Kobe Bryant: Were His First 3 Rings More Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2011

21 Apr 2002:  Scottie Pippen #33 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers battle for a jump ball during round one of the 2002 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  DIGITAL IMAGE NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees 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 2002 NBAE Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

There's no question about Kobe Bryant deserving all five of his rings—he absolutely does. The question is whether he deserves the most credit for those rings, as much credit or more credit than anyone else on the team. Was he more "Michael Jordan" as some claim, or was he more "Scottie Pippen" as others do?

I feel the need to be deliberately redundant as some are going to have an immediate, knee-jerk reaction and say that Bryant won five rings and I'm trying to "take them away" from him. I'm not. Again, Bryant deserves every one of the five rings he wears. He was a crucial aspect of the team for every one of them. 

However the same can be said for every one of Scottie Pippen's six rings. He was also a critical element to every one of the Bulls' wins. If you feel that by considering whether Bryant was more "Pippen" for his first three rings I'm taking them away from him, I'd say that you are trying to take away all six of Pippen's rings. 

Let's instead of erecting straw agree that both players earned every one of their rings. 

At the same time, let's agree that not that every player on every team deserves equal credit for every ring. Derek Fisher's "five rings" are not the same as Bryant's "five rings" even though they came on the exact same teams. Bryant did more than Fisher to win those rings. 

Bryant was one of the two most important players on all five of the championship teams. So was Pippen for all six of his. The only question here is whether Kobe was the most important player or the second-most important player. 

I feel that to make a fair comparison the first thing we need to do is give more evaluation of Pippen. People too often try and relegate him to some sort of second-class star status, and understate his value not only to the Bulls but as a player period. 

To put things in perspective, over the span that the Bulls won their six championships from 1991-1998, Pippen had 87.4 Win Shares, which was seventh-best in the NBA. His PER was 21.0, 13th-best in the NBA.

He had the 26th-most rebounds, the 11th-most assists and 10th-most points. He was seventh in total stats (PTS+TRB+AST). No player in the NBA over that time frame, not even Jordan, surpassed Pippen's totals in all three categories.  

He was also fourth in steals and 19th in blocked shots. He was also named to the All-Defense team on eight occasions. 

He did all of that as a second option for the majority of the time. Being compared to Pippen is an honor, not an insult. 

Below are three sets of numbers. These are the regular-season stats for Kobe for the first three rings and how they compare with Pippen's for his first run, and his second run. 

Player

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

TOT

WS

PER

Jordan, 91-93

6.4

5.7

2.6

0.9

2.5

31.4

47

55.3

29.7

Pippen, 91-93

7.5

6.5

2.1

1.1

3

19.1

36.3

32.5

20.4

Jordan, 96-98

6.1

4

1.9

0.5

2.2

29.6

42.1

54.5

27.4

Pippen, 96-98

6.2

5.8

1.8

0.7

2.6

19.7

34.2

32.0

21.0

O'Neal, 00-02

12.4

3.5

0.6

2.6

2.8

28.6

47.7

46.8

30.2

Bryant, 00-02

5.9

5.1

1.6

0.7

2.9

25.4

38.7

34.7

23.2

Some will accurately point out that for Bryant's second and third rings he played a more important role than for the first and that he and Shaq had equal value. Here are the comparative numbers for just '01 and '02. 

Player

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

TOT

PER

WS

Shaquille O'Neal

11.7

3.4

0.6

2.4

2.8

28

46.1

30

28.1

Kobe Bryant

5.7

5.2

1.6

0.5

3

26.7

39.7

23.8

24.1

While it's clear that Bryant is slightly better in those years than he was in 2000, it's also apparent that O'Neal was still playing at a higher level. 

It's also apparent that the prevailing view was that it was O'Neal's team, not a co-owned team. Bryant finished 12th in MVP voting in 2000, ninth in 2001 and fifth in 2002. In '00 Shaq won, in '01 and '02 he finished third. 

Similarly Pippen finished ninth in '92, fifth in '96, 11th in '97 and 10th in '98. In '92, '96 and '98 Jordan won. In '97 Jordan finished second. 

So the question is whether Bryant was the most important player or the second-most important player. In terms of both statistical production and the general perception (as evidenced by the MVP voting), Bryant was the second-best player on the team.

In terms of his comparison to Pippen, it's worth mentioning that overall his numbers are better than Pippen's. They are much closer to Pippen's than they are to Jordan's, or for that matter Shaq's. 

Now some will argue that the numbers don't fully reflect Kobe's importance or his role in the finals. In 2000, Shaq averaged 38 points in the finals to Kobe's 15.6. In 2001, Shaq averaged 33 to Bryant's 24.6. In 2002, Shaq averaged 36.8 to Bryant's 26.8.

Some will argue that Kobe's importance down the stretch made him as valuable. It's hard to accept that it's worth enough to compensate for such a large statistical imbalance though. Statistically, Shaq was clearly at a different level in the finals.

I'd also point out that the same can be said that many of Pippen's contributions are not fully recognized by the stats either, such as his blanketing defense of Magic Johnson in the '91 finals.

In the end, you make an argument that Bryant did a bit more in his first rings than Pippen did, but it wasn't close to what Jordan did. He wasn't the best player on his team, but he was a crucial cog—the same as Pippen. You can say his performance was a little more than Pippen, but it was still more Pippen than Jordan.  

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