Top 10 NBA Small Forwards of All-time

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No. 1 Larry Bird

Bird averaged 24.3 points and 10 rebounds per game in his “Legendary” NBA career. LB had a wonderful collegiate career at Indiana State averaging 30.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per contest. Winning three separate player-of-the-year awards in college with two first team All-American selections, Bird was destined to be a good player at the next level. Some critics might have believed that he was not going to be able to dominate in the NBA because he was not the fastest, the biggest, or could not jump the highest, but Larry proved people wrong as he is most likely the consensus No. 1 small forward of all-time. He won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics during the 80’s, which was no easy task playing against the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty in several NBA Finals. That was undoubtedly the biggest rivalry in NBA history. Larry Bird is one of the only players in NBA history to have won three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player awards. Add that to the fact that he was a nine time All-NBA first teamer and a 12-time NBA All-Star and you have one hell of a player. Bird was known for his sweet stroke which helped him win three consecutive 3-point contests. He was also a member of the “Dream Team”, the best team ever assembled. This team stormed through the 1992 Olympics winning by over 30 points in almost every game.(They beat Puerto Rico by 28 in the quarterfinals) This “Legend” will always be known as one of the all-time greats as he, Magic and Michael truly revolutionized the game of basketball.

No. 2 Elgin Baylor

People do not understand how great of a player Baylor was. He was unable to win a championship in eight chances because he ran up against the greatest dynasty in the history of sports, the Boston Celtics. Baylor was the best player on the 2nd best team in the league in most of the years in his career. He does not have a single MVP in his trophy case because during his career Wilt Chamberlin won four and Bill Russell won another four. For his career Baylor averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds. Those numbers are flat out ridiculous for a big man, let alone a small forward. He made 10 All-NBA first teams, add that to 11 all-star appearances and you should see why he is ranked at No. 2 on my list. This former No.1 overall pick of the NBA draft posted outstanding numbers at Seattle University. He averaged 31.3 points and 19.5 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the floor in his collegiate career. The most impressive thing that Baylor did in his career was score 61 points on the Boston Celtics in game five of the 1962 NBA Finals. Even though they lost that series it was one hell of a performance. In the 1960-1961 season he posted his best numbers averaging 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds per game. Years and games like these show me that Elgin Baylor was the real deal and one of the greatest small forwards to play in the NBA.

No. 3 Julius Erving

In a close race for the 3rd spot on my list I chose to go with “Dr. J.” Erving would have been higher (probably No.2) on this list if he posted his ABA numbers in the NBA. In his collegiate career at the University of Massachusetts he put his school on the map as he averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds for his career. Instead of joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972 and linking with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, Erving decided to sign with the Atlanta Hawks of the ABA. (That trio would have been the best of all-time in my opinion. It would have changed a lot of outcomes in the NBA throughout the 70’s.) He dominated in the ABA winning two championships and three MVP awards in five seasons. After five seasons in the ABA he joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 1975-1976. In his NBA career he produced 22 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. With that came 11 all-star appearances, one MVP award, and five first team All-NBA selections. He helped the Philadelphia 76ers win a championship in 1983, which to me solidifies his spot in my top 10. His ability to change games with his leaping ability is sometimes overlooked. He is one of the original “dunkers” in this league and players like Jordan, Wilkens, and Drexler emulated his game. The list of those who followed those guys is rapidly growing. Dr. J was truly a trend setter and his mark on the game of basketball will never be forgotten.

No. 4 John Havlicek

Hondo was one of the league’s true pioneers. He was not only a tremendous basketball player, but also a real class act. Havlicek was indeed a real winner in his career, winning eight titles with the Boston Celtics in the 60’s and 70’s. When any basketball fan hears the name Havlicek the sound clip from the 1965 NBA Finals probably rings out. The sound of “Havlicek steals the ball” is what I am referring to and this is one the most memorable sounds I relate to the NBA. For his career Hondo averaged 20.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those numbers are excellent especially for a player who played on eight separate championship teams. I know he played with the likes of Bill Russell and Dave Cowens but Havlicek played a large role in securing those rings. He played an exceptional role in the 1974 championship when he was the NBA Finals MVP. Hondo was a 13-time all-star, four time all-NBA first team selection, and five time NBA all-defensive first team selection. He is the NBA’s ultimate “sixth man” as he provided a tremendous spark of the bench for the dynamic Boston Celtics.

No. 5 Scottie Pippen

Pippen was the ultimate sidekick in the NBA playing second fiddle to the greatest player to ever step foot on an NBA court. Pippen is one of the best players in the history of the NBA to not be drafted in the first round of the draft. Pippen was a 6’7 point guard that had triple-double written all over him. He could matchup defensively at four positions on most nights. Pippen lands on my list at No. 5 because of how he impacted games with his defensive presence. The Bulls dynasty is arguably the best we have seen so far and Pippen was one of the anchors. No one man team can win this many championships, especially not in the era that the Bulls were winning in. For his career, Pippen produced 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers might seem average but he played six years after his prime, really dragging his career averages down. However the list of accomplishments for Scottie Pippen goes up and beyond average. He won six titles with the Bulls in the 90’s, he made seven all-star appearances, he was a three time All-NBA first team selection, and most impressively he was an 8 time NBA all-defensive first team selection. If you add those credentials to the fact he was also a member of “The Dream Team” and was named to the 50 greatest players you can see why he ranks in the top five of my list.

