LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen…the small forward position has played host to some of the NBA’s truly elite players over the years. From dominant scorers to lockdown defenders to three-point sharpshooters, the small forward spot caters to guys who can display a wide array of skills.
While the above guys each represent “best in franchise history” status for various teams, the answer isn’t as clear for other organizations around the NBA landscape.PointAfter set out to find the best player at the position for each franchise by their per-game numbers and accolades in said uniform.
Note: Player positions were determined by the year-to-year listings on Basketball Reference.
Honorable Mention—Seattle SuperSonics: Detlef Schrempf
German-born forward Detlef Schrempf didn’t land in Seattle until his age-31 season, but the late bloomer played his best basketball in six seasons with the now extinct SuperSonics.
Schrempf collected two of his three All-Star berths in Seattle and was named to the All-NBA Third Team in 1995. He ranks seventh in franchise history with 53.7 win shares (Russell Westbrook will pass him early next season) and tenth in defensive rebounds. All told, Schrempf posted averages of 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while with the Sonics.
Atlanta Hawks: Dominique Wilkins
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention longtime Hawks guard/forward Lou Hudson in this spot. He made six consecutive All-Star teams with Atlanta (five while listed primarily as a small forward). Hudson also earned an All-NBA Second Team nod for the 1969-70 season, but his impressive résumé still pales in comparison to “The Human Highlight Film.”
Dominique Wilkins racked up nine All-Star appearances, various nods on the All-NBA Teams (1 first, 4 seconds, 2 thirds) and won the scoring title in 1986. In his career with Atlanta, ‘Nique averaged 26.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Boston Celtics: Larry Bird
Longtime Celtics greats John Havlicek and Paul Pierce, who actually spent more seasons in Boston than Bird did, deserve honorable mentions for their longevity and excellence. However, “Larry Legend” is our choice as the best Celtics small forward of all time.
“The Truth” helped guide the Celts to a championship in 2008 and took home Finals MVP. Havlicek sits comfortably as Boston’s all-time leading scorer and won a whopping eight championships (though he did so during a watered-down era with fewer teams).
Bird, meanwhile, is the most dynamic talent of the three. He’s seen as a top-10 player all time by many NBA pundits. He won three titles, three MVP awards and two Finals MVPs. He also made the All-NBA First Team a whopping nine times—Pierce didn’t do that once. Bird was bumped down to No. 3 on the Celtics all-time scoring list by Pierce, but he should still be seen as the best small forward ever for the franchise.
Brooklyn Nets: Vince Carter
Even though the Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets have been around since the late 70s—longer when including the ABA years—the franchise has never had a player suit up for them for more than eight years (Buck Williams is the only player who spent at least eight full seasons with the organization).
Lumping in longevity doesn’t help much here, but Vince Carter still boasts an impressive résumé with the franchise despite only spending four-plus seasons there. His final three All-Star appearances occurred in a Nets uniform, and he averaged 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest for New Jersey.
Charlotte Hornets: Glen Rice
Glen Rice only spent three seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, but those three years (1995-96 through 1997-98) also happened to be Rice’s peak. For a three-point sharpshooter like Rice, it was no coincidence that two of those three seasons featured a shortened three-point line.
In addition to making all three of his All-Star teams and being named to the All-NBA Second and Third Team once each, Rice drained 42.4, 47 and 43.3 percent of his triples in Charlotte (the latter number with a normal three-point arc). It was a short-lived tenure, but it’s enough to give Rice “best small forward in history” status for the Hornets franchise.
Chicago Bulls: Scottie Pippen
The man who is frequently (and unfairly) boxed in as Michael Jordan’s wingman, Scottie Pippen was a transcendent player in his own right while with the Chicago Bulls. In his first 11 seasons (all with Chicago), Pippen collected six championship rings, seven All-Star appearances, a smattering of All-NBA Team berths and seven All-Defensive First Team nods.
Frankly, nobody else in Bulls history comes close (at least at the same position).
