NBA Small Forward Rankings 2023

Anthony Blanco
Last Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Gone are the days of the stereotypical small forward that many of us grew up watching. Most players on this list spend a lot of time at the three, but most play several, if not all, positions one through five.

As basketball has become more positionless, small forward has become a somewhat forgotten position. Despite how uncommon traditional small forwards are today, we still have the privilege of witnessing some all-time greats who continue to bless our game.

Let’s dive into my rankings of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA right now.

Top 10 NBA Small Forwards

10. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

If it doesn’t feel like it was long ago that Khris Middleton was putting up 40-point performances in the NBA Finals, that’s because it wasn’t.

While his numbers have fallen off a cliff over the past season or two, much of that has been a result of injuries and his inability to regain a rhythm. Middleton played just 33 games during the 2022-2023 regular season.

As a result, the three-time All-Star finished with his lowest points per game (15.1) since 2016-2017. To make matters worse, Middleton’s shooting percentage, specifically from behind the arc, took a huge hit last season. Middleton, a career 39% three-point shooter, made just 31% of his attempts from outside.

With a full offseason to recover, work on his game, and regain form, it would be no surprise to see Middleton return to an All-Star caliber player. He also has the luxury of playing on one of the league’s best teams alongside one of its best players, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

I expect a bounce-back year out of Middleton and think we will see him return to the player he was just a few seasons ago.

9. Demar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

DeRozan is a good example of a hybrid, new-era small forward.

He played most of his career as a two-guard but has been forced to play both small and power forward for much of his Chicago tenure. “Deebo” is considered one of the best mid-range players in the NBA, and his ability to score efficiently hasn’t fallen off with age.

The 34-year-old is set to enter his 15th NBA campaign and is still putting up elite numbers. Last season, DeRozan averaged 25 PPG on 50% shooting from the field while also making significant contributions in other areas.

DeRozan has been one of the most consistent players in the league for the better part of the last decade, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

8. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Ingram fits the mold of what one might’ve thought when they heard small forward several years ago.

Standing at a towering 6-foot-8, Ingram has molded himself into an efficient three-level scorer. Just last season, he averaged 25 PPG on nearly 50-40-90 splits while also tacking on just under six assists and rebounds.

Ingram should be regarded as one of the best forwards in the game right now, but injuries and inconsistency have held him back. The 26-year-old’s availability has been shaky every year since his rookie campaign; last season, he played the fewest games in his career (45).

Ingram has all the potential in the world to dominate this league and become a superstar; he just has to piece it together.

7. Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets

The 2023-2024 season will tell us how good Bridges is and what we can realistically expect from the young wing going forward.

Bridges was traded to Brooklyn at last season’s trade deadline and quickly evolved into an elite player. Before the trade, he was considered a top-notch role player who could space the floor and lock down the opposing team’s best scorer.

However, since joining the Nets, it has become evident that Bridges was ready for a bigger role all along. The 27-year-old averaged nine points more than he did in Phoenix while recording a better shooting percentage. Despite the increase in volume, Bridges continued to score efficiently while also playing his patented lockdown defense.

The 27-game sample size we got last season may have only been a teaser for what’s to come. If Bridges assumes more responsibility as a primary ball handler, it will be important that he improves his playmaking and court vision to make others around him better.

6. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

As we approach the halfway mark of this list, we start to see names that have graced small forward power rankings for years. George is no exception.

While he fits into the two-guard and small forward conversations, there’s no doubt that the eight-time All-Star can be placed near the top of either category. Unfortunately, his greatest weakness has been availability, especially since joining the Clippers in 2019.

Last season, George played the most games he has during his LA stint (56), and the eight-time All-NBA star filled up the stat sheet. He finished the year averaging 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game.

PG-13 still shows flashes of his greatness whenever he’s on the floor; he just has to keep himself healthy and withstand the long regular season.

5. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Butler and the Miami Heat nearly completed one of the greatest feats in NBA history last season — winning a championship as an eighth seed.

Butler played a vital role during Miami’s Cinderella playoff run last season, and he earned Eastern Conference Finals MVP honors for his efforts. However, it did seem that as the playoffs went on, Butler began to be less impactful at scoring the ball and dominating games.

That wasn’t the case during the first round when Butler exploded for multiple high-scoring games and almost carried the Heat singlehandedly past the top-seeded Bucks. Towards the end of the run, it felt that the 33-year-old relied more on role players who stepped up when needed most.

Despite Butler’s recurring burnout or fatigue, there’s no denying that he still comes through when his team needs him. He is the leader of Miami’s locker room, and many of his teammates gloat about the opportunity to play with him.

While Butler may not have many more years left in the tank, there aren’t many players you would take ahead of him right now.

4. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard and Clippers teammate Paul George share a lot of similarities.

They play in the same organization, share the same position, and, unfortunately, have both been injury-prone since joining the Clippers.

Even so, many remember the legendary playoff runs that Leonard has orchestrated throughout his career. Originally infamous for his defense prowess, Leonard has morphed into a deadly three-level scorer as his career has progressed.

He is still among the best players in the league when he’s on the floor; it’s just about getting him there. It is unlikely that we ever see Leonard play 65-plus regular-season games again.

However, if the Clippers can manage him well enough so that he’s playing his best basketball in April and May, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be contenders for a title this season.

3. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

It is crazy to think that LeBron James still cracks the top three of his position at 38 years old, but here we are.

There’s only so much you can say about the guy at this point. When you think he’s done it all, he proves you wrong time and time again. In his 20th NBA season, King James averaged 29 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists per game while leading his team to a Western Conference Finals appearance.

Apart from the absurd statistics, James hasn’t shown any signs that this is stopping soon. The greatness we watch every night must be appreciated because it is highly unlikely that we will ever witness a talent this great ever again.

The Lakers have built a stronger team around James and Anthony Davis this offseason, and it shouldn’t surprise you to see LeBron take a backseat to his teammates, especially during the regular season.

2. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

Durant has found a home in Phoenix for what could be the final chapter of his career.

After the failed experiment with James Harden and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, Durant finds himself on another stacked roster featuring himself, Devin Booker, and the newly acquired Bradley Beal.

While we only got a small glimpse of Durant in a Suns jersey last season, he and Booker seemed deadly together and were in the conversation for the best tag team in the league. It will be interesting to see how this new squad meshes, but there’s no doubt that KD will score the basketball at will and make it look easy.

Injuries have hampered Durant as his career has progressed, but they never appear to affect him once he’s back on the court, no matter the severity. Durant played just eight regular-season games for the Suns after returning from injury and averaged 26 PPG on nearly 60% shooting from the field and 54% from behind the arc.

The Slim Reaper is lethal from anywhere on the court, which will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

At 25, Tatum is starting to run away with the title of best small forward in the NBA. It’s hard to believe how young he is and how much success the former Duke star has already had in the league.

Tatum put forth his best season as a pro last year, averaging over 30 points, nine rebounds, and five assists per game on 47% shooting from the field. He also led Boston to its second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance in what turned out to be a very memorable playoff run.

The St. Louis native has everything you could ask for on the offensive end and has come into his own defensively. If he can find a way to boost his efficiency, there’s no reason why Tatum won’t be a perennial MVP candidate.

Moving forward, he’ll be the best small forward in the NBA and arguably the league’s best player.


Anthony Blanco

Related articles