The five best defensive small forwards of all time

By Jarrod Castillo
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

A continuation of the series, this list focuses specifically the best defensive on small forwards. Like the previous two lists, players are only selected if they played as a small forward for most, if not all, of their career.

In case you missed it, Jason Kidd topped the best defensive point guard list and Michael Jordan is the best defensive shooting guard. As always, this list is based on a players’ accumulated defensive win shares (DWS), or how many wins a player gets based on defense alone.

Without further ado, here are the five best defensive small forwards in NBA history.

Enter the Matrix: Shawn Marion

A four-time All Star and two-time All-NBA selection, Shawn Marion was one of the more unique offensive players, mainly because of his jump shot. But because of his size and length, Marion was a very capable defender, like another version of Scottie Pippen.

Unlike Pippen, Marion didn’t make any All-Defensive Teams, but he did have eight seasons in the top-20 in steals and three seasons in the top-20 in blocks. Marion is 21st in NBA history with 1759 and 58th with 1233 steals and blocks, respectively.

Overall, “The Matrix” racked up 61.2 DWS for his career, good for 28th all time.

The Truth: Paul Pierce

Known as “The Truth,” Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce wasn’t the fastest player but he was very crafty on the offensive end. Whether it was inside or past the 3-point line, Pierce could put the ball in the hoop.

At 6-foot-7, Pierce used his length to make up for his lack of foot speed. He didn’t make any All-Defensive teams, like Marion and he ranks just behind him with 1752 steals, good for 22nd. In all, he had seven season in the top-20 in steals.

The future Hall of Famer is 24th in NBA history with 63.1 DWS for his 19-year career.

It’s Robin: Scottie Pippen

The Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman with the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen is one of the most versatile defenders in NBA history, capable of guarding the opposing teams’ best offensive player. Whether it was a point guard or a power forward, chances are, Pippen defended them and more often than not, shut them down.

A 10-time All-Defensive Team selection – eight times on the 1st team and two times on the 2nd time – Pippen is sixth all-time in steals with 2307 and had nine seasons in the top-20 in steals. For his career, Pippen is 14th all-time, nabbing two steals per game for his career.

His defensive prowess allowed him to rack up 67.29 DWS, good for 18th overall.

It’s Good to be the King: LeBron James

A once-in-a-generation talent, LeBron James is one of the most versatile and well-rounded players in NBA history, wherever he plays. Perhaps the most physical gifted as well, James can do things that many NBA players (outside of Michael Jordan) can only dream of doing on both ends of the floor.

James’ athleticism helped him be a six-time All-Defensive team selection – five times on the first team and once on the second team – and it’s not out of the ordinary to see him going for a chase-down block on an unsuspecting player (like this). Currently, James is 13th all-time in steals with 2011 and has been in the top-20 in 12 of his 17 seasons, averaging 1.6 steals per season.

Although he’s on the top spot for most things, James will have to settle as being the second-best defensive small forward for the time being with 70.4 DWS, which is 16th in NBA history. Given the rate that he’s playing, it’s almost a guarantee that he will end up as being the best defensive small forward when it’s all said and done.

The Hondo: John Havlicek

Another Celtics legend, John Havlicek was an incredibly durable player; he played at least 70 games every season for the entirety of his 16-year career. As a career 20-point-per-game scorer, Havlicek was also an effective defender.

About six seasons into Havlicek’s career, the All-Defensive Teams were created in 1968. Since then, he made an All-Defensive Team eight times – a three-time 2nd team selection and five-time 1st team selection.

Because the NBA didn’t record steals and blocks as a stat until 1973-1974, Havlicek didn’t have gaudy numbers in those departments. Nevertheless, he ranks 12th all time in DWS with 74.09 and is the best defensive small forward in the NBA history, for now.