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Friday, December 09, 2005

Scottie Pippen's Place in Basketball History

In 1996 Scottie Pippen was selected as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. Some dissenters at that time felt that Pippen rode Michael Jordan's coattails to that honor and their voices grew louder and bolder when Pippen did not lead Houston or Portland to an NBA title. Of course, Pippen was past his prime in those seasons and Jordan never advanced to the second round of the playoffs without Pippen by his side.

In the February 2002 issue of Basketball Digest, my "Digits" column titled "Pro Basketball's Five-Tool Players" looked at the only three players in NBA/ABA history who ever led their teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same season--Julius Erving (1975-76 New York Nets), Dave Cowens (1977-78 Boston Celtics) and Scottie Pippen (1994-95 Chicago Bulls); Kevin Garnett joined this exclusive club in 2002-03. Here is an excerpt from that article:

"In recent seasons it has become chic in some quarters to suggest that Pippen is not that great of a player without Jordan. While Pippen's numbers in one season with the Houston Rockets and two-plus campaigns with the Portland Trail Blazers do not equal his statistics with the Bulls, this comparison fails to take into account Pippen's age (36) and several injuries (back, foot, elbow) that have curtailed his athleticism since the disbanding of the Bulls.

The Bulls were not considered to be contenders after Jordan's shocking retirement announcement before the start of the 1993-94 season. Their 4-7 record out of the gate seemed to confirm this notion, but Pippen missed several of those games due to the lingering effects of offseason ankle surgery. When Pippen returned to the lineup the Bulls immediately became one of the top teams in the league, finishing the year 55-27, only two games worse than the season before. Pippen won the All-Star Game MVP, finished third in regular season MVP balloting and fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting and made the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams. Foreshadowing his 'five-tool' effort in 1994-95, during the playoffs Pippen led the Bulls in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and three pointers made while finishing third on the team in blocked shots.

In 1994-95 Horace Grant left the Bulls for the Orlando Magic, John Paxson retired and Bill Cartwright signed with the Seattle SuperSonics. Starting center Luc Longley missed the first 22 games of the season with a stress fracture in his left leg, during which time the Bulls went 11-11.

While the Bulls did not immediately drop off the map after Jordan's retirement, they did slide toward mediocrity when the loss of Jordan was compounded by the absence of other players. When Jordan returned to the team toward the end of the 1994-95 season the Bulls were 34-31, although they had won eight of the previous 10 games as Longley rejoined the lineup.

With Jordan, the team finished 13-4 down the stretch and lost to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (the same round of the playoffs that the Bulls had reached without Jordan the year before). Jordan fully returned to form by the following season and the addition of Dennis Rodman to replace Horace Grant paved the way for three more championships.

After the 1994-95 season, Pippen finished seventh in MVP voting, again made the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams and was selected 'Best All-Around Player' in the NBA in a poll of players, coaches, trainers and general managers conducted by USA Today.

Here is what I wrote about Pippen in "Overlooked and Underrated," my February 2004 Basketball Digest article about four forwards who deserve more recognition (Maurice Stokes, Roger Brown, Mark Aguirre and Pippen; Stokes, who was not in the Basketball Hall of Fame when I submitted the article, received his long overdue induction later that year):

"It is interesting and revealing that teammates, opponents and coaches consistently praise Pippen. Phil Jackson, his coach with the six-time champion Chicago Bulls, declares, 'Scottie was our team leader. He was the guy that directed our offense and he was the guy that took on a lot of big challenges defensively...the year that Michael retired, Scottie I think was the most valuable player in the league.' Former teammate and current Bulls coach Bill Cartwright flatly states that Pippen 'was as much a part of winning the championships as MJ. I don't think it would have gotten done without him.'

Last year, Sacramento Kings star Chris Webber declared, 'Pip is the most underrated player in the game.' Around the same time, Portland Trail Blazers' assistant Jim Lynam called Pippen 'an indescribably great player,' adding 'I knew the guy was good, but I had no idea how good.'

Memphis Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown breaks it down scientifically: 'He's 6-8 and he can see over the defense, which is a major advantage for a point guard. He also doesn't rush anything. You don't see Portland running back downcourt and forcing threes. You don't see them trying to get the ball in the paint and wasting so much time that two options of a play are already gone. He has a presence.'

The Oregonian selected the 37-year old Pippen as the midseason MVP of the resurgent 2002-03 Blazers: 'Statistics don't tell the whole story with Pippen, whose ability to guard anyone from Atlanta Hawks power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker to Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce has given the Blazers incredible versatility.'"

The Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith covered Pippen's entire career with the Bulls. In his recent column about Pippen's place in basketball history, Smith wrote:

"Jordan always felt Pippen was something special," longtime Bulls assistant Tex Winter said. "Michael realized how easy it was to play with him and how he helped make his teammates better. It's often said Jordan needed Pippen and Pippen needed Jordan. I'm not sure Jordan didn't need Pippen more than Pippen needed Jordan."

posted by David Friedman @ 11:06 PM



At Tuesday, June 08, 2010 3:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best article I have ever read about Scottie Pippen!!


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