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Top 15 Small Forwards in NBA History

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The 15 Best Small Forward in NBA History


USA Today Sports

Who are the greatest small forwards in NBA history? It's not a question that comes up all that often, but if you look at some of the legendary players who have played the position, it's actually one the better debates in basketball. Unlike other positions where the top spots belong to obvious players, there's a solid argument to be made for several players as the best SF of all time.

So what makes a good small forward?

It's a unique position in that some of the players who play the position, can actually play all of the positions in basketball. SF, aka the three, is a very flexible position. Threes can act as point guards (point-forward), or even as centers in rare cases. They typically have the size and length to be effective from nearly anywhere on the court. They're clearly not as strong as power forwards or centers, but SFs are usually good rebounders as well.

SFs are expected to contribute in all areas of the game. They need to be able to score, first and foremost. Nearly all SFs have a good short-range jump shot and are solid at taking it to the rack. Some of the great ones are also reliable from three-point land. SFs are also expected to be good defenders because of their size. They can body up with larger players and should overshadow smaller players.

With a ton of players to choose from, it wasn't easy narrowing down the best SFs of all time, but here are the top 15 in NBA history:

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Glen Rice


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Rice is one of the most underrated small forwards in NBA history. His name doesn't get mentioned with the greatest nearly enough. This is a guy who shot 40 percentage from 3-point land at 6-7. He was a dead-eye shot and proved that he could carry a team when he was with the Hornets. He also was a key role player for the Lakers during their championship run in 1999-00.

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Alex English

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

English is another player who doesn't get near enough credit for his NBA career. He was the face of the Denver Nuggets for years, playing there from 1980-1990. He averaged 21.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG, while being voted to the ASG on eight occasions.

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Carmelo Anthony

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Melo is still working his way up the list of the all time great small forwards, but there's no question that he's already one of the best to ever play. He's arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA today and if he can ever get to the mountain top, his stock will go up significantly.

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Paul Pierce

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Many people nowadays just look at Pierce as one of the members of the big-three in Boston. While that's true, many people forget that he was the face of that franchise and carried the Celtics for many years. For his career he's made the All Star team 10 times, while averaging 21.8 PPG and 6.0 RPG. Pierce also took home the Finals MVP award in 2008.

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Chris Mullin

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Mullin is another forgotten name with some of the all time greats, but he might have had the smoothest stroke of any small forward to ever play. He never really got a ton of national attention due to the fact he played for the Warriors, but Mullin got his chance to show the world what he was made of in the 1992 Olympics as a member of the Dream Team.

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Kevin Durant

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Durant is fighting right now to become the best player in the NBA. He's only been in the league for six seasons, but he's already on track for the hall of fame. Thus far he's averaging 26.6 PPG and 6.8 RPG.

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James Worthy

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Big Game James was a key member of the Showtime Lakers in the 1980's. He was good all-around player who could score, rebound and dish at 6-9. He took home the Finals MVP in 1988 and was inducted into the hall of fame in 2003.

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Rick Barry

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Most people today know Barry as the guy who shot underhand free throws and as the father of Brent and Jon Barry. But during his career in the ABA and NBA, Rick was a scoring machine. In total he averaged 24.8 PPG in his 14 years in pro basketball. He's also an NBA Champion (1974) and a hall-of-famer.

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Dominique Wilkins

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

You don't earn a nickname like the 'Human Highlight Reel' without being spectacular on the hardwood. Wilkins is mainly known for his ridiculous dunks, but he also had a good short-range jumper. For his career he averaged 24.8 PPG and 6.7 RPG, while being voted to the ASG on nine occasions.

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John Havlicek


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Havlicek was a member of the dynasty Celtics teams from the 1960's and 1970's. He averaged 20.8 PPG and was a member of eight championship teams, while taking home Finals MVP honors in 1974.

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Elgin Baylor

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USA Today Sports

Baylor was an absolute beast during his career that spanned from 1958-1972. He started out with the Minneapolis Lakers but stayed with the franchise as it moved to LA in 1960 and never played for another team. He averaged 27.4 PPG and 13.5 RPG game during his career and took his rightful place in the hall of fame in 1977.

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Scottie Pippen

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USA Today Sports

Pippen is best known for playing alongside Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990's. But on his own, Pippen is still one of the best small forwards to ever play. He was voted as one of the 50 greatest players in 1996, he's a seven-time All Star and in the season he played without Jordan in 1993-94 he averaged 22 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 5.6 APG and finished third in the MVP voting. Pippen is also sixth on the all time steals list (2,307).

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LeBron James

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

James just entered his prime a few years back and is no doubt still going strong. He's won two consecutive NBA championships and four MVP awards. His defense is nearly as good as his offense and there's nothing he can't do on the basketball court. The jury is still out on whether Lebron is truly clutch and his legacy is certainly still in the making. When it's all said and done, LBJ could be the best small forward to ever play the game.

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Larry Bird

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Bird is arguably the greatest player of all time and most certainly one of the best small forwards. He was a dead-eye shot, a great passer and could grind it out in the paint to pull down rebounds. He led the Celtics to three championships and took home three MVP awards during the 1980's. Most people don't know, but Bird averaged a double-double for his career (24.3 PPG, 10 RPG).

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Julius Erving

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Lots of Erving's success happened in the ABA. The Doctor won two ABA championships before the NBA merger in 1976. He would then go on to have a fantastic NBA career, while once again reaching the mountain top with the 76ers in 1983. He averaged 24.2 PPG and 8.5 RPG in his 16-year career. Dr. J was a once in a lifetime type of player. There's never been anyone like him before or since.