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Who is the best small forward of all-time?

My contribution to today’s ESPN 5-on-5 is probably going to be less controversial than Dan’s take on the shooting guard position yesterday, here it is nonetheless. Today’s questions dealt with small forwards. I struggled with who to pick for the best SF of all time. Larry Bird? Scottie Pippen? Elgin Baylor? LeBron James? All guys I gave some consideration to before settling on …

Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: It might already be LeBron James, but I’d like him to finish his body of work before making that pronouncement. So I’ll go with Julius Erving, not only for his statistical accomplishments, but for his cultural impact, pioneering the artistry and athleticism the small forward position is known for today.

Anyway, plenty of room for debate on these questions, but play nice down there (you know who you are). Here are the five questions:

  • 1. Who’s the best small forward in the NBA today?
  • 2. Who’s the most underrated small forward in the NBA?
  • 3. Who’s the most overrated small forward in the NBA?
  • 4. Who’s the most promising small forward in the NBA?
  • 5.  Who’s the best small forward of all time?

39 Comments

  • Jul 27, 201112:25 pm
    by rob

    Reply

    Its not fair to include or exclude LeBron as his career is only at the mid-point, where all the others have a completed resume.

    I say its Larry Bird as of now, but I think it will be LeBron once his career is complete and he has the championships that Bird and others have.

  • Jul 27, 201112:30 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    1) LBJ (I just threw up in my mouth)
    2) Iggy (Depending how you classify him), honorable mention Grant Hill 
    3) Melo by a landslide, honorable mentions Tayshaun Prince and Danny Granger
    4) Durant (depending how you classify him)
    5) Larry Bird

    • Jul 27, 201112:35 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I thought of Iggy as more of a shooting guard, but I do agree that he’s underrated. I also considered Durant in the “underrated” category. It’s so strange to me that just a year ago, he was a strong MVP candidate, then he had an even better season last year and no one even talked about him in the MVP discussion.

      As for Bird, he’s probably the best SF ever. But, as one of the other 5-on-5ers said, his game was so diverse, I don’t like to think of him as a position. Bird was just Bird. Position was irrelevant. It’s the same way I think about Dirk — I could never just call Dirk a power forward.

      • Jul 27, 201112:40 pm
        by brgulker

        Reply

        It’s also true for LBJ and was so for Grant Hill pre-injury.

      • Jul 27, 20117:32 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        Durant wasn’t areal MVP candidate a year ago. Nobody besides Lebron was. It should have been a unanimous MVP vote because James so thoroughly dominated the league.

        • Jul 27, 20118:47 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Well, we’re talking real world though. Lebron James was the most impactful player in the NBA last year, but there was no way in hell he was going to get much MVP consideration from the cross section of voters, let alone unanimous consideration. I was talking about Durant more in terms of the all over the map way in which MVP are selected in reality. In that system, he should’ve been every bit the candidate he was the year before, but for whatever reason, he had absolutely no buzz this season when he was a legit contender among voters the previous season. It’s not like his play dropped off between the two seasons.

  • Jul 27, 20111:07 pm
    by Murph

    Reply

    As much as I disliked the guy personally, I’d also have to go with Larry Bird as the best SF in NBA history.  Until Lebron has at least 3 NBA Championships, Bird has to get the nod.

    BTW, until Lebron has at least one NBA Championship, I’d have to vote Dr. J #2.  In fact, Dr. J has one NBA Championship and two ABA Championships.  Although I’m not sure exactly how to value Dr. J’s ABA Championships.

  • Jul 27, 20111:11 pm
    by Hardwood Hype

    Reply

    Barring a catastrophic injury, LeBron will probably wind up being the best SF of all time. For the time being however, the title has got to belong to Larry Bird. The 3 rings, 3 straight MVPs and awesome stat line are probably enough, but Bird’s “basketball genius”- that innate ability to understand each moment and make the perfect play, while accounting for the whereabouts of every other player on the floor- is in the top tier in NBA history.
    Another guy that doesn’t get the credit he’s due in these types of conversations is Scottie Pippen. He has the same 6 rings that MJ’s got, was an outstanding offensive player and is the greatest perimeter defender in NBA history. I am inclined to slot him right behind Bird on this list.

    • Jul 27, 20111:23 pm
      by brgulker

      Reply

      +1

    • Jul 27, 20111:26 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I actually had Pippen as my response, but I’ve been getting too much of the “you’re too young and are always disrespecting the 80s guys!” rants lately, so I think that intimidated me into changing my mind. Pippen’s defense was so unbelievable. And He should have a seventh ring if that amazing Portland team hadn’t melted down in game seven of the WCF.

