Ranking the Top 10 NBA Small Forwards of the 1980s
While some of our other top-10 NBA positional lists from the 1980s are a bit thin, there’s no shortage of talent at small forward. This is the final group of positional players from our series, and we’re going out with a bang.
These guys were some of the best scorers in the league, and several stars were left off the list. Here is Sportscasting’s list of the top 10 NBA small forwards from the 1980s.
No. 10: Kiki Vandeweghe (Denver Nuggets)
Kiki Vandeweghe played throughout the decade, primarily with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. Although he spent more time with the Blazers in the ’80s, he made his two All-Star appearances with the Nuggets.
Those came in back-to-back seasons when he averaged 26.7 points and 5.3 rebounds during the 1982-83 campaign. He followed that up with a career-high 29.4 points-per-game average in 1983-84.
With Portland during the 1986-87 season, Vandeweghe led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage at 48.1% in 79 games.
No. 9: Bernard King (New York Knicks)
Bernard King could score with the best of them. King is often remembered for his 60-point outburst against the New Jersey Nets on Christmas Day 1984.
“I got off to a great start in that game against the Nets and felt great,” King told Sports Illustrated back in 2014. “I could recognize and feel all the spacing on the floor, the seams in the defense, and I didn’t have to think about it. I scored 40 points in the opening two quarters, the greatest first half I ever played in my career.”
King went on to lead the NBA in scoring that season, averaging 32.9 points. He also shot 53% from the floor that year. A devastating knee injury forced King to miss the entire 1985-86 season. King was a three-time All-Star in the ’80s and had a massive bounce-back year with the Washington Bullets in the 1990-91 season when he put up 28.4 points per game and made his fourth All-Star team.
No. 8: Marques Johnson (Milwaukee Bucks)
Marques Johnson was a five-time NBA All-Star, with four of those appearances coming in the 1980s.
A 6-foot-7 forward out of UCLA, Johnson made an immediate impact in the NBA, earning All-Star honors in four of his first six seasons. As a rookie, he averaged 19.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. Johnson was All-NBA three times.
He spent his first seven seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he averaged 21.0 points and 7.5 rebounds. Johnson then played three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers before a neck injury forced him to miss the next two seasons. He attempted a comeback with the Golden State Warriors for the 1989-90 season but appeared in just 10 games.
No. 7: Mark Aguirre (Dallas Mavericks)
The Dallas Mavericks made Mark Aguirre the No. 1 pick in the 19801 NBA Draft, and he didn’t disappoint. The 6-foot-6 forward out of DePaul played more than 28 minutes per game as a rookie, averaging 18.7 points and 4.9 rebounds.
In his third NBA season, Aguirre made the first of his three All-Star appearances when he averaged a career-high 29.5 points. He also put up 5.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He did all this while shooting 52.4% from the floor.
Aguirre spent much of the decade (8 seasons) with the Mavericks and averaged 24.6 points during that stretch. He later played for the Detroit Pistons, winning two championships at the tail end of the decadde.
No. 6: James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers)
James Worthy might not have some of the gaudy offensive numbers as some of these other small forwards, but there’s a pretty good reason for that. Worthy was the third option on a talented “Showtime” Lakers team that won five championships in the 1980s.
Despite playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, Worthy still managed to become a seven-time All-Star with some pretty good numbers.
The first pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, Worthy averaged 17.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in his 12-year career, all with the Lakers.
Known as “Big Game James,” Worthy was the MVP of the 1988 NBA Finals and was named All-NBA twice in his career. A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Worthy is also a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 5: Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks)
Taken two picks after Worthy in the 1982 NBA Draft, Dominique Wilkins jumped right into action by playing more than 30 minutes per game as a rookie and averaging better than 17 points.
Beginning with the 1985-86 season, Wilkins had a string of nine straight All-Star seasons. In that ’85-’86 season, he led the league with a 30.3 scoring average. He also collected 7.9 rebounds per game.
In his 12 seasons with the Hawks Wilkins averaged 26.4 points. He was All-NBA for seven seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Wilkins was also named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 4: Adrian Dantley (Utah Jazz)
Adrian Dantley was drafted in the first round of the 1976 NBA Draft by the Buffalo Braves, but he made his mark in the league in the 1980s with the Utah Jazz.
Dantley led the league in scoring twice. That came during a four-year stretch when he averaged more than 30 points in a season. He spent seven years with the Jazz, averaging 29.6 points. Dantley spent 15 years in the league with seven different teams.
A six-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player, Dantley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
No. 3: Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers)
Julius Erving made a name for himself during five years in the ABA, winning three scoring titles, but he carried his stardom into the NBA as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Erving played more of his professional basketball in the 1970s, but still had plenty of juice left in the 80s. An All-Star in every single one of his 16 seasons (ABA and NBA), Erving played a significant role in the Sixers winning the 1983 NBA title. He was also named MVP of the league in 1981. He won the award three times in the ABA.
During that 1982-83 season, Dr. J finished with a 21.4-point scoring average and pulled down 6.8 rebounds per game. He averaged 22.0 points during his 11 years with the 76ers. He was All-NBA seven times.
Erving is a member of the Hall of Fame and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 2: Alex English (Denver Nuggets)
Alex English might be the most underrated and underappreciated player ever in the NBA but not today. We’re giving him the props he deserves by putting him second on this list of well-established stars.
No player scored more points in the decade than English, who was a second-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976. After short stints with the Bucks and Indiana Pacers, English made a name for himself with the Denver Nuggets.
In the 1981-82 NBA season, English averaged 25.4 points per game and began a string of eight straight NBA All-Star appearances . The following year, he led the NBA in scoring (28.4 points). In his 11 seasons with the Nuggets, English averaged 25.9 points.
English was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
No. 1: Larry Bird (Boston Celtics)
Larry Bird’s game had zero weaknesses. He and the Boston Celtics, along with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, dominated the ’80s and took the league to a new level.
As a rookie during the 1979-80 season, Bird took a 29-win team and turned it into a league-best 61-win team. The following season, he led the Celtics to their first of three championships of the decade. Bird and the Celtics reached the NBA Finals five times in the ’80s, including four straight appearances from 1984 to 1987.
During that Finals run, Bird was named MVP of the league for three straight seasons (1984-1986).
For his career, Bird averaged 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. He was a 12-time All-Star and named All-NBA 10 times.
Bird was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 and is also a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.