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Ranking the decade: Top ten NBA small forwards of the 2010s

No surprise at number one
Publish Date: 01/02/2020
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Source: Fear the Sword

During the 2010s, NBA fans witnessed the ignition of the small forward position. Many of the game’s best scorers and most athletic players manned the role. Even though some of the players on this list are in their mid to late 30s, these legends still hold sway in the game today.

With the focus on two-way wings rising during the past decade, many all-time great small forwards are still active. This piece ranks the ten greatest small forwards of the 2010s along with several honorable mentions.

Accomplishments, such as accolades, championships, and statistics, are the primary justification for the upcoming rankings. Raw talent also plays a factor in close decisions between players, but the list favors players with more experience.

The statistics and accolades used in this article come from the 2010-11 season and end with the numbers players accumulated by the morning of Dec. 22, 2019. The back part of the 2009-10 season does not count.

The Grueling Truth already published articles covering the top ten players of the decade at several other positions. More decade ranking articles are in the works, so make sure to check back regularly. Now, it’s time to dig into the best NBA shooting guards from the past decade.

*Stats accurate as of Dec. 22, 2019

Honorable Mention

11. Khris Middleton (2012-present)

2018-19 All-Star

478 games, 7,548 points, 1,548 assists, 2,148 rebounds, 613 steals, 93 blocks

The Detroit Pistons made a mistake trading Middleton to the Milwaukee Bucks. While the former second-round pick struggles with consistency and living up to expectations alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, he really only played five complete seasons during the 2010s. His limited playing time makes his production and development that much more impressive.

Top Ten

10. Rudy Gay (2010-present)

589 games, 10,223 points, 1,472 assists, 3,625 rebounds, 722 steals, 430 blocks

While Gay never became an All-Star, he played at that level for several years to start the 2010s. Many fans remember Gay for his time with the Sacramento Kings, but his best days came with the Memphis Grizzlies. Gay opened the 2010s with six consecutive 1,000-point seasons, which extended his career streak to nine.

Injuries ultimately led to Gay’s drop-off as he played just 30 games during the 2016-17 season. While he never fully rebounded, Gay shifted to the power forward spot with the San Antonio Spurs and developed a viable three-point shot.

9. Luol Deng (2010-2018)

2011-12 All-Defensive 2nd Team

Two-time All-Star

499 games, 7,008 points, 1,164 assists, 2,850 rebounds, 480 steals, 204 blocks

Deng entered his prime at the turn of the decade. He enjoyed a great deal of personal success with the Chicago Bulls, but the team never could get past LeBron James in the playoffs. While Deng started the 2010s hot, he suffered an early decline, and teams became less interested in him. A lackluster three-point shot and declining defense contributed to Deng’s early exit from the NBA.

8. Gordon Hayward (2010-present)

2016-17 All-Star

600 games, 9,097 points, 2,051 assists, 2,539 rebounds, 597 steals, 241 blocks

Just when the former Butler star found his rhythm, a gruesome leg injury stole all of Hayward’s 2017-18 season. He did not rebound well the following season and is still struggling with injuries this year. However, Hayward looked good during his limited playing time this season.

While he may never be an All-Star again, Hayward became one of the best scoring small forwards during the 2010s. He put together five consecutive 1,000-point seasons, including three years with 1,400 points or more. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely he will ever match that feat again.

7. Paul Pierce (2010-2016)

Two-time All-Star

459 games, 6,498 points, 1,307 assists, 2,110 rebounds, 403 steals, 184 blocks

The long-time Boston Celtic entered the NBA in 1998, so naturally, he was on his last legs as a star by the turn of the decade. Pierce averaged 18 or more points per game in each of the first three seasons of the 2010s and crossed the 1,000-point four times in the decade.

However, the writing was on the wall. In his final five seasons, Pierce played for four different teams. He scored just 81 points in his final year.

6. Andre Iguodala (2010-present)

Three-time NBA Champion

2014-15 Finals MVP

2013-14 All-Defensive 1st Team

2010-11 All-Defensive 2nd Team

2011-12 All-Star

622 games, 5,750 points, 2,591 assists, 2,806 rebounds, 795 steals, 310 blocks

Currently awaiting a buyout or trade from the Memphis Grizzlies, Iguodala served as a starter for just four years during the 2010s. Afterward, he transitioned into a sixth man role and continued playing his part in Golden State’s dynasty.

Iguodala won the Finals MVP during Golden State’s first championship run. He played a crucial role in curtailing James’ success and served as the all-around backbone for the emerging Warriors.

While his peak during the 2010s didn’t last long and wasn’t as high as some other candidates ranked below him, Iguodala made a significant impact on the past decade.

5. Carmelo Anthony (2010-present)

2012-13 All-NBA 2nd Team

2011-12 All-NBA 3rd Team

Seven-time All-Star

565 games, 13,080 points, 1,593 assists, 3,847 rebounds, 509 steals, 311 blocks

Melo went to seven consecutive All-Star games at the start of the 2010s. He spent almost all seven of those years with the New York Knicks. While playoff glory eluded Anthony and New York, he led the NBA in points per game during the 2012-13 season. He averaged at least 25 points per game three times during the 2010s and posted seven seasons with at least 20 points per game.

Anthony also dominated during the 2000s, accumulating 12,711 points in 514 regular season games. Despite making more All-Star games in the 2010s, the 2000s were arguably Melo’s best decade.

