Top NBA Small Forwards All-Time and 2023
The small forward position in basketball, also known as the three, is typically played by one of the more dynamic and athletic players on a basketball team. Small forwards are responsible for doing just about everything on the stat sheet- from scoring, to rebounding the basketball, and sometimes using their athleticism to defend the best player on the opposing team.
This list ranks the greatest small forwards in NBA history, and is followed by a list of the best small forwards from the NBA’s 2021-2022 season.
Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History
1. LeBron James
Notable Accolades: 4x NBA Champion; 4x NBA Finals MVP; 4x NBA MVP; 18x NBA All-Star; 13x All-NBA First Team; 2nd all time scoring
LeBron James is considered by some to be the greatest basketball player to ever play the game, so it is no surprise he is at the top of this list. James' ability to score the basketball and make players around him better, combined with his insane athleticism and basketball IQ, makes him one of the most all-around skilled players the game has ever seen.
2. Larry Bird
Notable Accolades: 3x NBA Champion; 2x NBA Finals MVP; 3x NBA MVP; 12x NBA All-Star; 9x All-NBA First Team; 3x NBA Three-Point Contest Champion; 2x 50-40-90 club
Larry Bird is among the best all-around players in NBA history, as his playmaking ability and legendary shooting skills helped lead the Celtics to multiple Finals' appearances throughout the 1980s.
3. Kevin Durant
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion; 2x NBA Finals MVP; 1x NBA MVP; 12x NBA All-Star; 6x All-NBA First Team; 4x NBA Scoring Champion; 1x 50-40-90 club
Kevin Durant is widely considered to be the greatest scorer that the game has ever seen, as his 7-foot frame allows him to get anywhere on the floor and rise above defenders to create shots for himself anytime he wants.
4. Julius Erving
Notable Accolades: 1x NBA Champion, 2x ABA Champion, 1x NBA MVP, 11x NBA All-Star, 5x All-NBA First Team
Dr. J is one of the most athletic players to ever play the game of basketball, as he is responsible for some of the most iconic layups and dunks in the league's history.
5. Elgin Baylor
Notable Accolades: 1x NBA Champion, 11x NBA All-Star, 10x All-NBA First Team
Elgin Baylor is one of only ten players in NBA history to be named to the All-NBA First Team ten times despite never winning an MVP in his career.
6. Scottie Pippen
Notable Accolades: 6x NBA Champion, 7x NBA All-Star, 3x All-NBA First Team, 8x All-NBA Defensive First Team
Scottie Pippen is best known as being Michael Jordan's sidekick, but his own defensive and playmaking abilities land him at No. 6 on this list.
7. John Havlicek
Notable Accolades: 8x NBA Champion; 1x NBA Finals MVP, 4x All-NBA First Team; 5x All-NBA Defensive First Team
John Havlicek is one of the best players to ever play in a Boston Celtics uniform, helping the team to eight championships during the '60s and '70s while becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
8. Dominique Wilkins
Notable Accolades: 9x NBA All-Star, 7x All-NBA, 2x Slam Dunk Champion
Dominique Wilkins is best known for his dunking ability, but scoring over 26 points per game over a ten-year period is not something that should be overlooked.
9. Rick Barry
Notable Accolades: 1x NBA Champion, 1x NBA Finals MVP, 8x NBA All-Star, 5x All-NBA First Team, NBA Scoring Champion
Rick Barry is one of the most underrated players in NBA history, as his dominant scoring ability lead him to average over 35 points per game in the 1967 season.
10. Kawhi Leonard
Notable Accolades: 2x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 5x NBA All-Star, 3x All-NBA First Team, 2x NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2x NBA All- Defensive First Team, 1x NBA Steals Leader
One of the most effective two-way players of this generation, Kawhi Leonard’s dominance at both ends of the floor has made him a superstar as a member of the Spurs, Toronto Raptors, and now the Los Angeles Clippers.
Predicting the Best Small Forwards of the 2022-23 NBA Season
1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
2021-22 Stats: 29.9PTS, 7.4REB, 6.4AST
Kevin Durant again showed why he is one of the most lethal scorers in NBA history- averaging nearly 30 points per game while shooting just under 52% from the field. While the Nets had several distractions throughout the season, Durant was one bright spot that kept them in playoff contention all season long.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
2021-22 Stats: 30.3PTS, 8.2REB, 6.2AST
While the Lakers could never put it all together and consistently win games last season, James himself averaged the second most points in a season in his entire career. Running it back with point guard Russell Westbrook and power forward Anthony Davis in 2022-23, all eyes will be on whether or not the team can get over the hump and be a contender in the West.
3. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
2021-22 Stats: 27.9PTS, 5.1REB, 4.9AST
DeMar DeRozan shined with the Chicago Bulls this season, and at one point was a legitimate MVP candidate. At one point billed as the 'worst offseason signing,' DeRozan showed that he can still produce in this league- and at an extremely high level.
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
2021-22 Stats: 26.9PTS, 8.0REB, 4.4AST
Jayson Tatum is one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, and he was a pivotal piece of the Celtics success over the second half of last year that earned them the No. 2 seed going into the playoffs. Coming off of a year in which he averaged career-highs in points, assists, and rebounds, he and Jaylen Brown will have their hands full
5. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
2021-22 stats: DNP
After missing all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, Kawhi Leonard and his running mate Paul George look to be viable contenders along with the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix Suns in what should be an exciting regular season and postseason for the Western Conference.
6. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
2021-22 Stats: 21.4PTS, 5.9REB, 5.5AST
Jimmy Butler did what Jimmy Butler always does: his effectiveness on the defensive end was again complemented by a solid offensive season, and he led the Heat to the No. 1 overall seed in an extremely tight eastern conference.
7. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
2021-22 stats: 20.1PTS, 5.4REB, 5.4AST
Capable of playing both the small forward and shooting guard positions, Khris Middleton’s value as a shooter and defender can not be understated as he and the Greek Freak look to return to championship-level play in the new season.
8. Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
2021-22 stats: 17.2PTS, 4.5REB, 2.2AST
A pivotal piece of the Golden State Warriors’ championship run, Andrew Wiggins returns to the Bay on a massive extension with hopes of continuing to run the Western Conference for years to come.
9. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
2021-22 Stats: 22.7PTS, 5.8REB, 5.6AST
After bringing in CJ McCollum from the Trail Blazers to pair up with Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans gave the Suns a run for their money in the first round of the NBA playoffs last year. With a healthy Zion Williamson now back in the mix, look for New Orleans to fly under people’s radars early in the season.
10. Dillion Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
2021-22 stats: 18.4PTS, 3.2REB, 2.8AST
Dillion Brooks was a key piece of the young Memphis Grizzlies’ team that managed to finish 2nd in a competitive Western Conference last season, and the team is going to count on his improvement if they want to take the next step in 2022-23.
11. Michael Porter Jr, Denver Nuggets
2021-22 stats: 9.9PTS, 6.6REB, 1.9AST
After missing several stints last season with injury, MPJ will finally get to play consistent minutes on the court with former Orlando Magic star Aaron Gordon, who came to the team midseason last year, as Denver looks to rebound from their early playoff exit to the eventual NBA Champs.
12. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
2021-22 stats: 16.1PTS, 5.4REB, 2.8AST
After Jerami Grant was dealt to the Blazers midseason, Bey was forced to step up and take on a bigger role with Detroit on both ends of the floor. He responded, and the team now looks to make him a centerpiece as they build back into contention in the East.