The past couple of weeks, we peeped the top point guards and shooting guards of the past three decades, so this week, we swing over to the small forward position. It’s pretty much a done deal who the top gun is on this list, but I had to put some more thought into it compared to the previous lists. I’m sure players and placement will be up for debate.
Here are the factors, in varying degrees, taken into account in making this ranking – statistics, impact on the game, awards and honors, longevity, playoff performance and my own gut instincts. Feel free to disagree and make cases for others in the comments.
10. Bernard King, New Jersey Nets (1977-79; 1993), Utah Jazz (1979-80), Golden State Warriors (1980-82), New York Knicks (1982-87), Washington Bullets (1987-1991)
874 G; 22.5 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 3.3 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 51.8 FG%; 73.0 FT%; 1.0 SPG
How could I not include Bernard King, the first player I ever rooted for as a kid? He’s probably one of the older and least known players on this list, but he was a thing to behold. Plus if Kurtis Blow can have the following lyrics in his classic “Basketball” how could you not say he belongs?
Basketball has always been my thing,
I like Magic, Bird, and Bernard King.
King averaged 20+ points for 11 out of his 14 seasons, although the 1986-87 season was basically lost as he only played six games. He was the league’s leading scorer in 1985-86, averaging an amazing 32.9 PPG. He played in four All-Star games, made four All-NBA teams (two first team selections) and finished with a career 19.2 PER and 108 ORtg.
It can be argued that King isn’t the tenth-best small forward in the past three decades because anything can be argued, but if you truly believe he didn’t earn this spot, you must agree he’s at least in the debate. King wasn’t explosive in the sense that he’d rise above rim much, but he definitely made it rain from all over the court, jumper after jumper after jumper.
9. Chris Mullin, Golden State Warriors (1985-1997; 2000-01), Indiana Pacers (1997-2000)
986 G; 18.2 PPG; 4.1 RPG; 3.5 APG; 0.8 3PTM; 50.9 FG%; 86.5 FT%; 1.6 SPG
Speaking of jumpers, Mullin had one of the sweetest Js to watch. Pull-ups, off-the-dribble, spotting up, Mullin could do it all from the perimeter. Along with his crew cut, that jumper is what made him famous. Well, that and being a part of the short-lived Run TMC with Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond.
Mullin played in five consecutive All-Star games (1989-93) and finished in the top 10 in scoring average in four straight seasons (1989-92). He led the league in free-throw percentage in 1997-98 (93.9 percent) and is the 24th-best shooter from the charity stripe in NBA history. Mullin was selected to four All-NBA teams, including one first team, and was a part of the original 1992 Dream Team. He finished with an 18.8 PER an excellent 115 ORtg.
He didn’t look like much — lanky and kind of goofy-looking — but Mullin was a dead-eye shot from the perimeter and could get to the basket with either hand. At one point, he was even considered a poor man’s Larry Bird. Sure, that might be because both players would fry in the sun, but make no mistake, Mullin could hold his own.
8. James Worthy, Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1994)
926 G; 17.6 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 3.0 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 52.1 FG%; 76.9 FT%; 1.1 SPG
Worthy didn’t post the greatest regular season statistics, but when the postseason hit, so did he. And, as we all us die-hard hoops fans know, the playoffs create legends. He doesn’t hold the same place in NBA history the way the other bespectacled Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, does, but Worthy was all-out effort, made things happen and was a finisher.
He never led the league in any statistic other then games played during a season, but did come up big during the postseason. He upped his scoring average to 21.1 PPG while shooting 54.4 percent and also won the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. Worthy, along with Magic Johnson and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers Showtime crew won three NBA championships during the 1980s. Worthy made seven consecutive All-Star teams (1986-1992) and two All-NBA teams (both times on the third team). He finished with a career 17.7 PER and 112 ORtg.