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
Even if LeBron James didn’t return to his old stomping grounds after opting to take his talents to South Beach in 2010, he’d still be seen as the best Cavs small forward in history.
He’s still trying to win his first championship ring for the Cavaliers, but he collected back-to-back MVP awards during his first stint with the organization and led the team to five consecutive runs to at least the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He’s the best player of his generation, so nobody in Cavs lore can stack up against him or his two MVPs in a Cleveland uniform.
Dallas Mavericks: Mark Aguirre
Mark Aguirre played approximately 7.5 seasons in Dallas to start his career. In that time, he averaged a whopping 24.6 points per game, which puts him at the top spot in Mavericks history (he’s No. 3 in total points scored behind Dirk Nowitzki and Rolando Blackman).
One of the great forgotten scorers of the 1980s, Aguirre averaged more than 22 points per game in six seasons (all with Dallas) and made three All-Star teams (again, all with Dallas).
Denver Nuggets: Alex English
Alex English collected the longest tenure of any Denver Nuggets player in history by suiting up for them for 11-plus seasons. Despite being on the wrong side of 30 for eight of those years, English collected eight All-Star berths in the Mile High City. He also made the All-NBA Second Team three times and captured a scoring title in 1986.
His numbers in a Nuggets uniform—25.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on 50.9 percent shooting from the field—are exemplary.
Detroit Pistons: Grant Hill
Before Grant Hill’s career arc hit a rough patch via a slew of devastating injuries suffered in Orlando, he was on his way to becoming one of the league’s all-time best players. While rocking the nostalgia-inducing teal Pistons throwback uni, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per contest.
He was named to the All-Star team in five of his first six seasons (all with Detroit), was a co-Rookie of the Year with Jason Kidd and made the All-NBA First Team at his peak in 1997.
Golden State Warriors: Rick Barry
As the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors play to win the championship, it only seems appropriate to reminisce about the team that did so 40 years ago. That 1974-75 squad was led by Rick Barry, a remarkably elite scorer who spent the majority of his career with the Warriors.
Sandwiching a stint in the ABA, Barry collected eight All-Star appearances with the Dubs. He was also named to the All-NBA First Team five times and won Rookie of the Year. He’s the only player ever to lead Golden State to a title (for the moment), and is quite easily the best small forward in team history.
Houston Rockets: Tracy McGrady
The Houston Rockets have featured some elite big men (Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Moses Malone, Yao Ming, etc.) as well as some dominant guards (James Harden, Clyde Drexler, Steve Francis and Calvin Murphy). By comparison, the small forward spot isn’t nearly as stacked, but Tracy McGrady reigns supreme.
He wasn’t as dominant with Houston as he was in years prior with Orlando, but he was still really good. T-Mac averaged 22.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game for the Rockets and made three All-Star games, but McGrady never made it beyond the first round of the playoffs in Houston.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George
The competition for best Pacers small forward ever is, by our estimation, a three-way race between Paul George, Danny Granger and Detlef Schrempf.
Schrempf posted solid numbers in Indy and won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards, but his stint in Seattle was superior. Granger was a lights-out scorer and an assassin in crunch time, but he only made one All-Star team before knee ailments derailed his career. As a result, the youngest of the three takes the crown for his two All-Star berths, two All-NBA Third Team selections, Most Improved Player award and appearances on the All-Defensive First and Second Team (one time apiece).
Los Angeles Clippers: Corey Maggette
In Los Angeles Clippers franchise history—dating back to the 1970-71 season when they were still the Buffalo Braves—no small forward has ever become an All-Star. That’s an alarming fact for a team that has been around for so long.
Nevertheless, Corey Maggette was a pretty solid player in his time with LA. Throughout eight seasons for the Clips, the 6’6” forward attacked the rim with reckless abandon, frequenting the charity stripe. In fact, he still ranks No. 1 in both free throws made and attempted in Clippers lore. He averaged 17.3 points per game in LA.