Nevertheless, Anthony scored at least 1,200 points seven times during the 2010s. His short stops in Oklahoma City and Houston were unproductive, but he found a home in Portland this season. The Trail Blazers let Anthony do a little of his old midrange isolation game, while still keeping him inside their offensive system. With his level of play, Anthony could remain in the NBA for another two years.

4. Paul George (2010-present)

2018-19 All-NBA 1st Team

Four-time All-NBA 3rd Team

Two-time All-Defensive 1st Team

Two-time All-Defensive 2nd Team

2010-11 All-Rookie 2nd Team

2012-13 Most Improved Player

Six-time All-Star

624 games, 12,473 points, 2,074 assists, 4,011 rebounds, 1,101 steals, 276 blocks

George originally emerged as a challenger to James in the Eastern Conference. While he never did overcome the King, George grew into a Hall of Fame-caliber player at both ends of the court. A broken leg slowed George’s progress during the 2014-15 season, but he rebounded immediately.

Last year, George averaged career-highs in points (28.0), assists (4.1), rebounds (8.2), and steals (2.2) per game. He is still integrating into Los Angeles’ offense, but his numbers are down this year. While George probably won’t replicate his 2018-19 campaign again, the 29-year-old is one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

In his brief nine-year career, George eclipsed 1,300 points six times. He scored at least 1,700 points five times and scored 2,159 points last year. George also surpassed the 100-steals mark seven times, and he led the league last year with 170.

If he stays healthy, George could crack the top ten small forwards of the 2020s.

3. Kawhi Leonard (2011-present)

Two-time NBA Champion

Two-time Finals MVP

Two-time All-NBA 1st Team

2018-19 All-NBA 2nd Team

Three-time All-Defensive 1st Team

Two-time All-Defensive 2nd Team

2011-12 All-Rookie 1st Team

Two-time Defensive Player of the Year

Three-time All-Star

490 games, 8,837 points, 1,240 assists, 3,130 rebounds, 871 steals, 327 blocks

Leonard broke into the NBA because of his defense. He famously gave James fits during the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Leonard developed an offensive game at an impressive rate. Similar to what Pascal Siakam is doing in Toronto, Leonard built on his game each year until he averaged over 20 points per game in his fifth season and made his first All-Star appearance.

While Leonard’s numbers don’t compare well with other players from the 2010s, fans must consider his impact on the decade and the accolades he accumulated. He won the Finals MVP in 2014, and the Miami Heat split up. After he left San Antonio, the Spurs fell apart. Then, Leonard broke down the Golden State Warriors with a non-super team last season. Leonard and the Toronto Raptors were the first non-LeBron led team to make the Finals out of the Eastern Conference since the 2009-10 Boston Celtics.

At 28 years old, Leonard is attempting to win a title with his third different team, a feat not even James or Shaquille O’Neal have accomplished.

2. Kevin Durant (2010-present)

Two-time NBA Champion

Two-time Finals MVP

Five-time All-NBA 1st Team

Three-time All-NBA 2nd Team

2013-14 MVP

Nine-time All-Star

613 games, 16,973 points, 2,858 assists, 4,539 rebounds, 662 steals, 729 blocks

Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors in 2016 will always leave a bad taste in the mouths of NBA fans. Arguably the best scorer of the 2010s joined the record-setting Warriors, forming a team with four All-Stars and former All-Stars in Iguodala and David West. Of course, the Warriors won the next two championships before Leonard and injuries put the dynasty momentarily on hold.

During the 2010s, Durant led the league in points per game three times and total points scored four times. Standing at 6-10 and possibly taller, Durant is lengthy, and that makes it nearly impossible to block his shot. As he developed, the Texas product also improved his defense. Durant’s body type gave him a natural advantage when it came to defending the rim. His size played perfectly into Golden State’s small-ball style.

Durant is sitting out the entire 2019-20 season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 Finals. The superstar signed with the Brooklyn Nets during the offseason, joining forces with Kyrie Irving. If Durant returns to form with the Nets, he can become one of the top twenty or even the top ten greatest players in NBA history.

1. LeBron James (2010-present)

Three-time NBA Champion

Three-time Finals MVP

Eight-time All-NBA 1st Team

2018-19 All-NBA 3rd Team

Three-time All-Defensive 1st Team

2013-14 All-Defensive 2nd Team

Two-time MVP

Nine-time All-Star

679 games, 18,039 points, 5,160 assists, 5,237 rebounds, 1,017 steals, 455 blocks

During the 2000s, James scored 15,251 points and strung together six seasons with at least 2,100 points. However, he never won a title. The difference in rings separates the younger James from the veteran in Los Angeles. During the 2010s, James went to eight consecutive finals, capturing three titles with two different teams. His scoring numbers decreased, but his three-point shooting and passing improved.

James’ 1,505 points last season were the fewest of his career. They came as a result of a campaign shortened by injuries, which trailed James’ historic 2017-18 season. During that final year in Cleveland, James played all 82 games and led the NBA in total points scored. However, even he could not overcome Golden State’s big four and return a second championship to Cleveland.

Throughout the highs and lows, James is the only player whose name consistently popped up alongside Michael Jordan during the 2010s. No other player even came close. Maybe Kobe Bryant held up early on, but injuries ended the Black Mamba’s prime early. The mere fact that some people compare James to Jordan tells fans all they need to know about how dominant James is.

In the end, the 2010s will forever be the King’s decade.

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