Scottie Pippen, Luol Deng and the 10 Greatest Forwards In Chicago Bulls History
For a franchise as storied as the Chicago Bulls, it's amazing how few players fans can mention as all-time greats. Sure there's Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and Derrick Rose is playing like he'll someday join his predecessors in the Hall of Fame.
But that's nothing compared to Boston Celtics teams with Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale, and Los Angeles Lakers squads with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy all on the court at the same time. And that's not even considering contemporary stars Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.
I don't mean to belittle the Bulls. But when compiling a small list of the top 10 forwards in the franchise's history, you come across names even the most die-hard fans have trouble remembering. Sure, you remember Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant from the 1990s. But what about the pre-Jordan era forwards? And after the dynasty?
Read on for a look back through the years at the best 3s and 4s to ever play for the Chicago Bulls.
10. Bob (Not Carlos!) Boozer
Is he related to Carlos Boozer? No. Will Carlos replace him on this list in two seasons? Yes.
Until then, Bob Boozer will hold the No. 10 spot among Bulls forwards for averaging better than 20 points per game from 1966-1969, playing in the prime of his career. The Bulls selected him in the expansion draft.
Similarly to the present Boozer, Bob averaged nearly 10 rebounds per game in addition to his 20 points per contest. The Bulls made the playoffs in Boozer's first two seasons, and in his best statistical year, 1967-1968, he made the All-Star team.
Looking back, advanced statistics such as Player Efficiency Rating, True Shooting Percentage and Win Shares all place him among the top 10 in the NBA during his time with the Bulls. He obviously was a major factor for Chicago as the team got started, but due to the general obscurity of the sport at that time, his name often gets left out of just about every conversation of the Bulls' greats.
9. Orlando Woolridge
Before Michael Jordan came along, the Bulls managed to snag a prolific scorer with the sixth pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. After averaging a mere 7.3 points per game as a rookie, Orlando Woolridge eventually burst onto the scene, boasting an average of 22.9 points per game in 1984-1985.
Of course, that often gets overshadowed by Jordan's 28 points per contest as a rookie. Still, the two of them packed quite a punch as the duo put up nearly half of the Bulls' scoring output.
However, Woolridge and Jordan could ultimately not coexist in the Windy City. Woolridge was a great leaper, but of course Jordan was better. And as it became blatantly clear that Jordan was going to be the cornerstone of the franchise, the organization realized it needed bruisers down low who could battle for rebounds.
Considering he played more than 30 minutes per game, the fact that Woolridge could barely gather five rebounds per contest was a deal breaker. In the playoffs his rebounding was even more atrocious, as shown by his measly 3.3 per game in the 1984-1985 playoffs.
Still, he could score, and was one of the top two players on the Bulls while he was around, so he gets a spot in the franchise's top 10 forwards.
8. Charles Oakley
Not to point out how bad Woolridge's rebounding was even more, but consider this. Charles Oakley, in his second stint with the Bulls at age 38, averaged six rebounds per game in just 24 minutes of playing time.
Of course, this was in the absolute twilight of his career. He was drafted by the Bulls in 1985 and proved to be a nice complementary piece to Jordan on the inside. In 1986-1987 he put up 14.5 points and 13.1 rebounds per game, and in 1987-1988 he notched 12.4 points and 13 rebounds per contest.
Despite those solid numbers, he only stuck around Chicago for three seasons, which is why most Bulls fans probably remember him as a nemesis on the New York Knicks. The reason? The young, up-and-coming Horace Grant needed more playing time, and the Bulls needed a center. The Bulls shipped Oakley and Rod Strickland for Bill Cartwright and Will Perdue.
Obviously, both of those players were around for the first three-peat. But you can easily play the "what-if" game. Would the Bulls have been better off with a bruiser like Oakley and a solid player in Strickland when faced with the Bad Boys in Detroit in the late 1980s? Or was getting a center like Cartwright crucial for the implementation of the triangle offense?
Either way, Oakley provided some good years in Chicago, then came back and tried to teach the Baby Bulls a thing or two. That might have worked on Tyson Chandler, but it clearly fell on Eddy Curry's deaf ears.
7. Luol Deng
Yes, at No. 7 is the man seemingly every forum poster has wanted the Bulls to trade since 2007.
First and foremost, Deng trumps all the aforementioned players in longevity. He has played for the Bulls ever since being drafted seventh overall in 2004 as part of the so-called "core" that was supposed to bring the Bulls a championship. I'll spare you the math: He's in the middle of his seventh season with the organization.
