Blame AAU basketball, blame the one-and-done generation, blame whatever you want, but what cannot be argued is that there is an international wave taking over the NBA. Increasingly it seems like the best and most influential players in the NBA are from countries and regions outside of the U.S.
Top 10 NBA Small Forwards of All Time
Ryan and Victor could not see eye to eye on their list so we decided to split the rankings into two.
Ryan's rankings, which are based on how players from the older generations would perform in the NBA today, are in Red.
Victor's rankings, which ignore everything before the NBA-ABA merger of 1976 are in Blue.
10. Carmelo Anthony
Anthony may have just lost out to Wilkins in these rankings, but he still has a lot for which he should be proud. He has made 6 All-NBA teams, was the Scoring Champ in 2013, and is regarded as one of the most talented scorers to play the game. His lack of playoff success is the main gripe to be had about Anthony, and it is ultimately what kept him from climbing higher up this list.
9. Dominique Wilkins
Looking at the careers of Wilkins and Carmelo Anthony, I was shocked to find that their stats and accomplishments were practically identical. Wilkins gets the slightest of edges over Anthony because of his superior Win Shares, a stat that measures an individual's impact on his team's success. Nique is best known for his legendary dunk contest duel against Michael Jordan in 1988, but his individual success does not end there. He is 7-time All-NBA, 1983 Rookie of the Year, and was the Scoring Champ of the league in 1986.
8. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard has already established himself as one of the greatest two-way players of all-time, winning 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards and being a 2-time All-NBA member. His defining career moment came in the 2014 Finals, where he outplayed LeBron James en route to a championship and a Finals MVP at the age of only 22. His carrying of the Toronto Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals is another notch in his belt, with a potential Finals run this year bolstering his top 10 status. When the Claw's career is over, don't be surprised if makes it as high as number 3 on this list.
7. John Havlicek
Havlicek, like Baylor, is not as widely mentioned as his peers. However, he was built to win, as made evident by his amazing 8 NBA championships. He was an excellent two-way player, earning 11 All-NBA selections and 8 All-Defense honors. Over the course of a career spanning two decades, Hondo averaged a solid 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 4.8 APG.
6. Elgin Baylor
Baylor isn't talked about as much when it comes to legends of the hardwood, mainly because he has never felt the need to validate his greatness. He really was ahead of his time, demonstrating a level of athleticism and free-flowing play that had never really been seen in the league up to that point. He has the 3rd-highest scoring average in NBA history, and his career stat line of 27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, and 4.3 APG is simply incredible, especially for a 6'5'' wing player in the 1960's.
5. Scottie Pippen
Commonly known as the Robin to Michael Jordan's Batman, Pippen carved out a terrific career in his own right, being definitively recognized as a top-50 player of all-time. He was perhaps the greatest perimeter defender ever, despite never winning Defensive Player of the Year (he was 10-time All-Defense though.) While he didn't experience as much team success without Jordan, he was still capable of leading teams to the playoffs on a consistent basis. His lack of elite scoring ability puts him behind the likes of Erving and Durant, but his 6 NBA championships make him an easy inclusion in the top 5.
4. Julius Erving
Dr. J is considered to be one of the "coolest" players to ever play the game, and he was largely responsible for the NBA's surge in popularity during the 70's and early 80's. He wasn't just cool, though; his stats and accolades are about as impressive as anyone's. He is a 4-time MVP, 7-time All-NBA player (and 5-time All-ABA), 1-time NBA champion (and 2-time ABA champion), and he even has a spot on an All-Defensive team. Erving's dunking ability and overall style of play may have endeared him to NBA fans, but his talent is undeniable.
3. Kevin Durant
Probably the most talented scorer ever, Durant is simply an unfair specimen. He is a 7'0'' wing player with a silky smooth jump shot, great athletic ability and creativity, and solid post moves. He has the 6th highest career scoring average ever, despite sharing the court with some of the league's best players, and is a member of the impossibly exclusive 50-40-90 club. Despite never being named to an All-Defensive team, KD is also one of the better perimeter defenders in the league right now.