  • Jul 27, 20111:18 pm
    by Druhouse

    Reply

    1. Lebron James
    2. Gerald Wallace or Danilo Gallanari
    3. Jeff Green
    4. Kevin Durant or Rudy Gay
    5. Larry Bird, soon to be Lebron James

  • Jul 27, 20111:31 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    Best? Lebron
     
    Underrated? If Iggy is a SF him, if not then Marion. I also don’t feel like Paul Pierce gets enough credit. Dude is good.
     
    Overrated? Easy to pick on Melo or Gay because they are overpaid, problem is they are still good. Granger doesn’t seem to have the reputation he once did. There doesn’t seem to be any ridiculously overrated SF’s. It’s not a glamour position like SG so you don’t see too many guys fooling the masses.
     
    Promising? Again, I don’t see a ton, if any. A year ago I would have said Terrance Willams but he flamed out. Can I pick Harrison Barnes? Don’t see any that are going to jump into the upper echelon of players any time soon.
     
    All-time? Bird. No question. I see where you went with Erving because of the overall impact, but as a player Bird was the best ever. Like Gulks said if Bird is a multi-position guy then Lebron is as well since he’s basically a point-forward. They defend the SF position primarily so that is where I’d put them.

    • Jul 27, 20111:36 pm
      by neutes

      Reply

      Maybe I’m confused as to what promising means. Durant is already considered one of the best players at his position, so how can he have any more promise than that?

  • Jul 27, 20111:56 pm
    by kamal

    Reply

    Finally, a topic free from controversy.  The last 2 days have been ridiculous.  Isiah vs Paul, Rip being the most overrated SG in the league.  I was at my wits end with you guys.

    This one is easy.  
    Bird is the best 3 of all time.  
    The current best is Lebron.  
    The most underrated is Carmelo
    The most overrated is also Lebron.
    The most promising is Gay

    • Jul 27, 20112:01 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Haha. I have a feeling things might not stay controversy free for long after you just called ‘Melo underrated and LeBron overrated.

      • Jul 27, 20113:06 pm
        by kamal

        Reply

        I say Carmelo is underrated because I feel that he doesn’t get the recognition that the other Superstars get.  In 8 seasons, he’s only been to 4 all star games.  He’s only made All NBA 4 times (1 second team, and 3 third teams), despite going to the playoffs in all of 8 seasons in the league.  The highest he’s ever finished in MVP voting is 6th, the year he led the Nuggets to 53 wins and 1st place finish in the Northwest Division.  Lebron once was second in MVP race, leading his team to a 50-32 record and 2nd place finish in the Central Division.  Lebron got the rookie of the year award despite Carmelo scoring more per game, rebounding more per game, shooting higher from the field, free throw line, and 3 point line, and getting to the line more, AND leading his bottom feeding team to the playoffs in the mighty West.  He was NEVER overrated.

        As for the King, he is a fine player.  The reason why I believe he’s overrated is the all of the hype he receives and the constant comparisons to Jordan as the greatest player ever.  With the exception of that accursed Detroit series, the guy seems to shrink in the biggest moments of his career.  As a matter of fact, people kept saying that he needed some decent teammates to keep up with him and he went out and got a stellar cast.  The ironic thing is that HE was the weak link.  His 4th quarter points in the finals were atrocious.  His decline in ppg in the finals from the regular season is the biggest discrepancy of any other player in league history.
        You can’t be considered the King or next G.O.A.T if you keep melting in the biggest games.

        • Jul 27, 20113:09 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          I love watching Melo offensively, to be honest. But the problem for him is the fact that he’s just never given much effort on defense, and that’s why he’s never been viewed in the same class as James, Bryant, Wade, etc. Those guys all became NBA All-Defense caliber defenders and Anthony has just never improved that part of his game. Somehow I doubt playing for Mike D’Antoni in NY will challenge him to do that in the near future, too.

          • Jul 27, 20113:20 pm
            by kamal

            I understand that.  But even when Lebron and Wade were playing matador defense, they were still viewed in another class than Carmelo.

            Stoudemire STILL doesn’t play defense and he was viewed in a higher class than Carmelo.  Neither does Nash.  Hell, Dirk was never known for his defense either.  

            I know Carmelo has had some off the court issues (Stop snitching video, weed arrest,) as well as some on the court stuff (mini brawl) that have hurt his push from the NBA.

