Kobe Bryant vs. Scottie Pippen: Who Was Better in Their First 4 Seasons?
We know it took Kobe Bryant four years to win his first title, but many do not realize it took Pippen the same amount of time.
Similarly, Kobe and Pippen won three straight titles once they got there. Also similar is that each of them was second in Finals MVP voting for their respective teams in the three-peats, because each of them had one of the most dominant players ever on their team: Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan.
The similarities between how Bryant’s and Pippen’s careers started are notable.
Both players averaged just under eight points per game off the bench, and neither were anything like the player they would later become.
Bryant was 18 as a rookie and Pippen was 22, coming out of Central Arkansas.
Lately, Pippen has actually been used against the true teacher of his game—Michael Jordan—as an attempt to minimize Jordan’s six championships.
I contend that Pippen in no way was a player who would bring Jordan titles, but I did always see him as a player who truly listened closely to Michael and did what he said.
Bryant, on the other hand, did not learn the game from Shaq. As is now evident, he may have learned much of his game from the greatest player ever as well!
In this slideshow we compare Bryant's and Pippen’s first four years in the league, and we see how they developed into complementary players for their team’s focal point.
No one—not Jordan, not Shaq, not Magic, not Wilt, not Russell, not Kareem and not Bird—could ever win a title alone (although Jordan did try by scoring the most points ever made in a playoff game with 63, but even that was a failure of an effort). This is a five-man game.
Kobe and Scottie Developed Slowly but Jordan and Shaq Were Dominant as Rookies
It is worth mentioning that Pippen's and Bryant’s first four years could not compete with Jordan and O’Neal’s rookie years.
Regardless of age, the dominating players came out with panache and minute-worthy skill, and both were named Rookie of the Year.
Jordan scored 28.2 points per game and shot 52 percent from the field and 85 percent from the line.
He also grabbed 6.5 rebounds, dished it for 5.9 assists and stole it 2.4 times a night.
O’Neal averaged 23.4 points per game and added 13.9 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game while making 56 percent of his field goals and 59 percent from the line.
No Rookie Excuses
Bryant was truly an exceptional 18-year-old for even making it to the NBA.
Unfortunately for people who would hope he might be considered the greatest player, being in the NBA at 18 will only hurt your career stats, and not going to college potentially hurts shooting.
Nevertheless, no one’s stats are discounted because you are 18 or 19.
You’re in the NBA by choice, and everything counts.
Pippen was 22 and came from a small college.
He was a shy person, and the skills that people know him for were in no way evident his rookie year.
After Pippen’s first season, Michael Jordan took him to summer training and essentially put the young man’s game through the wringer.
Pippen worked hard, but everyone on Jordan’s team had to work hard or they would be gone.
Jordan had a way of attacking teammates that didn’t play hard, and that is exactly how the Bulls were since Jordan’s rookie year, no one really cared except MJ.
By 1991, the Bulls had a whole new team, aside from Paxson.
Lakers/Bulls Rookie Year Preface
As a rookie, Bryant came onto a team that had just acquired Shaq from Orlando, where he had taken the Magic to the Finals in 1995 but lost.
It was 1996-97 and L.A. had quite an awesome roster, which included O’Neal, Nick Van Exel, Byron Scott, Jerome Kersey, Eddie Jones, Robert Horry, Cedric Ceballos and fellow rookie Derek Fisher.
Pippen came onto the Bulls in 1987-88.
The team had Michael Jordan and 16th-year player Artis Gilmore, Dave Corzine, Charles Oakley, Brad Sellers, John Paxson, Rory Sparrow and Elston Turner.
The Bulls managed to finish 50-32 despite having only one great player. Pippen had nothing to do with it.
The Bulls lost in the second round, four games to one vs. Detroit.
The Truly Below-Average Rookies
As for Kobe and Scottie, they were both average, run-of-the-mill rookies.
Kobe played in 71 games and averaged 15.5 minutes a night.
He shot a dismal 41.7 percent from the field and added 1.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks to go with his 7.6 points per night.
His rookie season forever took him out of any G.O.A.T. question.