Though oft-injured, ultimately he's going to rank among franchise leaders as long as he remains a member of the Bulls. He has always been one of the top options on offense, and his defense is underrated. Remember back when all the experts were predicting he would be an All-Star? Though that has yet to happen, he is only in his mid-20s and has consistently put up around 17-18 points per game along with six or seven boards and a couple of assists.
This season in particular, he has played more minutes than anyone on the Bulls. And despite all the MVP buzz Derrick Rose is getting, Deng has to get credit for this team ranking among the Eastern Conference's best. He has been a mainstay in the rotation while Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have battled injuries, oftentimes guarding the opponent's best wing player and sometimes even handling power forward duties when Tom Thibodeau plays small.
Say what you want about the guy, but he has been a great Bulls player, and there's no doubt his place among the Chicago greats will only go up as this team gets better.
6. Toni Kukoc
Before skilled European seven-footers became commonplace in the NBA, there was Croatian wonder boy Toni Kukoc.
Drafted with the Bulls' abysmal second-round pick in 1990, Kukoc burst onto the scene upon Michael Jordan's (first) retirement and immediately became a valuable contributor alongside Scottie Pippen. During the 1993-1994 season he averaged a respectable 11 points, four rebounds and three assists per contest while feeling out the NBA game.
In his second season, he upped his scoring to more than 15 per contest, thanks to a field goal percentage of better than 50 percent. His rebounding and passing statistics also improved as his minutes increased by seven per game.
Of course, he's going to be best remembered as a fantastic sixth man during Chicago's second three-peat. He was named the Sixth Man of the Year just once, during the historic 1995-1996 season when the Bulls went 72-10. Ironically though, he actually improved in just about all areas of the game in the ensuing two seasons, and his statistics show it. Granted he started 52 games in 1997-1998, but in 1996-1997 he started fewer than in the previous season. I guess it was just a case of voter fatigue.
In the terrible years after the departure of Jordan, Pippen and Jackson, Kukoc stuck around as the best player the Bulls had. The man who taught us about Split, Croatia, nearly posted 20 points per game in 1998-1999, and in the following year was dealt midway through the season to the Philadelphia 76ers.
So overall, he's about on equal footing as where Deng is currently in his Bulls career, but Kukoc gets the nod for the three rings he helped bring to Chicago.
5. Dennis Rodman
I took major, major flack in my last rankings for placing Kukoc ahead of Rodman on the list of all-time great Chicago Bulls, and I've come to change my stance on the issue a bit after the reader comments.
The biggest criticism I had with Rodman was that he was just a hustler, just a rebounder and, most of all, just on the Bulls for three seasons. Kukoc was around after Jordan retired a first time and a second time, and he also scored more. So why should Rodman and his antics get so much credit?
Simple: He did all the dirty work that the aging Jordan and Pippen could not do as effectively. He helped grab boards away from some of the elite big men of the era (Karl Malone, Shawn Kemp, Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing, etc.). He frustrated the other team into making stupid mistakes that Jordan and Pippen would then punish them for on the offensive end.
I think about Joakim Noah on this current Bulls roster. Even though he's just the fourth option on offense, his ability to tip in missed shots, hustle for loose balls and get in the face of the opposition is part of the Bulls' identity. The same was the case for Rodman. He, Jordan and Pippen were all arguably among the top 10 defenders in the game during the second three-peat. When I get to Pippen you'll see just how high he ranks among the all-time great defenders.
Back to Rodman: The Worm averaged between 15 and 16 rebounds per game while on the Chicago Bulls. Those numbers are getting labelled as "ridiculous" nowadays with regards to Kevin Love, but Rodman was doing this his entire career. At his best in 1991-1992 he averaged 18.7 per contest. Yeah, mull that over for a second. He ranks 22nd in total career rebounds, and fifth in total offensive rebounds.
Am I slightly biased because he and the Bad Boy Pistons kept the Bulls from winning even more championships? Maybe. But considering his brief stint as a Bulls player, the team could not have asked for any more out of him.
4. Horace Grant
Why Horace Grant is nicknamed "The General" baffles me. OK, the connection to Ulysses S. Grant is clear, but Horace was never the first option on the Bulls, or even the second option.
But his physicality and his clear status as Chicago's third option during the first three-peat catapults him to number four on the all-time Bulls forwards list.