            But even before all of that, he was robbed of the rookie of the year and that sort of set the tone for his NBA status.

          • Jul 27, 20117:37 pm
            by tarsier

            I think if you poll a hundred people, you’ll get about 50 each claiming Stoudemire or Melo is the Knicks’ best player. I wouldn’t put Melo as underrated or overrated. I feel like people have as good a handle on his status as anyone’s. Find one serious NBA fan who doesn’t think that Melo is a terrific offensive player and a terrible defensive player–all around very good but not on the same level as tremendous two way players.

        • Jul 27, 20113:23 pm
          by neutes

          Reply

          To site all these team records is to assume Melo was a primary reason for their success when it couldn’t have possibly been linked to players like Camby, Nene, Billups, Miller, Martin, etc. Melo didn’t lead his team to the playoffs so much as his team carried him to the playoffs. The Knicks were going to the playoffs with or without Melo. It’s also why the Nuggets didn’t fall off when Melo left. He’s a fantastic scorer, but he’s not a distributor nor does he play defense.

          • Jul 27, 20113:41 pm
            by kamal

            So what you’re saying is that Nene, Camby, Vashon Leonard, and Andre Miller carried Melo to the playoffs?  Wow.

            So, all of those big shots he’s made to win games would have been made by Kenyon Martin or Anthony Carter?  Ridiculous.

            And the reason why the Nuggets didn’t miss a beat is because they inherited 3/5 of the Knicks starting 5. 

            I know that Carmelo is not the best defender, but he seems to be the only all star who we use that as a barometer for.  Nash, Stoudemire, and Nowitzki can’t stop ME from scoring but they were considered better players than Anthony.

          • Jul 27, 20113:47 pm
            by Patrick Hayes

            I think saying those guys carried Melo to the playoffs is a bit of a stretch. But I will say that Anthony has had a far, far superior supporting cast than Lebron ever had in Cleveland. In fact, I’d say that Billups, Andre Miller, Camby and Nene (and maybe even Afflalo) are all better players than anyone James ever had next to him with the Cavs. Plus, you can factor in strong role players like Kenyon Martin, Lenard, Anderson, JR Smith, Lawson, etc. and the talent that Anthony has played with vs. what James played with is just not even close.

          • Jul 27, 20114:01 pm
            by brgulker

            I agree with this.

            Melo’s the most overrated player in basketball.

            The only “objective” argument to the contrary is PER. Every single one of his important stats is middling, except PPG which is inflated by using lots of possessions.  

            He’s the Allen Iverson of SFs.

          • Jul 27, 20114:02 pm
            by brgulker

            kamal,

            Please explain why the Nuggets are still so effective, and the Knicks aren’t dramatically better sans and plus Carmelo.

          • Jul 27, 20114:44 pm
            by neutes

            “So what you’re saying is that Nene, Camby, Vashon Leonard, and Andre Miller carried Melo to the playoffs?  Wow.”

            Actually, yes. But no I’m saying Nene, Camby, Leonard, Miller, Barry, Anderson, and Boykins carried him. Camby is a very good player. When they do this 5-5 for centers Camby will hands down by a marathon be my choice for most underrated center in the league. When the Nuggets lost Camby they added Billups which luckily negated his departure, and allowed Melo to keep up his overrated reputation.
             
            Melo isn’t a bad player, but he’s not carrying a team anywhere. Every player needs help, but he needs more of it. Lebron can carry Mo Williams, Big Z, Delonte West, and Varajeo to 66 wins. Most Melo ever won was 54 with much better teammates. Enough said.

    • Jul 27, 20114:06 pm
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Melo would’ve been my choice for most overrated small forward. But I think Wins Produced underrates him, and I think Melo’s rebounding is underrated. He’s one of the best rebounding small forwards in the game.

      But he’s bad enough in other areas of the game, especially defensively, that I think he’s overrated.

      • Jul 27, 20116:01 pm
        by kamal

        Reply

        Fair enough.  Will Amare Stoudemire be your most ovverated big man when the topic comes up?  He’s everything you say Melo is and has the same faults (except Melo is much better down the stretch).

        If so, then I understand where you’re coming from even if I don’t agree.  But if not, then I don’t understand your logic. 

  • Jul 27, 20113:47 pm
    by RyanK

    Reply

    I’d say Magic.  They called him a point guard, but he was a small forward…point forward.
     