No one who would be considered the greatest player ever would ever average seven points and 15 minutes in a season. Also, to this day, not for one regular or post season has Kobe ever yet at least half od his shots. Now, really, tell me, how could a person who has not once hit even half of his shots even be considered GOAT? Kobe's career high from the field is 46.9%. The greatest ever basketball player would have to be able to do 50%,at least five times in 15, or they wouldn't be that great. In trhe end this game is ALL about hitting the shots. That is why it is called basketball. You gotta make the ball go into the basket. Also they would have to make a high percentage of free throws. They are FREE shots, and the greatest player ever would hit them, by the definition of the word great. There goes Wilt and Shaq, who both shot 50% from the line for their careers. Also the greatest ever could do anything on the court. Can you imagine Jabbar trying to dribble the ball alot? Sorry Kareem but if you can't dribble down the court without it being taken pretty much every time how would that equate greatest ever by the actual definition of the words?
Yes, Kobe an 18-year-old rookie, but the fact stands regardless, There can be no excuses when talking about the greatest of the great.
For the record—in Kobe’s rookie year, Shaq averaged 26.2 points per game in 38.1 minutes and also grabbed 12.5 rebounds dished it for 3.1 assists and added 2.9 blocks.
Shaq was the main ingredient in the 2000-2002 titles from the beginning. But in 1997 it was Jordan and the Bulls that won the title.
Pippen averaged 20.9 minutes per night and shot 46.3 percent from the field.
He added 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals per night to go with his 7.9 pts per game.
Same goes for Pippen on the G.O.A.T. issue: no chance.
In Pippen’s rookie year, Michael Jordan was amazing with 35.0 points per game on 54 percent shooting and 84 percent from the line. He also added 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.2 steals per game and an-all time guard high 1.6 blocks per game.
He was NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, led the league in scoring (only player to ever be best in offense and in defense in same season) and was All-Star MVP.
Pippen saved Jordan? Not even close.
After the season, Jordan took Pippen to summer practice every day. Soon, Pippen somehow got better in all of Michael’s ways.
Advantage: Scottie Pippen.
Yeah, his team had worse players and he got more total minutes, but he produced more per minute on the floor regardless.
By Kobe’s second season he had improved slightly, mostly due to minutes played.
His shot got a little better, and he played 26 minutes a night in 79 games.
His field goal percentage went up to 42.8 percent, and he added 3.1 rebs, 2.5 assists and 15.4 points per game.
There were no big changes to the roster, but the Lakers went 61-21 and lost in the W. Conf. Finals 4-0.
On the season, Shaq put in 28.3 points per game, 11.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 blocks. Jordan and the Bulls won the NBA title that year.
Pippen saw improvement through directly working with Michael all summer and during practice. Jordan hooked the dude up.
Pippen came out and played 33.1 minutes per night and averaged 14.4 points per game. He shot 47.6 percent from the field and added 6.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
The Bulls got rid of Oakley and brought in Cartwright. Also, Horace Grant was getting better in his second season.
They also added Craig Hodges and Will Perdue. The Bulls finished at only 47-35 but made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to Detroit.
Of course, Jordan actually could not be stopped by Detroit as he scored at will, but the rest of the players (including Pippen) could not pull it together.
Jordan averaged 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2.9 steals a game and he shot 54 percent from the field.
Advantage: Scottie Pippen. He played six more minutes a night but by far outrebounded, assisted and stole the ball more than Kobe.
As we see, the Bulls changed completely in 1989, and all five new players were on the 1991 Finals team. So, the whole theory that Jordan couldn’t do it without Pip goes out the door. All five of these new guys helped Jordan do it: Grant, Pip, Cart, Hodges and Perdue. They still had Paxson too.
Pippen saved Jordan?
In his first two seasons ('97 and '98) Kobe saw MJ and the Bulls take home the title twice, and he also saw MJ win two Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP and two scoring titles.
It is amazing that in Kobe’s first two seasons, Jordan won as many Finals MVPs, NBA MVPs and scoring titles as Kobe has in his whole 15-year career.
And some people think he’s up there with Jordan?
Third's a Charm? Maybe Not.
Kobe’s third season hit in the strike-shortened season, and Jordan was out of the league.
A new champ had to arise.
Bryant once again improved by playing 38 minutes a game in the 50-game season.
He averaged 19.9 points per game and shot 46.5 percent from the field.
Bryant added 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals and one block per game.
Shaq added 26.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
The Lakers picked up Glen Rice, Derek Harper, Rick Fox, JR Reid and got rid of Van Exel. They nevertheless lost in Round 2, being swept by San Antonio.
Pippen’s third year was also one of improvement.
