Basketball Small Forward

basketball small forward

Basketball Small Forwards

Small forwards are similar to shooting guards, but you can think of them as more versatile players. Small forwards are experts at hitting treys and moving towards the basket for easy layups.

The small forward is known as SF or the number three.

In basketball, a small forward is usually the most versatile player on the floor. They need to be skilled in just about every area of basketball.

Small forwards are generally taller than point guards and shooting guards but shorter than power forwards and centers. In the NBA, the average small forward is 6'8", but there are many small forwards taller or shorter. The small forward is also usually the most athletic player on the court.

What does a small forward do?

Small forwards are counted on to do many things in a basketball game. A typical small forward has a diverse set of skills that helps the team in many aspects of the game. They are playmakers, can grab rebounds, score points in a variety of ways, handle the ball, and find open teammates, along with many other skills. Similar to other positions, small forwards should be great at playing offense and defense. Offensively and defensively small forwards have a tougher challenge than other positions. They may be matched up with a tall playmaking point guard, a skilled shooting guard or a strong power forward at any particular time. Small forwards need to be able to adjust their skillset to match the player they are lining up against. On defense, small forwards should be able to roam the perimeter and keep up with guards along with being a capable post defender against frontcourt opponents.

However, not all small forwards possess all of the skills described above. Oftentimes, small forwards are also used to fill very specific roles. Some small forwards may be offensive or defensive specialists, sharpshooters or playmakers, or a number of other roleplayers.

Overall small forwards are usually the strongest all around player on a basketball team. They fill numerous roles and keep the frontcourt and backcourt balanced.

Small Forward Roles and Responsibilities

Small forwards can adapt easier than shooting guards because they have more weapons in their arsenal. As a small forward, you should have a strong overall game and be able to make three-pointers from downtown and buckets while in the paint. Like other players on the team, small forwards should be great at playing offense and defense.

Small forwards are bigger than point guards and shooting guards, but slightly smaller than power forwards. Oftentimes, small forwards should be quick enough to stay in front of shooting guards, but strong enough to defend a power forward in the post. These are players who can help the power forwards and centers defending the rim. One example of a small forward that comes to mind is LeBron James.

Roles on Offense

On offense, the small forward has the following roles on the court:

  • making threes
  • driving towards the paint for easy layups
  • acting as a screener

Roles on Defense

On defense, the small forward has the following roles on the court:

  • getting rebounds
  • guarding opposing players

Types of Small Forwards

Small forwards can play a variety of roles on a basketball team. The name of the position, small forward, indicates what the player is required to do. They should be able to pass and move like a guard, but rebound, jump, and defend like a power forward. Depending on how the coach wants to use them in that specific game, small forwards can be called on to handle the ball and initiate the offense, be a spot up shooter, be a dynamic scorer, a lockdown defender, or just about anything in between. Small forwards can be used as:

Wing Players

basketball wing

Small forwards are called wing players because they play at the wings of the floor. Although sometimes small forwards find themselves in the post, they are not known to be post players. The majority of the time, small forwards can be found on the perimeter of the three point line. From this position they have numerous options. They can shoot, pass, make a play with the ball, cut, or set screens. Depending on the player, a small forward may line up at different areas around the perimeter. If a small forward is more a shooter, they may line up on the wings and in the corners to assure they get good 3-point looks. If a small forward is more of a ball handler, they may stay on the wings and towards the top of the 3-point line so they have a better view of the court.


In basketball, a swingman is a player who can swing between the positions of shooting guard and small forward. These players seamlessly can be implemented at either position and be successful. They need to be quick, strong, and great all around basketball players. In the NBA today, notable swingmen include Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Demar Derozan, and Andrew Wiggins. These players will be able to guard small forwards and shooting guards, as well as produce offensively from both positions. These players are often great 3-point and mid range shooters, but are also capable at driving and finishing around the rim. A swingman is a very useful player because they can be asked to guard the opposing team's shooting guard or small forward, depending on who is a bigger threat.

Small Forward Statistics

Small forwards are solid all around players, so they should have good statistics in just about every category. The three statistical categories to focus on would be points, assists, and rebounds. For a small forward, the best stat one can get is a triple double, double digit numbers in points, rebounds, and assists. The stats of a small forward really depend on the style of play of the specific player. Some players may be great scorers and average over 25 points per game. However, other players may be stronger rebounders or passers and therefore have higher numbers in different areas. Further, when watching a defensive specialist small forward, important stats will be steals, blocks, along the points their opponents have scored on them. Overall, statistics do not indicate how good a player are and when watching a player it is more important to watch how they really play the game.

Small forwards should have strong numbers in the following statistics:

Top NBA Small Forwards Of All Time

Here are some of the best small forwards of all time to play basketball in the NBA:

Top NBA Small Forwards in 2020

Here are some of the top small forwards in the 2020 NBA season:

  • Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
  • Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
  • Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers,
  • LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Top 10 Greatest Small Forwards

The 10 greatest small forwards is an elite list. Top small forwards include Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Elgin Baylor, John Havlicheck, Rick Barry, James Worthy, and Dominique Wilkins.

Larry Bird, easily one of the most famous basketball players of all time, won 3 NBA Championships, 3 NBA MVPs, 10 All-NBA selections, and 2 NBA Finals MVPs. He is one of the most talented and clutch players of all time. Julius "Dr. J" Erving was famous for his incredible floating dunks and impressive athleticism, but he also won a Championship, an MVP, and made 11 All-NBA teams. Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan's partner in crime, is the ideal small forward. He helped revolutionize the position while winning 6 NBA Championships. LeBron James may be the most popular basketball player in the world, he is also one the best. Although he is still playing, 15 All NBA selections, 4 MVPs, 3 NBA Championships, 3 NBA Finals MVPs along with a huge cultural impact have helped solidify his case as one the greatest small forwards to ever play. Another current player, Kevin Durant, has become one of the most unstoppable offensive players in NBA history. With a near 7'0 ft frame, Kevin Durant is a nightmare match and has accumulated 4 scoring titles, 2 NBA Titles, and 2 NBA Finals MVPs.

The greatest small forwards in NBA history all have somehow separated themselves from all other small forwards in some ways. Their unique talents and abilities are the reason they made it onto this list.