pulled down 7.5 boards and dished out 3.7 assists in 524 games for the Bucks. He also shot the ball, putting it through the net a remarkable 53-percent of the time.
In addition to being solid offensively, Johnson was a demon on defense and a spectacular ball-handler as well. He coined the phrase "point forward" when discussing his role as starting point guard in the 1983 playoffs, a position he had to take because of injuries to others.
Terry Cummings' omission deals with the fact that he wasn't as big a mainstay as Johnson and played 150 fewer games.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Tony Campbell
Years as a Timberwolf: 1989-1992
Key Achievements: None
At age 29, Tony Campbell was selected in the expansion draft that led to the of Minnesota Timberwolves' inaugural season.
In his first season in 'Snowta, Campbell averaged 23.2 points and 5.5 rebounds and became the unquestioned leader of the newly-founded club.
The Ohio State product played three seasons for the T'Wolves and averaged nearly 21 points per game during his tenure—something Kevin Garnett didn't even do—and his inclusion is a testimony to how much he meant to the franchise's humble beginning.
New Jersey Nets: Derrick Coleman
Years as a Net: 1990-95
Key Achievements: One-time All-Star, zero/zero/two-time All-NBA, 1991 Rookie of the Year
Derrick Coleman narrowly edges out Richard Jefferson for New Jersey's slot.
Coleman's NBA career began on the Jersey Shore, and he had five solid seasons for the Nets after a sketchy collegiate career.
In all, Coleman averaged 19.9 points, 10.6 rebounds (something Jefferson wasn't exceptional at) and almost two blocks in 346 games.
Lazy work ethic and alcohol abuse ultimately led to his departure—and what an ugly one it was between New Jersey and Coleman.
New Orleans Hornets: Jamal Mashburn
Years as a Hornet: 2000-04
Key Achievements: One-time All-Star
In his four-year stint with the New Orleans Hornets, Jamal Mashburn was known as a hard worker whose career was, like others on this list, derailed by injuries.
However, Mashburn was a solid player in the Big Easy during his time there and he never really declined since he sported a 20.8 scoring average his final season as a Hornet.
The University of Kentucky legend had career averages of 19 points, five rebounds and four assists per contest.
New York Knicks: Bernard King
Years as a Knickerbocker: 1982-87
Key Achievements: Two-time All-Star, one/zero/zero-time All-NBA
Bernard King was a scorer if I've ever seen one. He was as explosive as they came when he ran down the court.
He still holds the Knicks single-game scoring record when he dropped 60 on the Nets on Christmas Day 1984. During that season, he led the NBA in scoring with 32.5 points and all in all, he averaged 26.5 while he played in the Big Apple. He also shot better than 54 percent from the field during his tenure.
It's too bad that his knees famously failed on him the following season; otherwise, his already cemented status with the Knicks would be legendary.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
Years as a SuperSonic/Thunder: 2007-present
Key Achievements: Two-time All-Star, one/zero/zero-time All-NBA, 2008 Rookie of the Year
In just under four seasons in the Association, Kevin Durant has already established himself as the best scorer in the game. Just over 300 games into his already solid career, Durant has averaged 26.1 points to go with 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
You've got to think he and LeBron James are the only legitimate active players who have a chance to break the NBA's all-time scoring record.
His resume already includes two All-Star and one first-team All-NBA selection, and you've got to believe he adds a second All-NBA because he is the second-best forward in the league to James. Contrary to popular belief, Durant's defense isn't much to be upset about, as he has honed these skills in the last year or two.
No one else in Seattle/Oklahoma City history comes even close to the Durantuala except Rashard Lewis.
Orlando Magic: Dennis Scott
Years as a Magician: 1990-97
Key Achievements: None
Dennis "3-D" Scott was a man of three-pointers.
In fact, one season he tallied 267 of them, effectively setting the single-season record, only to have Ray Allen break it a decade later.
A 6'8" Georgia Tech product, Scott spent his first seven years in the NBA with the Orlando Magic and was routinely a top scorer for the team alongside Penny Hardaway before a fellow by the name of Shaquille O'Neal showed up.
He amassed over 6,000 points as a Magician and was honored five years ago at the "Remember the Past" night.
Are you wondering why Tracy McGrady isn't on the list? Well, T-Mac routinely switched off between shooting guard and small forward while in Orlando, and therefore didn't chalk up enough time at either position to make enough noise.
Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving
Years as a Sixer: 1976-1987
Key Achievements: One-time NBA Champion, 11-time All-Star, five/two/zero-time All-NBA
Julius "Dr. J" Erving changed the scope of the wing position and its play in the NBA, and for that he is easily rewarded with this spot.
The best ABA player of all time, Erving continued his play as the merger occurred in the 70s, and he found himself as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was there that in 11 seasons Dr. J averaged 22 points, nearly seven rebounds and two steals to go with 1.5 blocks per game. His defense was stifling at times, and no one knew exactly how to stop him on offense.
At the tender age of 33, Dr. J ultimately solidified his legendary status by helping the 76ers sweep the Pat Riley-led Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals.