Worthy could justifiably be moved up the list because of his titles with the great Showtime teams of the Lakers, but that’s only one of the criteria for me and I had to concede to gut instinct. However, I’ll never forget hearing people from my homebase park court decades ago that Worthy was just as important as Magic in winning those titles. To a certain degree, I’d agree.
7. Alex English, Milwaukee Bucks (1976-78), Indiana Pacers (1978-80), Denver Nuggets (1980-90), Dallas Mavericks (1990-91)
1193 G; 21.5 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 3.6 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 50.7 FG%; 83.2 FT%; 0.9 SPG
The next time you get to the court, try this: Hold the ball, raise your arms straight up at full extension and then shoot the ball. Imagine doing that for every single jumper and hitting it consistently from anywhere inside the three-point arc. That’s the unorthodox Alex English shot he hit whenever he took the hardwood. Nick Van Exel will explain.
English led the NBA in scoring one season (1982-83) with at 28.4 PPG. For nine consecutive seasons with the Denver Nuggets, he averaged at least 23.8 PPG, and for his career with Denver, he averaged 25.9 PPG in 837 games. English ranks 13th in NBA history in total points (25,613), eighth overall in field-goals made (10,659) and ninth in overall field-goal attempts (21,036). He made eight straight All-Star teams (1982-89) and was named to the All-NBA second team thrice. English finished with a 19.9 PER and 111 ORtg.
English was obviously one of the best scorers of all-time, but unlike some others, such as the aforementioned Worthy, he didn’t have much of a power game. The character he played in “Amazing Grace and Chuck” was aptly named Amazing Grace since English was one of the more graceful players the NBA has ever seen. In the movie, English plays an NBA pro that refuses to play any further until nuclear weapons are totally disarmed. Fat chance. It seems the same could be said in regards to the current lockout where its end seems highly unlikely as well. However, we’ll be positive like the movie’s message, albeit corny, and look for the rainbow lining in the sky.
6. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (1998-Present)
964 G; 22.2 PPG; 6.1 RPG; 3.8 APG; 1.6 3PTM; 44.8 FG%; 80.5 FT%; 1.5 SPG
Pierce will go down as one of the best Celtics ever and that’s pretty good considering the franchise we’re talking about. Part of that is the reason why I have Pierce here and really have him thisclose to taking over no. 5. It was hard to deny the numbers of the fifth-best three on this list, and maybe Pierce’s championship ring should have put him over the top, but when all is said and done, the good old switcheroo will go down eventually. There’s still some spring left to The Truth.
Pierce has averaged 20+ points per contest in eight of his 13 seasons. He’s currently ranked 25th overall for career points per game average and is 30th overall in total points for a career (21,410). Pierce has made nine All-Star games and has been named to an All-NBA team four times. He won the NBA Finals MVP when he led the Boston Celtics, along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, to a title in 2008. He has a 20.7 PER and 110 ORtg.
Histrionics aside, Pierce can really get down with the get down. He’s the paragon of jocular and is a straight-up gangsta (allegedly) on the court (definitely). For years he basically carried the Celtics on his back and he proved worthy of being one of the most loved Celtics. I’m not a Celtics fan at all, but even I have to show respect to what Pierce’s legacy.
5. Adrian Dantley, Buffalo Braves (1976-77), Indiana Pacers (1977-78), Los Angeles Lakers (1978-79), Utah Jazz (1979-1986), Detroit Pistons (1986-89), Dallas Mavericks (1989-1990), Milwaukee Bucks (1990-1991)
955 G; 24.3 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 3.0 APG; 0.0 3PTM; 54.0 FG%; 81.8 FT%; 1.0 SPG
When I think of an old school scoring basketball player, I somehow always think of Dantley. I’ll admit that he was to some degree a ballhog, but when you shot as well as he did, could you blame him? A.D. could work the post, dribble down from the top of the key, give a spin move, sell a shot fake and had a myriad other ways to score. I personally thought he got the shaft when the Detroit Pistons traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Isaiah Thomas’ best bud, Mark Aguirre, but such is life. Dantley was in the twilight of his career, but still scoring 20 on the regular, and the Pistons went on to win a couple of titles because no one was there to challenge Zeke’s control of the team.