Los Angeles Lakers: Elgin Baylor
The storied Los Angeles Lakers franchise has featured all-time greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Centers and guards have ruled the roost in Lakerland, but one small forward plants his name among the other Hall of Famers: Elgin Baylor.
Despite having to play through unspeakable bigotry during a time of intense racial tension, Baylor put his stamp on the NBA by averaging 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his 14-year career (all with the Lakers). An 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA First Team member, Baylor once averaged 38.3 points, 18.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in a single season—which is nothing short of absurd. Even video game players would struggle to reenact those gaudy stats.
Memphis Grizzlies: Rudy Gay
In a relatively short 20-year existence, the Memphis Grizzlies have only featured five All-Star selections. They’ve all occurred since the turn of the century and are split among three players: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Clearly, there’s not much history to work with here, which makes deciding the franchise’s best small forward ever an awkward task. Shareef Abdur-Rahim put up big numbers with the franchise, but he was also very turnover prone. And even though the Grizzlies promptly had their best playoff run in history immediately after trading Rudy Gay, he gets the nod here. Among his ranks in franchise history: No. 5 in rebounds, No. 9 in assists, No. 2 in steals, No. 5 in blocks and No. 2 in scoring.
Miami Heat: LeBron James
Were you expecting anyone else?
James didn’t reside in Miami for very long compared to others in franchise history (just four seasons), but that was long enough for King James to guide the team to four straight NBA Finals trips. He won two titles in that span, as well as two MVP awards. He’s the easy choice here despite a lack of longevity.
Milwaukee Bucks: Bob Dandridge
Bob Dandridge played the first eight seasons of his career with Milwaukee. He returned to the Bucks and played 11 games in 1981-82 before retiring. The Norfolk State University product collected three All-Star nods and a championship ring during his tenure up north.
All told, Dandridge averaged 18.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in nine seasons with the organization. In franchise history, he ranks No. 1 in minutes played, No. 2 in rebounds, No. 8 in assists and No. 5 in points scored.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Wally Szczerbiak
Like the Clippers, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the sad sack organizations that simply don’t have a deep crop of great players at any position. Wally Szczerbiak was never a transcendent player like other guys on this list, but he was always a solid contributor.
In fact, for his role as second banana behind Kevin Garnett for a 50-win T-Wolves team in 2001-02, Szczerbiak made the All-Star team. He averaged 18.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while draining an eye-popping 45.5 percent of his three-pointers that year.
New Orleans Pelicans: Peja Stojakovic
From one sharpshooter to another, Peja Stojakovic chimes in as the best small forward in the New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets extremely brief history (they’ve only been around since 2002-03).
Strong consideration was handed out to Jamal Mashburn here, as he made the All-Star team in 2003 by averaging 21.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. But he really only spent that one season in New Orleans (he played just 19 games the following year), so that hindered his case. Instead, Stojakovic’s consistency as a sharpshooting wing around the Chris Paul-led Hornets takes the spot.
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony
The Carmelo Anthony era in the Big Apple has been a roller coaster for Knicks fans. From making the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2013 under head coach Mike Woodson to bottoming out with 65 losses this past season (a franchise record), New York is still waiting for Melo to bring the franchise back to the Promised Land.
Despite questions surrounding Anthony’s health, he’s made four consecutive All-Star teams since heading to NY via trade. He’s averaging 26.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a Knick.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
Since we’ve opted to split the SuperSonics from the Thunder, we need a small forward to represent OKC as the best in team history. Coming up with the answer should require no effort whatsoever.
Kevin Durant, last season’s MVP award winner, is quite clearly the best small forward to ever don a Thunder uniform. Even 50 years from now, that may still ring true.
Orlando Magic: Grant Hill
For those wondering why T-Mac didn’t make his second appearance on this list for his time spent in Orlando, Basketball Reference lists McGrady as a shooting guard for all four of his seasons in Florida. During the same timeframe, though, Grant Hill was suiting up at small forward (when healthy).
