On to our third installment in the NBA’s greatest players of all time, moving on to the Small Forward position, with only one active player on this list (no not LeBron, at least not yet) – Here are the ten greatest Small Forwards in NBA history.
Other Top 10 All Time – Top 10 Point Guards Top 10 Shooting Guards, Top 10 Power Forwards, Top 10 Centers
Number 10 – Paul Pierce
The only active player on this list,The Truth as Shaquille O’Neal once put it, is enjoying a good start to his 13th NBA season, all with the Celtics. He’s been through the highs & lows (some very very low) with the Celtics, but is enjoying being the main offensive piece in the Celtics’ flourishing since the arrival of Garnett and Ray Allen, including that title in 2008, with Pierce winning the Finals MVP. He has played in 8 All-Star games and is third on the Celtics’ all time scoring list, behind Havlicek and Bird, who are waiting a little later on this post. His career scoring average of 22.5 is ninth among active players.
Number 9 – Alex English
A pretty crappy actor, but one hell of a basketball player, especially on offense. English played 15 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Denver Nuggets, having his number retired by the franchise. He flourished once arriving at Denver in their high paced style, averaging over 25 points per game for eight consecutive seasons, leading the league in scoring in 1982-1983 with 28.4 points per game. He reached the playoffs nine times, but the furthest he got was the Western Finals in 1985, losing to the Lakers. He made 8 All-Star teams and was inducted into the hall of fame in 1997.
Number 8 – James Worthy
One of the best open-court finishers in the history of the game, James Worthy spent his entire, relatively short NBA career (12 seasons) with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won three titles in LA, winning the Finals MVP in 1988. After his third season in the league he became a much more prominent force with the Lakers, especially during the playoffs, always improving his game when it mattered the most. His “Big Game James” nickname actually came from his Tar-Heel days, but he certainly proved his worth between 1985-1988, winning three titles, including the first back to back titles since the 1969 Celtics. Worthy made seven All-Star teams, the hall of fame and is one of the 50 greatest players ever.
Number 7 – Dominique Wilkins
Like Alex English, Wilkins was one of the of the more prolific scorers in NBA history and especially the 1980’s. Wilkins also did it in a more, shall we say, exciting way. Dubbed as “The Human Highlight Film”, Wilkins just might be the best dunker in the history of the game, or at least in the top 3 alongside MJ and Dr. J. He played most of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, usually falling against the Celtics in the 1980’s playoffs. He averaged over 25 points per game for 10 consecutive seasons with the Hawks, including winning the 1985-1986 scoring title with 30.3 points per game. Wilkins, inducted into the Hall of Fame, played in nine All-Star games and is ranked 10th on the NBA’s all time scoring list, averaging 24.8 points per game.
Number 6 – Rick Barry
Too bad there was no three-point line back when Barry played in the NBA, cause he was one of the greatest shooters to play the game. And despite is UGLY free throw technique, Barry’s 90% from the line in his career is third best in league history. Rick Barry started out with the Warriors but jumped ship to the ABA in 1967, right after winning the scoring title. The Warriors managed to keep him from playing basketball for a year before Barry followed with 4 excellent ABA seasons. He returned to the NBA in 1972 and in 1975 led Golden State to it’s only NBA title. He might not have looked the part but Barry was a fantastic defender and averaged over 2 steals per throughout his career (only counted since 1973). He made 8 All-Star teams and 5 All-NBA first teams. He won the NBA Finals MVP in 1975 and is part of the 50 greatest ever team.
Number 5 – Scottie Pippen
First of all, Pippen is my favorite player of All-Time. I’ll go ahead and say that. I would like him to be higher on this list, but 5th all-time is good enough I think. The best sidekick in the history of the game, Pippen won six NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan during the 1990’s and is pretty much the prototype for the Athletic Small Forward type that can do it all, a la Grant Hill and LeBron James today. The best defender in this position in the history of the league and one of the best ever in general, leading the league in steals once and averaging over 2 per game for his career. His sixth all-time with 2307. Pippen’s career averaged took a bit of hit with him playing for Houston and Portland after the Bulls’ dynasty fell apart, but his 16.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists are still impressive. It was more like 20-7-6 for most of his career. Pippen is also the only player in NBA history to record 5 steals and 5 blocks during a playoff game. Add that to 7 All-Star games, 3 All-NBA First Teams, 8 All-Defensive First Teams, 2 Gold Medals and part of the 50 greatest ever team. Not too bad for a second fiddle.
Number 4 – Julius Erving
Like Rick Barry, Erving spent a few of his best years playing in the ABA and was probably the main reason for the leagues merging (more like the NBA swallowing the ABA). It was a different era, but Dr. J could jump and glide with the best of them. His hang-time, his style of play was something completely different and new back then and he made “Fun” basketball an integral part of the league. More importantly, he won with it. Besides his place in the league’s highlight reels with his amazing plays, Dr. J played his entire NBA career with the Sixers, winning the NBA title in 1983, alongside Moses Malone in one of the most dominant playoff teams ever, losing only once during their post season run. He won the league MVP in 1981, made 11 All-Star games, 5 All-NBA first teams and the 50 Greatest team.
Number 3 – Elgin Baylor
If Pippen is a prototype for the modern Small Forward, Elgin Baylor was probably the First one. Not THE first, but the first to be a star in that position. An eleven time All-Star, ten times on the All-NBA first team, hall of famer and part of the 50 greatest ever team, Baylor could be considered, alongside Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as the greatest player ever to not win the NBA title. He spent his entire career with the Lakers (even two years when they were in Minneapolis), averaging 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds during his career. He retired early in the 1971-1972 season, missing out on the championship. He was probably the best athlete in the league during his time and was famous for his hanging jump shot, something very rare back in those days.
Number 2 – John Havlicek
Here’s a guy who kept Baylor from winning a few titles. Havlicek wasn’t flashy, he was just good at everything. Scoring, rebounding, passing and defense. Especially defense. He could have been a football player, being drafted by the Cleveland Browns and even taking part of their training camp in 1962. ‘Hondo’, which tireless seems to be an understatement when speaking about him, began his career as a sixth man, but very quickly became a starter and the ‘guts’ of the Celtics as Red once put it. An 8 time NBA champions with one Finals MVP (1974), 13 All-Star game, 4 time All-NBA first team and the Celtics’ all time leading scorer but still most remembered with that famous line “Havlicek stole the ball.”
Number 1 – Larry Bird
The first name that comes up usually when you ask someone about a Celtics player. One of the greatest basketball player and greatest basketball minds to play in the NBA and the man that alongside Magic Johnson arrived and saved the NBA, setting the foundations for its future. The rivalry, personally with Magic and the whole Celtics-Lakers things that was revived in the 80’s made the league more popular than ever before, not just in the States but the whole world.
But this is Bird’s moment, so lets talk about him. Amazing shooter, amazing passer, Fantastic rebounder, clutch, leader and a hell of a lot tougher than his look suggested. If I’d had to pick – Magic or Larry, I’d have to go with Magic, but still, he’d be on most people’s all time starting five. Three NBA titles with the Celtics, 3 MVP’s, 2 Finals MVP’s, 12 All-Star games, 9 All-NBA first teams and finished with a career average of 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, the only player in NBA history with a career average of over 20-10-5.