Dantley led the league in scoring for two seasons (1980-81 at 30.7 PPG; 1983-84 at 30.6 PPG). He finished in the top seven in scoring average in six seasons and has the 17th best all-time PPG average. Dantley is 21st overall in total points (23,177), has the 22nd best field-goal percentage of all-time, the seventh most free-throw makes (6,832) and 11th most free-throw attempts (8,351). He was the 1976-77 NBA Rookie of the Year and made six All-Star games, as well as two All-NBA squads. Dantley finished with a 21.5 PER and 119 ORtg.
Maybe Pierce should be in front of Dantley, but check the numbers and watch that video link. They don’t make scorers like that anymore, and because I’m old, I have to give a shout-out to the geriatrics.
4. Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks (1982-1994), Los Angeles Clippers (1994), Boston Celtics (1994-95), San Antonio Spurs (1996-97), Orlando Magic (1999)
1074 G; 24.8 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 2.5 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 46.1 FG%; 81.1 FT%; 1.3 SPG
First off, let’s get it straight — ‘Nique was robbed! That said, there’s no question that Wilkins has to be considered, pound-for-pound, the best power dunker of all-time. A two-step jumper with devastating power, there’s really no question. The Human Highlight Film was an appropriate nickname for Wilkins, but he was more than just dunking. He could go toe-to-toe with the best during a game, such as this classic back-and-forth between he and Larry Bird. ‘Nique undoubtedly left an impression like one of his tomahawk dunks.
Wilkins led the league in scoring once in 1985-86 with a 30.3 PPG average. He finished in the top seven in points per game in nine seasons and scored 21+ points in 11 straight seasons. Wilkins is the 11th highest scorer of all-time with 26,668 total points. Wilkins has the tenth most field-goal makes in NBA history with 9,963 and the seventh most field-goal attempts with 21,589. He made the All-Star game nine consecutive years beginning in 1986 and was a two-time slam dunk champion. Wilkins was a seven-time All-NBA selection and finished with a 21.6 PER and 112 ORtg.
Wilkins was compared to Michael Jordan because of the dunking, which isn’t a bad thing, but they were definitely different types of players. ‘Nique had tunnel vision when the lane was clear for take-off and he didn’t make his teammates better the way Jordan did. However, he didn’t quite have the cast and specialists either. The lack of a title is the only stain on an exciting and fruitful career.
3. Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls (1987-1998; 2003-04), Houston Rockets (1998-99), Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)
1178 G; 16.1 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 5.2 APG; 0.8 3PTM; 47.3 FG%; 70.4 FT%; 2.0 SPG
Pippen has basically been known as a sidekick his whole career and that notion will live forever. It’s tough getting accolades when you’re playing next to Michael Jordan. However, knowledgeable NBA fans know that without Pippen, Jordan doesn’t win six titles. Pippen’s career numbers don’t pop out, but it would be foolish to think he didn’t affect the game almost as much as Jordan did, especially on the defensive end where he used his length, quickness and motor to stop opposing offenses. Pip was a gamer.
Pippen averaged 20+ points per game four times and led the league once in steals per game (1994-95 at 2.9 SPG), and also averaged at least a pair of steals per contest in six of his 17 seasons. He’s a seven-time All-Star, and won the All-Star Game MVP Award in 1994. Pippen made seven All-NBA teams, including three first-team selections. He also was named to 10 All-Defensive squads, which include eight first teams while finishing sixth-best in total steals (2,307). Pippen ended up with a 18.6 PER and 108 ORtg.