While injuries significantly diminished his amount of time spent on the court, he was still great for the Magic when he was able to play. After missing the entire 2003-04 season with an ankle injury that threatened to end his career, Hill came back with a vengeance by averaging 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists while making the All-Star team.
Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving
Julius Erving may have spent the first five seasons of his prime suiting up in the ABA, but he still had more than enough left in the tank when transitioning to the NBA to make 11 consecutive All-Star appearances for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Dr. J is known best for his high-flying highlights around the bucket, but those YouTube clips shouldn’t overshadow a masterful career. Erving won a championship in 1983 and NBA MVP in 1981.
Phoenix Suns: Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion never got the respect he deserved from the Phoenix faithful while suiting up alongside two-time MVP Steve Nash and dominant power forward/center Amar’e Stoudemire. “The Matrix” was a dynamic two-way player who could fill up the box score on offense without ever having a play drawn for him, while also taking on the toughest defensive assignments (from speedy point guards to bruising power forwards).
Marion was in a class of his own in this regard, which is why it’s a bit of a shame that he forced his way out of the desert when the team appeared to be on the cusp of something great. Some Suns fans may not know this, but Marion is the team’s all-time leader in win shares with 93.2 of them. That trumps Nash and Stoudemire rather comfortably.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jerome Kersey
The only player to spend more time with the Portland Trail Blazers franchise aside from Jerome Kersey is Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. His longevity, coupled with a weak franchise slate of small forwards, vaults Kersey to the top.
Although he never made an All-Star team in his career, Kersey had a very solid three-year peak when he averaged 17.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals combined from 1987-88 through 1989-90. Among Trail Blazers, he ranks No. 3 in rebounds, No. 8 in assists, No. 3 in steals, No. 6 in blocks and No. 5 in points.
Sacramento Kings: Jack Twyman
You have to dive back to the 1950s and 60s to discover Jack Twyman’s name, but once you do, it’s clear that the Hall of Famer is the best small forward the Kings franchise has had.
When playing for the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals, Twyman collected six All-Star nods and two All-NBA Second Team selections. He boasts averages of 19.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game with the franchise.
San Antonio Spurs: Mike Mitchell
Basketball fans don’t even have to look far into the past to discover a long list of Spurs greats. From Tim Duncan and David Robinson to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Spurs dynasty has had elite players at near every position, save for small forward.
Bruce Bowen would take the spot here if “best” was substituted with “dirtiest,” but instead we went with Mike Mitchell. The man who spent the final six-plus seasons in San Antonio didn’t make an All-Star team after doing so with Cleveland in 1981, but he scored 20 or more points per game in three separate seasons. That’s enough for the nod here.
Toronto Raptors: Vince Carter
Vince Carter joins LeBron James and Grant Hill as the only other players on this list to be deemed the best small forward in history for two different franchises. Prior to bouncing around to the Nets, Magic, Suns, Mavericks and Grizzlies, Carter was earning his nickname “Air Canada” up north in Toronto.
His points-per-game average of 23.4 with the Raptors is tops among all players in their history.
Utah Jazz: Adrian Dantley
When you think Utah Jazz basketball, the names that come to mind are John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan. That trio provided fans with a lot of fond memories, but before that era was a guy named Adrian Dantley.
The 6’5” small forward, who played for Utah from 1979-80 through 1985-86, made all six of his All-Star teams as a member of the Jazz. His scoring numbers with the franchise are particularly outstanding, as Dantley averaged 29.6 points per game (a team record), while shooting 56.2 percent from the field in Utah.
Washington Wizards: Caron Butler
Another franchise that features some greats at other positions, the Washington Wizards must look to Caron Butler’s prime in order to find their best small forward.
“Tuff Juice” experienced a four-year peak in Washington that resulted in two All-Star berths. Team success didn’t extend deep into the playoffs during Butler’s tenure, but he averaged 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in a Wizards uniform. No matter how you slice it, those numbers are more than respectable.
Who is your favorite NBA small forward of all time? Share your opinions in the comment section below.