While digging up pictures from Getty Images, I tried to come across one where he sported his awesome afro, but alas I couldn't, so please settle for the one above.
Phoenix Suns: Shawn Marion
Years as a Sun: 1999-2008
Key Achievements: Four-time All-Star, zero/zero/two-time All-NBA
During his eight-plus years in Phoenix—the first team of his four-stop career—Shawn Marion established himself as the best small forward in franchise history.
"The Matrix" had tremendous rebounding skills as a 6'7" 3, and averaged double digits in the category on four separate occasions.
His best season came as a 27-year-old during the 2005-06 season, when he averaged 21.8 points and grabbed 11.8 boards while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He effectively was given an All-Star and All-NBA nod.
In over 500 games with the crew, he averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds.
As it goes with all legendary Phoenix Suns, Marion is still looking for that first ring.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jerome Kersey
Years as a Blazer: 1984-1995
Key Achievements: None
Even though Clifford Robinson would take his starting role in the early 1990s, Jerome Kersey is still deservedly rewarded a spot on this list.
As a part of the team along with Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter that made it to the Finals twice in '90 and '92, Kersey made his name known through his defense and his ability to snatch the ball at will. He averaged 1.3 swipes throughout the course of his career.
His best season as a Trail Blazer came during the 1987-88 campaign when the 6'7" product from D-II Longwood University averaged 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Additionally, he put together averages of over 12 points and six rebounds for the Blazers and he played in 831 games over 11 seasons, a number that is second in franchise history.
The guy who is fourth in points, second in rebounds and fourth in steals in club history gets the nod here.
Sacramento Kings: Jack Twyman
Years as a Royal: 1955-1966
Key Achievements: Six-time All-Star, zero/one/zero-time All-NBA, No. 27 jersey retired
Want to hear something amazing about Jack Twyman?
In his fifth season in the league, he averaged 31.2 points per contest—and failed to lead his team in scoring. First place would belong to Wilt Chamberlain, who in his rookie year averaged more than 37.
Anyways, Twyman was a staple in the Royals franchise before it moved to Sacramento and in over 800 games, he averaged 19.2 points and 6.6 rebounds and was selected to the All-Star game six times.
For his efforts, the Kings have retired his No. 27 jersey.
San Antonio Spurs: Sean Elliott
Years as a Spur: 1989-1993, 1994-2001
Key Achievements: One-time NBA Champion, two-time All-Star
To understand how good a player Sean Elliott was for the San Antonio Spurs, you have to look at his career log.
After dealing Elliott in 1993, he played with the Bad Boys of Detroit, where he struggled to find a niche, and he was promptly shipped back to the Lone Star State, where he would play his final seven seasons with the Spurs.
One of the greatest college players ever, Elliott had a successful NBA career and his best season came in 1995-96 when he averaged 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc.
He narrowly takes this spot over the defensive-orientated Bruce Bowen and the offense-first mindset of Larry Kenon, where as Elliott had both Bowen and Kenon in his game.
Toronto Raptors: Morris Peterson
Years as a Raptor: 2000-07
Key Achievements: None
In seven seasons as a Raptor, Morris Peterson averaged better than 12.5 points in four of those years.
"Mo Pete" was a fan favorite from the first time he stepped on the hardwood in Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Although he never won any awards or achievements, Peterson will likely be remembered as the sharpshooting guy from the days of the new millennium.
Mo Pete averaged 12 points and drained over 800 three-balls—a franchise record—in 542 games as a Toronto Raptor.
Utah Jazz: Adrian Dantley
Years as a Jazz player: 1979-1986
Key Achievements: Six-time All-Star, zero/two/zero-time All-NBA
Adrian Dantley was one of the NBA's best ballers in the 1980s and he accumulated all six of his career All-Star appearances as a member of the Utah Jazz.
His Jazz average of 29.6 points per game is astounding, and he also averaged better than six rebounds during his tenure.
He led otherwise mediocre Jazz teams to the second round of the playoffs his two final seasons in Utah.
He was a polarizing figure during the 1980s and served as the veteran leader when two youngsters by the names of John Stockton (who joined the club in 1984) and Karl Malone (1985) first stepped foot on the hardwood.
Washington Wizards: Bernard King
Years as a Bullet: 1987-1991
Key Achievements: One-time All-Star, zero/zero/one-time All-NBA
As much as Antwan Jamison deserved this spot, a lot of what he did dealt more with the power forward game and he played the 4 spot too much to ignore.
On the flipside, Bernard King gets his second nod here after he enjoyed four solid seasons in our nation's capital. He averaged 22 points and nearly five boards and four assists per game as a Bullet.
It was the final hurrah (other than a quick stint with the Nets two years later) in a good NBA career.
About the Author
Joseph Fafinski is a 19-year-old, originally from Chaska, Minnesota.
He is currently a freshman at the University of Missouri pursuing a career in journalism.
He is a huge fan of basketball, football, baseball and golf, and is a Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He also loves the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Twins.
You can follow Joseph on Twitter at @JosephFafinski.
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