Of all the positions on the squad, the Lakers have always enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in forward play. In fact, they have been fortunate enough to have some of THE greatest small forwards in NBA history. You might think that the Greatest of All Time in the small forward position is on show right now. Surely, LeBron James – consider one of the best players ever to have taken the court – is the LA Lakers’ number 1 small forward. What if we were to tell you that LeBron James might not even have been number 2 in this position for the franchise through the years? You think I am suggesting Wilt Chamberlain is top of the tree – maybe – but also maybe not.
Controversial stuff, right? Well, here are our top 10 small forwards that have played for the LA Lakers from the 1950s to today. And remember, everything is subjective!
So, how will we judge? Should we look for natural skill? What about wins or consistency over the years. If we took just skill we might boost James into the top 10. However, if we are looking at stats and wins then we need to look at Worthy. Consistency, well that’s definitely not a James feature, but we might consider Baylor. In short, a credible argument for a top spot as small forward comes from a delicate balance of each of these factors.
Ten: Metta World Peace
As a player for the Houston Rockets, this guy was undoubtedly a great. He enjoyed some memorable battles against Kobe Bryant when he was an enemy of the Lakers. However, while he was always a game changer by the time he reached LA, it wasn’t in the right way. There was that stunning three-pointer – you know the one we mean – that dagger – that will put him the history books. Skills, right? But, then there is the elbow on Harden that got him suspended for seven games – consistent presence – not so much. By the end of his career he was little used, just a role player every now and then.
Nine: Adrian Dantley
Dantley was 21 when he came to the Lakers in 1977 and it is with this franchise that this guy grew up – and grew up quick. He scored 21 points in his debut and upped this to 36 in his fourth game for the team. He may have averaged below 20 throughout this first season but he was always capable of a big game performance. A stunning start but a deflated second season with an average only just over 17, which saw him traded in the off season. He later blossomed with the Jazz – and they got his greatest years.
Eight: Cedric Ceballos
Johnson retired and there was a slow period before O’Neal and Bryant came to delight – Ceballos bridged that gap. He managed to keep an ailing franchise in the running despite a lack of support from the bench. He scored 50 points in a game against the Dallas Mavericks, which proved his star power.
Seven: Glen Rice
Who? Well, yeah… he is a little bit of an under the radar hero for the Lakers and was overlooked because of the star power of Shaq and Kobe. Who could hope to grab the limelight in that company? However, Rice should have been included in the Duo – making a Big 3 – as he easily lived with two legends of the court. A three All-Star and two time All-NBA – this guy deserves more recognition.
Six: Jim McMilian
Again, another forgotten legend that played for the Lakers – this time between 70 – 73. He was part of the super team alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich. Remember how they also had Pat Riley coming off the bench. McMilian was part of a starting line-up at a historic time for the Lakers – who notch up a 33-game winning streak. Consistency and winning stats – tick. When McMilian replaced Baylor in the starting team, it was the game this streak began.
Five: Jim Pollard
So, we are reaching back to The Kangaroo Kid for our Lakers star small forward here. He entered as a 26-year-old rookie – so the name was ironic, we guess. He was a legend at the dunk and from the free-throw line. Remember this was a time before the importance of the three-pointer – so an average of 13.2 was awesome – and he produced the skills consistently over the seasons. He also acted as interim coach.
Four: Jamaal Wilkes
While Johnson starting at center for Abdul-Jabbar was seen as central to the title-winning season in 1980, you might not remember that Jamaal Wilkes was just as important to that victory as he grabbed 37 points in that all-important Game 6. It was the best of his Hall of Fame career performances – but certainly not an outlier.
Three: LeBron James
Woah. Woah. Calm your anger. You may feel he is the best of all time – but just look at that consistency. He wins MVP with sudden bursts of stunning brilliance when it matters. He also, as yet hasn’t delivered a title for the Lakers – so you know – maybe he can be number 1 soon – but not right now.
Two: James Worthy
He scored an average 25 points per game and was a contender for MVP throughout the 1980s. He earned 7 All-Star and 2 All-NBA nods, won three championships and was finals MVP. In short, we challenge you to argue with us that he has more right to be seen as a greater player than LeBron, at this moment in time.
One: Elgin Baylor
Come on now – of course it is Baylor. Even though he was replaced by the talent of McMilian he was the short forward of the best iteration of the Lakers’ franchise. He reached the finals eight times and was mostly scuppered by that awesome Celtics outfit that dominated the era. But he was a consistently skillful player that brought much glory to the Lakers – and our number 1 anyway.
If you have enjoyed reading this article, make sure to check our piece ranking the best power forwards in Lakers’ history.