His stats are probably not going to wow you. In his seven seasons with the Bulls, he averaged double-digit points in each season but his rookie campaign. Rebounding-wise, he was a double-double threat every night, even averaging better than 10 boards per contest in both 1991-1992 and 1993-1994. He was also typically good for a block or two a night.
His stout defense and toughness helped the Bulls get over the hump against Rodman's Pistons, and also helped Chicago triumph over the Knicks with Oakley and Ewing, and the Suns in 1993 with league MVP Charles Barkley. Maybe it was the goggles that struck fear into the hearts of his opponents. Either way, he got the job done.
He had a long NBA career, and finished 45th all-time in total rebounds, 90th in total steals, 57th in blocks and 72nd in field goal percentage.
3. Chet Walker
For some of you, this is back to obscurity. For others, it's a refreshing reminder of Bulls history.
Chet Walker finished his playing days in Chicago from 1969-1975. He averaged more than 19 points in each of his six seasons with the Bulls, and earned four All-Star berths in the process. That recognition alone places him in some elite company in Bulls history.
Though not all the statistics that are recorded today were kept track of in Walker's time, one thing is quite clear from the numbers we do have: Walker could shoot the basketball. His field goal percentage constantly reached the upper 40s, and his free throw percentage was equally as impressive in the mid-'80s.
He played with other Bulls greats like Norm Van Lier, Jerry Sloan and Bob Love. And considering how good they all were, it's surprising these squads did not come closer to winning championships, or at least come to mind when thinking of the great Bulls squads.
Winning six championships in a single decade will tend to make people forget about you, unfortunately. That's why these lists exist.
2. Bob Love
Like I just mentioned, Bob Love was one of the best players on the Bulls teams in the 1970s. For his first six full seasons in Chicago, from 1969-1975, he put up more than 20 points per game, including two 25-plus point seasons. His performance earned him three All-Star appearances, two All-NBA Second Team nods and three All-NBA Defensive Second Teams, all while on the Bulls.
Clearly, as his scoring prowess and All-Defensive Team nominations show, he could perform on both sides of the basketball. He could shoot with both his left and his right hand, and was typically the go-to guy on Dick Motta's squad.
His number was the second to be retired by the Bulls organization, and he still is involved with the franchise as the Bulls Director of Community Relations. Though he ranks among the Bulls' best, his likelihood to make the Hall of Fame is doubtful.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame...
1. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen: The best second-best player of all-time. Hands down.
Let's start with a list of his accomplishments:
6x NBA Champion (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)
7x NBA All-Star (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)
1× NBA All-Star Game MVP (1994)
3× All-NBA First Team Selection (1994–1996)
2× All-NBA Second Team Selection (1992, 1997)
2× All-NBA Third Team Selection (1993, 1998)
8× NBA All-Defensive First Team Selection (1992–1999)
2× NBA All-Defensive Second Team Selection (1991, 2000)
Chicago Bulls #33 Retired
NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
52nd all-time in total points (18,940)
80th all-time in total rebounds (7,494)
26th all-time in total assists (6,135)
6th all-time in total steals (2,307)
88th all-time in total blocks (947)
42nd in career field goals (7,420)
66th in career three-point field goals (978)
To put it simply, those numbers are ridiculous. It would be an interesting hypothetical exercise to think about just how great Pippen could have been if he weren't paired with Jordan for the majority of his career. On the one hand, he benefited from Jordan taking so much attention on offense, but on the other hand, he definitely lost out on individual opportunities, as shown by the brief gap in the mid-1990s when he played without Jordan.
Still, it's widely acknowledged that Jordan needed Pippen just as much as Pippen needed Jordan. Pippen could defend literally every position on the basketball court, exemplified by his coverage of Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals. Just as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can often be scary when combining their athleticism with defensive intensity, Jordan, and Pippen in particular, made the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s one of the best defensive teams of the era.
His winning ways are obvious and speak for themselves. Basketball-Reference.com ranks Pippen No. 21 among all NBA players ever, well ahead of others like James Worthy, John Havlicek and George Mikan.
After the season Derrick Rose has been having, some fans are already proclaiming him as the best Bulls player since Jordan. That's simply not the case. For Rose to someday go down as the second-best player in Chicago Bulls history, I believe a lot of things must happen, including (1) winning at least two NBA Championships with the Bulls, (2) winning at least one Finals MVP and one regular season MVP and (3) making at least seven All-Star Game appearances. He already has Rookie of the Year under his belt and a starter in the FIBA World Championships, but he has a long way to go to come close to Pippen.
Just another example of the little love shown for the unsung hero of the Bulls six NBA Championships.