The small forward, colloquially known as the three, is one of the five positions in a regulation basketball game and is commonly abbreviated "SF". Small forwards are typically somewhat shorter, quicker, and leaner than power forwards and centers, but on occasion are just as tall. The small forward position is considered to be perhaps the most versatile of the five main basketball positions. Current NBA small forwards vary in height between 6' 6" and 6' 10" (1.98–2.08 m). The typical placement for a small forward would be between the key and three-point line.
Small forwards are primarily responsible for scoring points and also often as secondary or tertiary rebounders behind the power forward and center, although a few, such as Paul Pierce and LeBron James, who play as point forwards have considerable passing responsibilities. Many small forwards in professional basketball, however, are prolific scorers. The styles with which small forwards amass their points vary widely, as some players at the position like the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant are very accurate straight up shooters, while others like the New York Knicks' Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) prefer to "bang inside", initiate and/or not shy away from physical contact with opposing players, while others are primarily slashers such as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James who also possess jumpshots. One common thread among all kinds of small forwards is an ability to "get to the line", that is, having opposing players called for committing shooting fouls against them, as fouls are frequently called on the defense when offensive players "take the ball hard" to the basket; that is, the offensive players aggressively attempt post-up plays, lay-ups, or slam dunks. Therefore, accurate foul shooting is an imperative skill for small forwards, many of whom record a large portion of their points at the foul line.
Defense is often a major priority for small forwards, who are often counted on to use their athleticism and size as defensive advantages. Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, Grant Hill of the Los Angeles Clippers (since retired), Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks, Andrei Kirilenko of the Brooklyn Nets, Luol Deng of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, Tayshaun Prince of the Memphis Grizzlies and Trevor Ariza of the Washington Wizards, with their height and athleticism, are able to guard at many positions on the floor and are often called upon to do so. Former small forwards known for their defensive abilities include John Havlicek, Scottie Pippen, Bruce Bowen and Michael Cooper, all of whom were staples on the NBA All-Defensive Team.
- Recruiting Nation (November 28, 2006). "Versatility is key for small forwards". ESPN.
|Guards||1. Point guard||Combo guard|
|2. Shooting guard||Guard-forward / Swingman|
|Forwards||3. Small forward||Stretch forward / Cornerman|
|4. Power forward||Point forward|
|Center||5. Center||Forward-center / Bigman|
|Backcourt | Frontcourt | Captain | Head coach | Referees and officials|