Basketball Small Forward

basketball small forward

Basketball Small Forwards

Small forwards are similar to shooting guards but are even more versatile players. In fact, they need to be skilled in just about every area of basketball. As a result, the small forward is also usually the most athletic player on the court. Small forwards are experts at hitting three pointers and moving towards the basket for easy layups.

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. They are playmakers, can grab rebounds, score points in a variety of ways, handle the ball, and find open teammates. Similar to other positions, small forwards should be great at playing both offense and defense.

Small forwards need to be able to adjust their skillset to match the player they are lining up against. One big difference between small forwards and other positions is who they end up opposing. They may be matched up with a tall playmaking point guard, a skilled shooting guard, or a strong power forward at any particular time. On defense, small forwards should be able to roam the perimeter and keep up with guards, along with being capable post defenders 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 player roles.

Overall, small forwards are usually the strongest all-around player on a basketball team. They fill numerous gaps in order to keep the frontcourt and backcourt balanced.

Small Forward Roles and Responsibilities

Small forwards can adapt more easily to different roles 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.

Small forwards are bigger than point guards and shooting guards but slightly smaller than power forwards. Oftentimes, small forwards are 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 defend the rim. An example of one such small forward 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
  • Setting screens

Roles on Defense

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

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. The two main types of small forwards in the NBA are wing players and swingmen.

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 near the sidelines. 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 of a shooter, they may line up on the wings and in the corners to ensure they get good three-point looks. If a small forward is more of a ball handler, they may stay on the wings and towards the top of the three-point line so that 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 can be implemented seamlessly at either position. They need to be quick, strong, and great all-around basketball players. 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 three-point and mid-range shooters, but are also capable of 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. In the NBA today, notable swingmen include Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Demar Derozan, and Andrew Wiggins.

Small Forward Statistics

Small forwards are solid all-around players, so they have good statistics in nearly every category. The three primary statistical categories to consider when assessing small forwards are points, assists, and rebounds. For a small forward, the best stat one can get is recording a triple-double, or double-digit numbers in points, rebounds, and assists. The stats of a small forward depend on their style of play, as 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. For a defensive specialist small forward, important stats are steals, blocks, and points scored against.

Small forwards should have strong numbers in the following statistics:

Top 10 NBA Small Forwards of All Time

Here are some of the best NBA small forwards of all time:

Top NBA Small Forwards in 2023

Here are some of the top small forwards in the 2022-2023 NBA season:

  • Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
  • Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
  • DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
  • Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
  • Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
  • LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Notable Small Forwards

The greatest small forwards in NBA history have all separated themselves from all other small forwards through their skill and accomplishments on the court. Below are some highlights from the best small forwards the NBA has ever seen.

Larry Bird: Easily one of the most famous basketball players of all time, Bird won three NBA Championships, three NBA MVPs, ten All-NBA selections, and two NBA Finals MVPs. He is one of the most talented and clutch players of all time.

Julius “Dr. J” Erving: Famous for his incredible floating dunks and impressive athleticism, but he also won one NBA Championship, an MVP award, and made 11 All-NBA teams.

Scottie Pippen: Michael Jordan’s partner in crime, Pippen is the ideal small forward. He helped revolutionize the position, winning six NBA Championships and making 7 All-NBA teams along the way.

LeBron James: As the most popular basketball player in the world, he is also one the best the game has ever seen. Although he is still playing, 18 All-NBA selections, four MVPs, four NBA Championships, and four NBA Finals MVPs, along with a huge cultural impact have helped solidify his case as perhaps the greatest small forward ever.

Kevin Durant: Another current player, Durant has become one of the most unstoppable offensive players in NBA history. With a nearly 7’0 ft frame, Kevin Durant is a nightmare matchup and has accumulated four scoring titles, an MVP award, two NBA Championships, and two NBA Finals MVPs.


What is the role of a small forward?

Small forwards are tasked with scoring from the wing, driving lanes, and shooting three-pointers on offense. On defense, the roles of small forwards include guarding the wings, preventing perimeter shots, and grabbing rebounds. With all these unique roles, small forwards are known for being some of the most versatile players on the court.

What does SF mean in basketball?

The abbreviation SF is used in basketball to refer to the small forward position. Small forwards play in the wings, close to the end line, and are known for aggressive ball handling and making rapid changes in direction in an effort to get open. Short forwards are important defensive weapons and versatile all-around players.

What is the difference between small forwards and power forwards?

The difference between small forwards and power forwards is their position on the court, average size, and tendency to shoot and score. Small forwards play in the wings, while power forwards play in the post. Power forwards are typically bigger and taller; small forwards are more quick and compact. Power forwards are more likely to shoot and score, though small forwards always keep themselves open for an easy basket.

How tall is an NBA small forward in basketball?

In the NBA, the range of heights for small forwards is from 6’5” to 6’10”. Small forwards are generally taller than point guards and shooting guards but shorter than power forwards and centers. The small forward is known as SF or the number three.