Within the National Basketball Association, the small forward is a quirky position. It seems to be right in the middle of a line-up, and demands an entirely separate skill set, yet leaving enough room for freedom to define its own flow as it goes. Physically, it requires a player sizable enough to hang in the paint with the larger positions, yet nimble enough to swing out for rotations and top-of-the-key plays; mentally, it needs the court vision to be the go-between for passing lanes, the patience to wait for perfect opportunities, and the capacity to perform essential functions on intricate plays called; and in pure basketball terms, the SF often results in truly unique personnel that engage the hardwood with their own distinct brand of ball.
This idea is exemplified when the top players at the position are identified. There is no typical archetype, such as with the center or point guard, so the best small forwards in basketball history have taken ownership of the spot and made it their own. Each example is truly unique in their skill set and style, yet each is an undeniable superstar.
The “Hick from French Lick” is inarguably one of the greatest pure shooters of all time, and played on a Celtics team that, largely, only the Bad Boys Pistons and the Showtime Lakers could match up with effectively. Larry Legend was well-known for his incredible clutch performances, his gritty hustle on the floor, and for simply doing whatever it took to win the game. He still stands as a statistical anomaly, among the very few players in history who consistently shot over 90 percent from the free-throw line, 50 from the field, and 40 from three-point range, a deadly combination of accuracy metrics.
This may seem like an odd choice; but in reality, had he not been cast in the shadow of Michael Jordan throughout his early career and his prime, Pippen would almost inarguably have been more highly regarded, both in his playing career and in hindsight. Even with Jordan as a teammate, Pippen still regularly averaged over 20 points a game, was a defensive superstar, could confidently pass and rebound, and had a spectacular leaping ability that undoubtedly helped his game. Although few would argue that Pippen was better than Jordan outright, perhaps it can be easier to believe that Scottie Pippen was a large part of why the Bulls dynasty was able to win so many championships in the 1990’s.
At the time of writing this article, James is still a young man that has not yet his prime stride, yet is already putting up staggeringly remarkable numbers. He has already shown that he is able to single-handedly carry a team on his shoulders, has an excellent attitude during game time and outside of it, regularly posts notably spectacular highlights, and is among the greatest teammates someone could ever have. Material is already being published, as of 2010, that he has quickly become one of the greatest small forwards of all time within a handful of years. All the hype would be unbelievable and make him seem overrated, if not for the fact that he consistently, confidently lives up to all the talk.
Erving was a high-flying player in the ABA before he even ever entered the NBA as a Philadelphia 76er. Perhaps best known for his highlight-reel dunking abilities, Dr. J was the first player to dunk from the free-throw line during the Slam Dunk Contest. This was indicative of his flashy, high-scoring method in his games, where he posted big point totals and was a slashing, lane-cutting scoring threat. He retired as one of the all-time high-scoring players, and still has a points total that an elite few have managed to better.