No.6 Rick Barry

Barry was surely a talent deserving of at least the No. 6 rank that I am giving him. He is probably most known for his under hand free throw shooting technique (This technique helped make him the number three all-time free throw shooter, behind only Mark Price and Steve Nash). Barry was not just a great free throw shooter though; he was a tremendous talent that had an exceptional ability to score. Originally, he started off in the NBA, then moved to the ABA, finally moving back to the NBA. He won a title and a finals MVP in 1975 with the Golden State Warriors. He was an eight time NBA all-star, six time all-NBA first team selection, and was also selected as one of the 50 greatest players of all-time. For his career Barry averaged 23.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In 1966-1967 he produced his best season averaging 35.6 points and 9 rebounds per contest. Barry is also the only NBA player ever to have three children play in the NBA.

No.7 LeBron James

Yes I did it; this man has already surpassed some of the NBA’s all-time greats. In six seasons, (should have been seven had the NBA let him enter the league after his junior year of high school) LeBron has lived up to all the hype. I know this may seem pre-mature to some, but looking at the candidates I had to select from, LeBron’s credentials were already better just six years in. For his career, he averages 27.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assist per game. His numbers are looking more and more like Magic’s and Oscar’s as time goes on. LeBron’s list of being the youngest player to achieve something goes on and on. (Most notable: youngest player to score 10,000 points) Already LeBron has one MVP, three selections to the all-NBA first team, five all-star appearances, one selection to the NBA all-defensive first team and a rookie of the year (Potentially the best rookie class of all-time). King James has made one of the biggest splashes in sports in recent memory. He has won an Olympic gold medal with the “Redeem Team” last summer in Beijing. The kid simply has serious credentials and with a couple more years at this level he will continue to pass players on this list and be considered a lock for the Hall of Fame.

No. 8 Dominique Wilkins

Originally I though that James Worthy was higher than Dominique but after much research I figure out that Worthy was just on a better team. “The Human Highlight Reel” earned his nickname by electrifying fans with monster dunks and vicious attacks to the basketball. When you look at his resume you do not see him winning titles, MVP’s, All-NBA first team awards or Olympic gold medals, but he played in the era with Bird, Magic and then Michael. For his career Wilkins averaged 24.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in 17 NBA seasons. That is remarkable and it puts him amongst the all-time great scorers in this league. In 1988 dunk contest he and Michael Jordan put on a tremendous exposition of dunks that changed the game of basketball forever. Wilkins should have won. Check out the video and see for yourself: He was robbed by Michael’s home-court advantage. (The All-star game was in Chicago that year). Wilkins was a nine time all-star, one time All-NBA first team selection, and a one time NBA scoring champ. In 1996 Wilkins took his game overseas and absolutely went to work. He won a Greek Cup Championship, Greek Cup MVP, Euroleague Championship 1996, and won the MVP of the Euroleague Finals. At this time Dominique was 26 years old. In my opinion I believe Dominique was the biggest snub to the NBA’s 50 greatest players.

No. 9 Paul Pierce

When I made my initial list I also had Worthy in front of “The Truth” and their resumes are very close, but Paul surpassed him after the 2008 Playoffs. He was arguably the best player on a Celtics team that absolutely dominated the NBA in 2008. Although they struggled in the first two rounds of the playoffs due to matchup problems, “The Truth” was able to rally his squad and win number 17 for the Boston Celtics. Pierce has career averages of 22.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in 11 seasons. He was always a good free throw and three point shooter, shooting percentages of 79.8 and 36.6 respectively. He was the 2008 NBA Finals MVP and he has seven NBA all-star appearances. Pierce will have some more work to do in order to climb this list and with at least five more good years left in him, he is destined to at least jump one spot or two. Ultimately he will go down as one of the Celtics all-time greats and 20 years from now you will see the number 34 hanging from the rafters in between 33 and 35.

No. 10 James Worthy

“Big Game James” was his name for a reason as he was a part of three of the Los Angeles Lakers championship teams. Coming out of college highly-touted, he lived up to the hype. James is not higher on my list because he was never the best player on his team and in most cases he was just the 3rd best. He was a great player on a great team; however when you play with guys like Magic and Kareem it is easy to get overshadowed. For his career Worthy produced 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest in 12 years. He was a seven time all-star and one time NBA Finals MVP. He was never better than an All-NBA third team selection which shows me that he was nothing more than just a great role player. All the players I put in front of him on this list would have at least the same or better credentials if they had played on the teams he played on.

Honorable Mention:

Bernard King, Grant Hill, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Toni Kukoc, Chris Mullin, Bill Cunningham, Detlef Schrempf, Bobby Jones and *Carmelo Anthony

The players on this list were very good players in this league. Some were obviously better than others but I felt that they all need some recognition. Grant Hill had he not got hurt would have been at least in the top five possibly the top three. The rest of the guys put up good numbers or were crucial to their teams winning titles. Carmelo Anthony made this list by being the best player on the 2008 “Redeem Team” leading USA basketball back to the top.


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