Top 5 NBA Small Forwards

Written By: SimpleSlates

April 29, 2020


We took a look at the big men in our last top five article, so it was decided to finish out the week by assessing the rest of the positional greats. This time around we are taking a look at the do it all players on the court, the small forwards.

This position has become a bit more flashy over the years, but the basic role of the spot has remained the same, these guys do it all. In order to play the SF position well, a player needs to be able to handle the ball, spot up, drive, play defense, and even contribute a bit on the glass.


This was a tough list to make, due to these players possessing such a wide variety of skills. The deciding factor for who made it, and who didn’t, was ball handling. Most of the players that made it are totally capable of playing a point forward role as needed. Here is a simple top five; 


#5: Julius Erving (1971-1987)

Julius Erving changed the game of basketball. It wasn’t enough for him to put the ball in the hoop, he brought a certain level of flash with dunks that are still admired today. Erving was capable of moving with the basketball, played solid defense, rebounded very well, and was a great scorer.

There could be a ton of different forwards at this spot on the list, but the mere historical significance of Dr. J gives him the edge when it comes to our list. He will be remembered as one of the very best dunkers of all time for a very long time to come.


Virginia Squires (ABA)

New York Nets

Philadelphia 76ers


4x MVP

16x All-Star Team

7x All-NBA Team

‘75-’76 All-Defensive Team

‘71-’72 All-Rookie Team

Hall of Fame



Career Stats

24.2 PPG

8.5 RPG

4.2 APG

50.6% FG


#4: Kevin Durant (2007-Currently Active)

There is an almost certain chance that Durant is much farther up this list by the end of his career. In fact he could even be at the top of it when all is said and done. Currently his time in the league doesn’t warrant that however, and we feel as though a fourth place spot is a fair placement.

Durant does take some heat for joining the Warriors after being eliminated by them the previous season, but that move resulted in the championship he was looking for, so it is hard to fault him for it. At almost 7’0’’ tall and the ball handling and shooting talent of a guard, Durant is a tough matchup for anyone in the NBA.


Seattle Supersonics

Oklahoma City Thunder

Golden State Warriors

Brooklyn Nets


2013-2014 MVP

2x Finals MVP

10x All-Star Team

9x All-NBA Team

2007-2008 All-Rookie Team




Career Stats

27.0 PPG

7.1 RPG

4.1 APG

49.3% FG


#3: Scottie Pippen (1987-2004)

Scottie Pippen is a true testament to the term Utility Knife. This man did everything on the court. His one true specialty was defense however, and that is why you will see him so high on our list. Despite having lower scoring output than everyone else on this list, Scottie Pippen played defense so much better than anyone that it makes him a must have on a list like this.

Often overshadowed, and apparently underpaid as reported in The Last Dance mini-series, Pippen never really got the full credit that he was due. He could easily be even higher on the list had he played more seasons apart from Michael Jordan.


Chicago Bulls

Houston Rockets

Portland Trailblazers


7x All-Star Team

7x All-NBA Team

10x All-Defensive Team

Hall of Fame








Career Stats

16.1 PPG

6.4 RPG

5.2 APG

47.3% FG


#2: LeBron James (2003-Currently Active)

LeBron is considered by some as the greatest player of all-time, at any position, in any era. We don’t want to sell him too short, because James is obviously an amazing talent, but we don’t even believe he is the best at his position of all-time. His numbers may suggest it, but it has just always felt like something was lacking from his game. Let’s call it tenacity, a winner’s attitude.

Despite the lack of the “it factor” James still has been a pleasure to watch over the years. He will surely be remembered as one of the all-time best to play the game by everyone. With a few years left before retirement, he may even be able to move up this list some.


Cleveland Cavaliers 

Miami Heat

Los Angeles Lakers


4x MVP

3x Finals MVP

16x All-Star Team

15x All-NBA Team

6x All-Defensive Team

2003-2004 All-Rookie Team





Career Stats

27.1 PPG

7.4 RPG

7.4 APG

50.4% FG


#1: Larry Bird (1979-1992)

Larry Bird is one of the most easily recognized faces of the Celtics dynasty that dominated the eighties. He played with a level of confidence that projected without being able to hear him utter a word. Perhaps the original point forward, Bird did everything on the court  well.

Bird was a great scorer, and many will probably remember him shooting the ball or driving baseline. Often overlooked however, is how tremendous of a rebounder and defender Bird was. His nickname is “Larry Legend” and it is well deserved. If you have never watched games from the mid-eighties to mid-nineties you should take some time to explore that era of basketball. It was truly a beautiful thing to experience.


Boston Celtics


3x MVP

2x Finals MVP

12x All-Star Team

10x All-NBA Team

3x All-Defensive Team

Rookie of the Year

Hall of Fame





Career Stats

24.3 PPG

10.0 RPG

6.3 APG

49.6% FG



The small forward position is the dominant position in the modern NBA. With the trend of larger players developing ball handling and shooting skills, we can reasonably expect it to  continue to shine.

That fact is evidenced by having two active players on our top five list, and there are more promising small forwards early in their career. 

What would your top five small forward list look like? Does it look different than our simple minded opinion?


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