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Scottie Pippen Was One of a Kind Too

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IApril 21, 2020

CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 9: Scottie Pippen #33 of the Chicago Bulls goes for a dunk during the game during the 1997 NBA All-Star Game played on February 9, 1997 at Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andy Hayt/Getty Images

Throughout NBA history, there have been tons of versatile players, but no one has mastered being a jack of all trades quite like the 6'8" Scottie Pippen. He provided whatever the Chicago Bulls needed during their run of six titles in eight years. It was his ability to be a Swiss Army knife the likes of which the league had never seen that made him a Hall of Famer.

It is a mistake to look at Pippen as Michael Jordan's sidekick. He was more than that. He took the starring role for the Bulls when Jordan retired after the '93 championship, leading them in scoring (22.0 PPG), assists (5.6) and steals (2.9). He also finished second on the team in rebounds (8.7) and blocks (0.8). That season, he picked up the slack and led Chicago to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Pippen's resume is stacked beyond the six championships. Throughout his 17-year career, he made seven All-Star Games and won MVP in the 1994 game. He made seven All-NBA teams, three times making the first team. During the 1996-97 season, he was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.

Pippen could play in any offensive style, defend anyone who needed to be stopped and do it all while delivering wins.

       

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Running of the Bulls

Chicago was not an uptempo team, often finishing below the league average in pace. The Bulls were more of an opportunistic, fast-break team. When a moment would present itself, they would seize upon it like the bulls of Pamplona. Pippen had the rare ability to initiate the break, receive the outlet pass or finish a play.

In Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics, Pippen comes up with a steal and gets Chicago in transition and threads the needle with a bounce pass in between two defenders, finding a streaking a Jordan for the layup:

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During Game 3 of the 1998 Finals versus the Utah Jazz, Pippen leaks out when the shot goes up. Dennis Rodman grabs the rebound and fires a long outlet to Pippen, who does a great job making the difficult catch and hitting Scott Burrell with a touch pass just as he hits the ground:

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Off a blocked shot against the New York Knicks in the 1994 playoffs, Pippen explodes on Patrick Ewing in transition off the Pete Myers bounce pass for the dunk:

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This was just one facet of Pippen's game.

      

Half-Court Offense

The triangle offense is difficult for most players since it is based on players being able to make several reads versus running set plays. Pippen had a full grasp on the system with the proper understanding of where to be and how to make it work.

He could knock down jumpers, take his man off the dribble, make the right pass and, most importantly, do the right thing at the right time. He began to showcase those skills during the 1990-91 season when the Bulls won their first title.

In Game 3 of the 1991 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, he knocked down pull-up jumpers. Below, he drives by A.C. Green:

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Jordan was the first scoring option, but Pippen was always there to pick up the slack if defenses put too much attention on No. 23. While with the Bulls, he shot 48.1 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three and had an effective field-goal percentage of 50.8 percent. Inside or outside, he was a reliable option.

Pippen also had great court vision. Below in Game 2, he finds Horace Grant coming off a cross-screen and hits him with a high-low pass. Then he finds Cliff Levingston, who slips to the basket for a layup in Game 3 of the '91 Finals:

 

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In the Bulls' first three-peat ('91-'93), Pippen was a great facilitator of the triangle offense. During that time he averaged 6.5 assists, including a career-high 7.0 assists during the 1991-92 season. As a trigger man for Phil Jackson's offense, he was able to let Jordan be Jordan while making sure the ball moved around.

       

      

All-NBA Defense

In the '90s, there was no one as capable as Pippen to defend every position on the floor. He was the ultimate utility player for Jackson to deploy as needed. The Bulls could move him around to defend guards or centers or use him as a free safety.

For reference, Pippen's wingspan (7'3") was the same as Giannis Antetokounmpo's and three inches longer than LeBron James'. He used his length to read passing lanes or terrorize anyone who tried to score on him:

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In the 1991 Finals, Pippen harasses Magic Johnson as he brings the ball up the court. He meets him at half court, getting right into his body and never allowing him to get comfortable. On one play, Pippen's aggressive defense forces Johnson to change direction multiple times and eventually into a difficult layup right into the teeth of the help defense:

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Even in the post, teams struggled against Pippen. The Lakers set a cross-screen to get James Worthy involved. He is never able to gain post position, and Pippen pushes him well off the block all the way to the three-point line. Once Worthy does make the catch, he has to give it up or fall out of bounds and is up against the shot clock:

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Defensively, Pippen was everywhere. On or off the ball, his presence was felt by opposing offenses. Against the Utah Jazz, Jackson uses him as a free safety by having him guard the center and letting him cause havoc.

During Game 3 of the '98 Finals, Pippen comes over to double John Stockton at the start of the possession to blow up the set the Jazz try to run. Then he rotates over on Karl Malone's roll to the rim, sacrificing his body to draw the charge:

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Throughout his career, Pippen was voted to 10 All-Defensive teams, eight times to the first team. He was a key cog in the Bulls defense during their dynastic run. From the 1990-91 season to the 1997-98 season, the Bulls never finished out of the top 10 in defensive rating per 100 possessions.

In a single possession, Pippen could go from defending a guard to switching onto a big man and then making a rotation. His basketball IQ combined with his athleticism made him the ultimate weapon.

Pippen could play in uptempo systems, run the most complicated offenses and defend every position on the floor, and he knew exactly when to rotate over. No player has been a better jack of all trades.

    

Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.

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