He played 38 minutes also, in 82 games. He averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.2 blocks. He shot 48.9 percent from the field.
The Bulls added B.J. Armstrong and Stacey King and went 55-27, eventually losing to Detroit in the E. Conf. Finals.
Since Pippen's and Grant’s rookie year, the Bulls had changed their roster by seven new players, all of whom contributed to the upcoming three-peat.
Pippen was part of it, but Jordan was the reason. Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.9 rebs, 6.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game on 53 percent from the field.
Advantage: Scottie Pippen. Pippen averaged three points less than Kobe in his third season, but he added way more rebounds, way more assists and a giant amount more of steals and blocks.
It looks as though we should have been comparing Kobe to Pippen all these years—not MJ.
The sidekicks developed at a similar pace, but Jordan cannot be touched by either, or even Shaq.
Pippen vs. Kobe: Pretty Darn Close in First Four Seasons
Kobe in year four: 66 gp, 38.2 minutes per, .468 fg%, 6.3 reb, 4.9 ast, 1.6 stl, 0.9 blk, 22.5 ppg
Pippen: 82 gp, 36.8 minutes per, .520fg%, 7.3 reb, 6.2 ast, 2.4 stl, 1.1 block, 17.8 ppg
Pippen had a greater scorer in MJ than KB had in Shaq, so it looks like Pippen was better in his first four seasons than Kobe. Kobe averaged 22.5 pts but Pip shot way better and wasn't needed to score so much. Also Pip had more of every other stat in every category in less minutes.
Sure, Kobe went on to score more than Pippen for the rest of his career, but Pippen won three more titles and Kobe has only won two.
Could it be that Kobe Bryant is much closer to Pippen than he ever was to Jordan?
No—actually, in his first four seasons, Kobe wasn’t even as good as Pippen.
Advantage - Pippen all four times.
From Grant's and Pip's Rookie Year 10 of 12 Players in 1991 Were New on Bulls
Regardless, this history shows without doubt that Scottie Pippen in no way was the sole reason for Michael Jordan winning any of his six titles.
In fact, since Pippen was a rookie averaging 7.9 points, the Bulls had switched 10 players.
Next time you are tempted to say Jordan couldn’t do it without Pippen, just remember that Jordan could not have done it without Bulls management drastically changing the entire organization, which began when Michael Jordan started yelling at his original teammates for not putting in the effort. By 1991 they were all, but Paxson, gone.
In 1987 it was Granville Waiters, Dave Corzine, Mike Brown, Brad Sellers, Charles Oakley, Darren Daye, Elston Turner, John Paxson, Michael Jordan, Gene Banks, Perry Young and Steve Colter.
In 1991 it was Cartwright, Perdue, King, Williams, Grant, Pippen, Levingston, Jordan, Hopson, Hodges, Armstrong, Paxson.
SORRY PEOPLE IT WASN'T PIPPEN IT WAS THE COMPLETELY ALTERED TEAM.
Also, remember that Pippen came into the league as a bench player, and through Michael Jordan’s determination in helping Pippen each offseason and in practice, he improved a little each year.
He improved in every category that Michael Jordan had already mastered as a rookie. By the way in Kobe and Scottie's first season as a champion (2000) Shaq averaged 29.7 ppg, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 57% from the field. In Pippen's first year as a champ Michael averaged 31.5 points, 6 rebs, 5.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 block. Both Shaq and MJ were named NBA Regular and Finals MVP and they each led the league in scoring in Kobe's and Pippen's first ever title year...and for both of them...the second and third. If Kobe and Pip don't know who was main man on the team they must not have been paying attention.
How else do you think Pippen was such a versatile small forward? He learned right off Mike and Pip's numbers were up there but he scored way less. Pip was a bad shooter usually. In all six title runs for MJ I never truly trusted Pippen on offense. MJ was the way to go for sure.
Pip was the favorite student of the greatest, but he himself came into the league as nothing special.
Jordan Inspired an Entire Generation, and Beyond; KB and SP Included
As for Kobe Bryant, isn’t it ironic that not only did he also average seven points as a rookie off the bench, but he also improved at just about the same rate that Pippen did at first?
Most ironic of all is that Kobe also essentially learned his game, as Pippen did, off the single greatest player in the history of this league.
Shaq? He was a beast on his own, and no one else in this story taught him a thing about dominating games or winning titles.