    Best piston small forward was probably Grant Hill…at least the most consistent outside of crunch time.

  • Jul 27, 20115:50 pm
    by kamal

    Reply

    Look guys, I’m not saying Carmelo is better than Lebron.  I said Lebron is currently the best 3 in the game.  I’m saying that Carmelo ISN’T overrated.  I just don’t see how.  

    He’s always been rated anywhere from 2-5 among the best 3s in the game.  Durant and Pierce have been ranked ahead of him at point during his career.  How is that overrated?  You think there are better 3s out there besides Lebron, Durant, and Pierce?  Is Iguodala better?  Nope.  Deng?  Nope.  Gay?  Nope?  Wallace?  Nope.  Artest?  Nope?  Butler?  Nope.  Lewis?  Nope.  Hedo?  Nope.  Who?  Please tell me who I’m missing.

    And as for the “playing with better players” argument, I don’t necessarily agree.  Lebron played with Carlos Boozer and couldn’t get into the playoffs.  Ilgauskus was an all star.  Hughes was a 20 point scorer before Cleveland.  Jamison was an all star and 20 point scorer before Cleveland.  Varejao is an all defense center.  Mo Williams was an all star.  Eric Snow was a veteran point guard who was a bull dog on D (ask Chauncey).

    Stop acting like this guy played with Smush Parker, Slava Medvadenko, and Kwame Brown.  The fact is that when Lebron won 66 games, people were praising the Cavs, saying they had the deepest team in the league.  And when they lost, they said Lebron had no help.  Sheesh.  Who decided to play that spread offense with Lebron pounding the ball for 20 seconds and then driving and kick out to his teammates with only a couple of seconds left on the shot clock?  I saw that in Detroit before with Grant Hill and it didn’t work then and didn’t work in Cleveland.

    Carmelo’s teammates are no better than Lebron’s were except Iverson and Chauncey.  Camby once played on 19 win Clipper team.  How many games did Andre Miller win in Cleveland and L.A?  Nene was on the Nuggets team that won 27 games the year before Melo got there.   

    Please stop acting like Carmelo played with the ’86 Celtics roster and Lebron had a D League team.   

    • Jul 27, 20118:50 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      “Stop acting like this guy played with Smush Parker, Slava Medvadenko, and Kwame Brown.”

      Haha. I see you slipping your subtle “Kobe actually had the worst supporting cast” argument in there. Very clever.

      • Jul 27, 20118:57 pm
        by kamal

        Reply

        You caught that, huh?  I’m impressed.  I forgot to mention Brian Cook and Chucky Atkins.  Lol

  • Jul 27, 20115:58 pm
    by kamal

    Reply

    brgulker,

    The Nuggest acquired Galinari, Felton, and Chandler from the Knicks.  They acquired 49.4 ppg, 14.3 rpg., and 12.4 apg (their combined Knicks stats) and only gave up 41.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, and 8.1 apg (Melo and Chauncey’s combined Nugget stats).

    That’s why the Nuggets were still able to maintain after the trade.   

  • Jul 28, 20119:01 am
    by Rodman4Life

    Reply

    @Patrick
    As much as it pains me to agree (because the Bulls always will make me cringe) Pippen SHOULD get your consideration.  Bird was, hands-down, the best offensively, but his defense was average.  His quick hands and smarts saved him from being a real liability on that end of the floor.

    • Jul 28, 201112:02 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I hated Pippen growing up, but man, if that guy is not the prototypical perimeter defender, I don’t know who is.

  • Jul 28, 201110:22 am
    by John

    Reply

    What is with this Pippen love. He was great player, but nowhere near an all-timer. He rode the coat tails of one of the best ever. I think that is just a testament to how good MJ was.

    No one seems to mention they were a great team when the league was probably at its lowest talent wise. Their biggest competition in the East was John Starks and Patrick Ewing.

    • Jul 28, 201111:13 am
      by brgulker

      Reply

      When Jordan retired the first time, Pippen rose to the occasion and led the Bulls to an excellent season. Pippen was a brilliant player in his own right.

      • Jul 28, 201112:06 pm
        by Patrick Hayes

        Reply

        And on top of that, when Pippen was in Portland, that team was so deep that he never had to play big minutes, so his stats there were never outstanding, but he was still a really good player for them, particularly defensively.

  • Oct 6, 20131:45 pm
    by John

    Reply

    Best now: durant. Underrated: Carmelo. Overrated: James. Promising: Paul George. Best ever: pippen
     

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