Over the years, small forward has been a position of riches for the Boston Celtics. There are the obvious first-ballot hall of fame names but also a slew of quality players who weren’t able to crack the top 5 due to the historical depth at the spot. A lot of Celtics legends played the 3-spot.
Keep in mind that I’m determining the position for each player based on the information I have available. Unfortunately the stats that determine what amount of minutes each guy played at each spot have only been available for the last 15 or so years. So when I say I’m counting Tom Heinsohn and Tom “Satch” Sanders as power forwards, you just have to go with it. You can argue in the comments, but that doesn’t help anybody. So let’s do this.
5. Reggie Lewis (’87-’93)
3-Year Peak (’90-’93): 20.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.1 bpg
Accomplishments with team: All-Star (’92)
Reggie Lewis is unfortunately remembered most for his premature death and the fact that he was really the lone bright spot on some mediocre Celtics teams. Lewis put up numbers on both ends of the court in every year after his rookie season. He also improved throughout his career and by every indication would have become even better.
At different times during his Celtics career Lewis was functioning as the captain, top scorer, and lockdown defender. Sometimes all at once. If Bird’s back hadn’t crumbled and he would’ve had a few more years at peak level, there’s a good chance that Reggie Lewis would be a 2 time NBA champion.
4. Cedric Maxwell (’77-’85)
3-Year Peak (’78-’81): 17.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 59.4 % FG Shooting
Accomplishments with team: 2 titles (’81 & ’84), Finals MVP (’81), 2x FG% leader, 2x True Shooting % leader
Is Cedric Maxwell the most forgotten about Finals MVP in NBA history? Cornbread was an incredibly efficient scorer before we even really knew what efficiency was. To be able to have a guy in his era who could give you over 15 a game while shooting well over 50% from the field was a huge bonus. There’s a reason that he was the player that ultimately netted the Celtics Bill Walton in 1986. Cedric Maxwell was really damn good at basketball.
Some would consider Max a PF which I can understand due to his rebounding numbers and the fact that almost all of his shots came in the post. But that had just as much to do with his teammates being Bird and Nate Archibald as it did with his actual game. He’s also one of the best taunters in NBA history, just ask James Worthy or Kurt Rambis.
3. Paul Pierce (’98-’13)
3-Year Peak (’03-’06): 23.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.5 spg
Accomplishments with team: 10 All-Stars, All-Rookie 1st team, 3x All-NBA 3rd team, All-NBA 2nd team, Title (’08), Finals MVP
It’s safe to say the memory of Paul Pierce is still in our heads. No need to go over his game because we all know it so well. What’s remarkable to me is the progression of Paul Pierce. He went from being considered a spoiled punk star you couldn’t win with into one of the great clutch players and leaders the league has ever seen.
Whether that perception was right or wrong, it was the hard truth.Pierce was always in the middle of trade rumors. In fact, he asked to be traded if Ainge couldn’t put more pieces around him. People love to forget that. He was an undeniably talented player who couldn’t seem to put everything together and become a transcendent superstar.
But none of that matters now. Ainge did put the pieces around Pierce. Pierce did develop into a leader and dominant all-around player. Pierce did put it all together. And it culminated with him hoisting the trophy in 2008 after a playoff run that saw him straight up outplay LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
2. John Havlicek (’62-’78)
3-Year Peak (’70-’73): 26.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.2 apg, 45.3% FG
Accomplishments with team: 13 All-Stars, All-Rookie 1st team, 7x All-NBA 2nd team, 4x All-NBA 1st team, 3x All-Defense 2nd team, 5x All-Defense 1st team, 8 Titles, Finals MVP (’74), 2x leader in minutes
Hondo participated in many different eras of Celtics dominance, and he contributed to them all. A remarkably durable and athletic player who was just as good defensively as he was offensively, Havlicek went through a couple of stretches (like the one above) where he put up all-around numbers only surpassed by the likes of Bird, LeBron, Michael Jordan, and maybe Kevin Durant.
Over those years, Havlicek transitioned from being a superb sixth man into a true superstar. Calling someone a “high-effort guy” has become a bit of a cliché but that really is what Hondo was. The way he ran 110% up and down the court had opponents struggling to keep up with him, much less guard him or score on him.
1. Larry Bird (’79-’92)
3-Year Peak (’84-’87): 27.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 51.4% FG, 41.5% 3pt, 89.6% FT, 26.2 PER
Accomplishments with team: 12 All-Stars, ROY, All-Star MVP (’82), 9x All-NBA 1st team (including as a rookie), All-NBA 2nd team, 3x All-Defense 2nd team, 3 Titles (’81, ’84, ’86), 2x Finals MVP (’84 & ’86), 3x NBA MVP (’84-’86)
Depending on whether you want to throw LeBron into the rankings now or wait until his career is over, Bird ranks as either the greatest or second greatest SF in the history of basketball. The claim that he would be “just another good player” if he was black is so far-fetched that even fans with the most elementary knowledge of NBA history can acknowledge that it’s a joke.
Countless clutch shots, huge playoff games, eye-popping numbers, titles, respect of his teammates, etc. Bird has it all. He’s the complete package when talking about a legendary basketball player. He deserves bonus points for playing as long as his back would allow him and actually putting a ton of effort in defensively against the new-breed of athlete in the 80’s despite Bird’s relative lack of athleticism.
Would Larry Bird be an elite player in todays NBA? Probably not. Players are taller and longer, meaning it would be harder for him to get his shot off. He wouldn’t be able to run the floor with modern athletes. And his rebounding numbers certainly wouldn’t be what they were.
But that doesn’t matter, because Bird isn’t playing today. So whenever LeBron surpasses him in the general publics all-time rankings (if he hasn’t already), big whoop. Larry Bird is a basketball legend. He’s one of the 5 most famous NBA players ever. He’s gone on to a successful career as an executive. Larry Bird is basketball.
Power Forwards and Centers coming soon!