Who are the best small forwards in Celtics history? Ranking the Top 10
The crazy thing about the small forward position for the Boston Celtics is that the team has enjoyed such sustained longevity at the position that it’s actually a bit challenging to make a Top 10 list.
Larry Bird, John Havlicek, and Paul Pierce combined for 44 seasons (and 12 titles) in green, which makes it a tough for anyone else who played in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 2000s to state a case for inclusion alongside some of the biggest names in franchise history.
Here’s what we came up with for Boston’s top 10 small forwards in franchise history.
10. Scott Wedman
Wedman was much more than Larry Bird’s backup on those Celtics teams of the 80s.
He was a (well-compensated) former All-Star who embraced his role as a reserve, worked his tail off while pushing Bird in practice, and played a key role on two Boston title teams. Members of those 80s squads contend Wedman was as talented as the primary stars and there was no disputing his shooting abilities.
9. Gordon Hayward
There is no denying Hayward’s talent or his ability to positively impact winning. Alas, he’s missed nearly as many games (110) during three seasons in Boston as he’s played (118).
Still, Hayward would have drawn All-Star consideration during the 2019-20 season if he hadn’t broken his hand in November. A healthy Hayward routinely makes the right decisions on the court, can do a little bit of everything, and elevates the players around him.
8. Tom "Satch" Sanders
The man nicknamed “Satch” shared the frontcourt with Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn on Boston’s dominant teams of the 60s. He won eight titles in his first nine seasons.
His career stat line doesn’t pop — 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over 23.5 minutes per game — and yet his ability to lock down the opposition’s top scoring threat made him a key cog in that Celtics dynasty.
7. Jaylen Brown
Brown has positioned himself as a future All-Star with the improvements to his game displayed during the 2019-20 season.
He operated with more controlled aggression when attacking the basket, had tighter ball-handling, and improved vision — all of which helped Brown’s stat line blossom to 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. Better yet, Brown doesn’t seem content with his progress.
Even after signing a big-money extension, he’s expressed a desire to continue developing his game, balking at the notion that anyone would put a ceiling on his potential.
6. Cedric Maxwell
Maxwell should find an even loftier spot on our upcoming list of power forwards but deserves credit here, too.
Back when the Celtics and Hawks used to slug it out for East supremacy, it was Maxwell who drew the assignment of defending Dominique Wilkins — or whoever the opponent’s top wing threat was that night. Bird’s presence forced Maxwell to relent some of his scoring abilities, but he was always super efficient, shooting 54.6 percent from the floor for his career.
5. Jayson Tatum
An All-Star at 21, Tatum has potential to be the new face of the franchise through the 2020s.
He’s already got the LeBron James stamp of approval and played like a bonafide superstar before the 2019-20 season was suspended. Tatum can be one of the best two-way players in the league if he continues to improve his defense, and his offensive talents will have him in the conversation among the NBA’s elite scorers for years to come.
4. Reggie Lewis
Lewis seemed ready to take the superstar baton from Bird in the early 90s. Lewis had a famous game in 1991 where he blocked Michael Jordan four times and, a year later, earned his first All-Star nod during Bird’s final season.
Alas, Lewis collapsed during a playoff game in 1993. Four months later, while working out with hopes of resuming his playing career, Lewis passed away at the age of 27. The Celtics retired his No. 35 in 1995.
3. Paul Pierce
It seems almost blasphemous to have The Truth slotted this low — and yet it speaks again to the talent the Celtics have enjoyed at the small forward position.
Pierce sits second in franchise history in scoring with 24,021 points. He gave Boston fans a reason to be optimistic during some incredibly lean years, and then, once Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived, transformed Boston into a championship team that’s only lament was not securing more than one ring. Even when he had other All-Star talent around him, it was no secret who the ball was going to for a final shot and Pierce thrived in those moments.
2. John Havlicek
The leading scorer in franchise history with 26,395 points, Havlicek’s résumé includes eight NBA titles, 13 All-Star appearances, and four All-NBA first team honors. He also made eight appearances on All-Defense squads and you can’t hear his name without thinking of Johnny Most screaming, “Havlicek stole the ball!”
The man nicknamed “Hondo” had seemingly unlimited energy and endurance, and he remains the Celtics' leader for minutes (46,471) and games played (1,270).
1. Larry Bird
Do we really need a blurb here? It’s Larry Freakin’ Bird.
Three titles, three MVP awards, two Finals MVP — all in an era loaded with individual talent. Bird was an All-Star in every season in which he played more than six games (double heel surgery sidelined him early in the 1988-89 season). Before that, Bird and Magic Johnson might have saved the NBA in the 80s with the Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
Back woes flared in 1991 and led to Bird’s retirement at the age of 35. No one could shoot — or talk trash — quite like the Hick from French Lick.