Why Scottie Pippen Is a Top-20 Player in NBA History

Joseph Fafinski@Joseph FafinskiCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2011

29 Mar 1994:  Forward Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls moves down the court during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the CoreStates Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The Bulls won the game, 106-103. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /All
29 Mar 1994: Forward Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls moves down the court during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the CoreStates Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bulls won the game, 106-103. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /All


It's a word that has been associated with Scottie Maurice Pippen over the last 20-plus years.

And to be quite frank, it's both unfair and deceitful at the same time. Anyone would've been considered a sidekick to the immortal Michael Jordan.

While we can safely pin Jordan as the greatest basketball player to ever play the game, Scottie Pippen's undoubtedly deserves a top-20 spot at the least.

He excelled at nearly every facet of the game and should be considered one of the best players throughout the '90s. What other player had nine All-Defensive selections and seven All-Star appearances throughout the decade? Oh yeah, that's right—no one.

Doubters of Pippen's top-20 standing love to point to the fact that the Central Arkansas product never won a championship without Jordan. Conversely, when did his Airness win a title without his right-hand man?

In fact, during those first three years Jordan played without Pippen to begin his career, his Bulls teams had an absolutely pathetic 1-9 postseason record. They never made it past the first round.

How did the Bulls do with Pippen but not Jordan?

In one postseason with Pip as leader, 1994, the Bulls swept the Cavaliers in the first round before losing a Game 7 at the Madison Square Garden. That's a record of seven wins and four defeats. Is it just me or does seem better than Jordan's Pippen-less 1-9 clip?

I'm not saying Jordan was the worse player (because, quite frankly, that'd be considered a first-degree crime in Illinois), but NBA junkies always diminish Pippen's accomplishments. After all, did you know he is one of two players in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals over the course of a season?

Outside of Michael himself, was there a player during the '90s who had a better overall game than Scottie? He could shoot, pass, steal, and defend as well as any All-Star during the decade.

Pippen is widely regarded as one of the best defenders ever. I'd go ahead and call him second-best (I can't put him over Bill Russell for two reasons: one, we have to rely on old-timers and the limited tape we have, and we all know the poetic waxing over his astounding D will never end; and two, because it just seems downright sacrilege to the game of basketball to diminish its' greatest pioneer and his accomplishments) of all-time.

Not only was he known for his on-ball and perimeter defense, Pippen was one of the surest sources of steals during his prime. He led the NBA in steals per game with three during the '94-'95 season and was known as one of the league's best in that department. His 2.0 career clip is even more impressive when you consider that he was a 6'8 forward.

Another thing Pippen could do that was Jesus Shuttlesworth-esque for a guy his size was pass. He played point forward better than any player during his era (and that includes Michael). This led to an impressive assists per game average for the small forward. He dished out at least five per contest in every season from '89 to '00. The only other player to do that? John Stockton.

It's not like he couldn't score, either. In four separate seasons he put up better than 20 on the scoreboard each night.

One thing that also must be noted is that Scottie was on a mission to rebound the basketball. He played this part with selflessness time after time. He grabbed better than seven boards per game in four separate seasons, topping out with an 8.7 average during the 1993-94 season.

In addition to everything mentioned about his overall game, one thing that doesn't go in the stat books was his basketball IQ. He was selfish and did anything that was asked of him, even if he wasn't top dog almost all of the time.

I think Scottie himself said his best: "Sometimes a player's greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team." Who wouldn't want this guy as a teammate? Heck, who wouldn't cheer for this guy? Oh wait, maybe the players he defended would have something to say about that.

Instead of filling up the remaining space of this article with more ways in which Pippen dominated the game of basketball, I'll let his peers and coaches do the rest of the talking.

“He showed a remarkable amount of capabilities playing the guard position given his size,” said Jackson. “He also demonstrated a tremendous level of activity on both ends of the floor and fast breaks. Defensively, you could see he had a great deal of talent.”

--Phil Jackson

"During the 1992 Olympics, Chuck Daly called Scottie his second-best player, describing him as the ultimate 'fill-in-the-blanks guy.' That's right."

--Bill Simmons


See? Scottie Pippen was great.

If you had any respect for the guy at all, and realized his differences from Michael, you'll be willing to call him a top-20 player of all-time.

After all, it's the least you could do after all those years you kept saying "he could never do anything without Michael."

That being said, I think it's safe to say that almost anyone would've played sidekick to the almighty Scottie Pippen.

Joseph Fafinski is a Featured Columnist for the NBA and the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you enjoyed his ramblings, you'll enjoy more third-person speak on his Twitter @JosephFafinski.


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