2. Larry Bird
Bird's days in the number two spot may be numbered with Durant hot on his tail, but his overall pedigree gives him the slight edge. Larry Legend is a 3-time MVP, 3-time NBA champion, 10-time All-NBA selection, and even a 3-time All-Defensive player. He also was probably the first elite 3-point shooter in NBA history and is the only player to average at least 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists over a career.
1. LeBron James
There is nothing in the game of basketball that LeBron cannot do. He is one of the greatest scorers, passers, and defenders in NBA history. A player with King James' versatility has never before been seen, and likely will never be duplicated. He is a 3-time NBA champion (and 3-time Finals MVP), highlighted by his improbable Finals comeback in 2016 over the greatest regular season team ever. On top of that, he has 4 regular season MVP awards, is a 6-time All-Defense selection, 14-time All-NBA player, and one of the most respected and marketable superstars the sports world has ever seen.
10. Alex English
It came down to Kawhi and Alex for this first spot but ultimately went with Alex English due to the fact that Kawhi as only really had three great seasons, he got a lot done in those three seasons but it doesn't compare to what Alex English did over a 16 year career. Between 1982 and 1989, English recorded 8 straight seasons of at least 25 points a game including a scoring championship in 1983. English has somewhat been forgotten about in NBA history but he goes down as one of the gretest scorers the NBA has ever seen.
9. Carmelo Anthony
Finding a spot for Melo was difficult. He put up great numbers through his career but those numbers were mostly empty. Melo was found out late in his career when people put aside the impressive numbers and analyzed his contribution to winning basketball. Melo has nine first round eliminations to his name and has only ever played in one conference finals series despite all the success he found as an elite scorer.
8. Dominique Wilkins
Wilkins is one of the more elite scorers the NBA has ever seen. Seven separate seasons of at least 27 points a game and you have an NBA legend. Unfortunately, Wilkins never got over the hump and his lack of hardware drops him down this list.
7. James Worthy
James Worthy was Klay Thompson before Klay Thompson entered the NBA. By this I mean a star player who put aside a lucrative career elsewhere to remain the third/fourth option on a championship contending dynasty. If you doubt Worthy's talent, take game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals where he dropped a 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists triple double to lead the Lakers to a championship on a night where Kareem struggled with just 4 points and 3 rebounds in 29 minutes. 3 rings and 1 finals MVP proves Worthy is worthy of a top 10 spot.
6. Paul Pierce
Put aside the insults, which he admittedly brought on himself, and you'll see one of the greatest small forwards to have ever played. For whatever reason Paul Pierce has never been well liked and that has muddied his resume. In 2008, Pierce brought the Celtics their only championship since 1986 and that's saying a lot for such a storied franchise.
5. Julius Erving
Dr. J was so impressive that he makes the top 10 despite spending the first 5 seasons in the ABA. Erving got a lot done in his 11 NBA seasons with, 7 All-NBA teams and a league MVP in 1981 along with a championship in 1983. Add the cool afro and the elite athleticism and you have a top 5 player.
4. Scottie Pippen
One of the greatest perimeter defenders of all time was a vital part of Chicago's six NBA championships. Sure, Jordan was the star but don't forget Jordan didn't start winning any of those rings until the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen out of the University of Central Arkansas. Add to his resume 7 All-NBA teams and 10 All-NBA Defense nominations and you get one of the greatest small forwards of all time.
3. Kevin Durant
Say what you want about Kevin Durant but do not disrespect his talent. The most skilled scorer the NBA has ever seen may have tainted his legacy a bit by joining the 73 win Golden State Warriors, but even then there is no denying the talent of a man who led the league in scoring at the record age of 21. KD's biggest disadvantage may have been playing in the same era as LeBron James.
2. Larry Bird
The greatest white basketball player of all time. Larry Bird was a once in a generation type talent who helped pioneered the new age of NBA popularity. His rivalry with Magic is the greatest rivalry the NBA has ever seen. Were it not for his unfortunately back problems, Bird would have added to his 3 Rings and 3 Regular Season MVPs.
1. LeBron James
If you've seen my top 10 players of all time then you know he was always going to be number one. What do I need to say really other than the fact that no single player has ever affected his team's success as much as this man. 8 straight finals appearances, 4 Regular season MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, and my recognition as the greatest player to have ever played.
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