I’ll admit the six titles play a big role in Pippen’s place here, but six is a big deal. And even though he wasn’t the top player for those title teams, he played a very significant role. All seeming jealousy aside, Pippen’s contributions were important for Jordan’s legacy and it’s too bad Pippen feels he isn’t getting his just due. Hope being third on the list helps with that emotional boo b0o.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-10), Miami Heat (2010-Present)
627 G; 27.7 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 7.0 APG; 1.4 3PTM; 47.9 FG%; 74.4 FT%; 1.7 SPG
Too high? Maybe. But even the abovementioned Pippen would agree that James is pretty damn good and worthy to be placed ahead of him. We’ve all witnessed (boo to the ubiquitous use of the term) LeBron’s ability to do just about anything from the floor, except win titles. It’s that lack of a title that will render LeBron’s legacy impotent. However, once he wins one championship, he’ll be able to breath easy. Until then, he’ll continue to be the “loser” that everyone but the die-hard LBJ fans will root against.
After averaging 20.4 PPG during his rookie season and winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, James has never averaged less than 26.7 PPG in the following seven seasons. In 2007-08, he led the league at scoring with a 30.0 points average. He’s finished in the top four in scoring for seven straight seasons and has the third all-time highest scoring average behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. LeBron has played in seven consecutive All-Star games starting in 2005, and won the game MVP twice (2006 and 2008). He’s been an All-NBA selection seven times, with five of those being on the first team. Since his dedication to improving defensively, LeBron has been named to three consecutive All-Defensive first teams. He won back-to-back MVP awards in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. James currently has the second-highest PER in the history of the game with a 26.9 mark that follows Jordan’s 27.9, and he currently has a 115 ORtg.
No matter how many titles LeBron wins, if he should, he will always be minus-one to Dwyane Wade assuming both win titles with the Miami Heat. Regardless of that fact, if James and the Heat win two titles, maybe even just one chip, LeBron could find himself at the top of this list. But not for now.
1. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (1979-1992)
897 G; 24.3 PPG; 10.0 RPG; 6.3 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 49.6 FG%; 88.6 FT%; 1.7 SPG
Bird has accomplished so much in the league, I’m just going to start with the statistics and awards. I won’t state how much he and Magic Johnson raised the NBA because that’s obvious (I guess I just did), but Bird’s nickname of Larry Legend is wholly valid. And I’ll end with an anecdote that shows how good Bird really was.
Bird never led the league in scoring, but in 11 of his 13 seasons, he averaged at least 20+ points each season, peaking at 29.9 PPG in 1987-88. In the two seasons that he did not score 20 or more, Bird averaged 19.3 PPG (1988-89) and 19.4 PPG (1990-91). He owns the 16th-best points average in NBA history and finished 27th in total points (21,791). He led the league in free-throw percentage four times and is tenth-best percentage-wise ever. Bird played in a dozen All-Star games, and was the 1982 All-Star Game MVP. He beat out Magic Johnson for the 1979-80 NBA Rookie of the Year award, laying the foundation for their battle for accolades. Bird made 10 All-NBA teams, including nine first teams, as well as three All-Defensive second teams. He won the MVP award three consecutive times (1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86) and led the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles (1981, 1984, 1986), winning the NBA Finals MVP twice (1984 and 1986). Bird finished with a 23.5 PER and 115 ORtg.
And now the anecdote:
Bird then walked onto the court and told Xavier McDaniel, who was guarding him, “I’m going to get [the ball] right here and I am going to shoot it in your face.” As McDaniel remembers it, he responded by saying, “I know, I’ll be waiting.”
Then in about that exact same spot, Bird gets the ball and buries a shot right in McDaniel’s face, turns to Xavier and says, “I didn’t mean to leave two seconds on the clock.” McDaniel said of that play, “He wanted to shoot it with zero seconds on the clock. I just walked back to the sidelines, like damn.”
Next week, we bang the boards and go heavy on the power forward position. In the meantime, give me a holler on Twitter if you agree/disagree with any of the above. I promise I won’t cry about it if you have a difference in opinion.