Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #23
In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).
Vinny Ginardi: When we were deciding the order of this list, I ranked Scottie Pippen higher than 23. In fact, I had him in the top 20. Here’s why:
Pippen is widely regarded as the best perimeter defender to ever play. Which is why it is a shame that he never won the Defensive Player of the Year award (the award fairly or unfairly usually goes to a center). In a ten year span (1991-2000) Pippen made the All-Defensive First Team eight times and All-Defensive Second Team twice. If I had to pick any one player to guard the one of the best perimeter scorers in league history (Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, etc.), I would pick Pippen.
Outside of his defensive prowess, Pippen also filled up every other stat category. He could score (averaged 20.4 points per game from 1992-97), rebound (averaged seven rebounds or more five different times), and set up baskets for teammates (averaged five assists or more 12 different times). He’s a six-time NBA champion and was named to an All-NBA team eight different times.
Critics may undervalue Pippen just because he had the luxury of playing alongside Michael Jordan. There is no denying that Jordan was the major reason behind the Bulls six titles, but that is not enough of a reason to dismiss Pippen as one of the game’s greats. Let’s not forget, the year after Jordan retired (the first time), the Bulls finished with just two wins less than the year before and were a blown call away from reaching the NBA Finals. The main reason? Pippen averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.6 points per game. Had the Bulls reached the Finals that year, would we give more credit to Pippen and maybe take a little bit away from Jordan? Probably, but we will never know for sure.
This much I do know for sure: In every sense, Pippen is one of the most well-rounded players the game has ever seen.
Greg Kaplan: If Vinny is going to be honest about where he ranks Pippen all-time, I’ll have to be honest about where I originally placed him. I really didn’t believe that, upon first glance, Pippen was enough of a candidate to crack a list of the Top 25 players of all-time.
Pippen’s career, fair or unfair, is forever linked to that of Michael Jordan’s. He was that other great player on those dominant Chicago Bulls teams. That title clouds a lot of the judgement that you place to Pippen. He was Robin to Jordan’s Batman. All his titles came when he was with Jordan. He made his name playing with Jordan. Jordan Jordan Jordan Jordan.
However, taking a harder look back at Pippen’s career, simply grouping him with Jordan proves to be an unfair judgement of one of the best players in the history of the game. Vinny’s right when he places Pippen into the upper echelon of NBA defenders, and took a lot of the defensive pressure off the shoulders of Jordan to allow him to succeed at what he did best.
One of my favorite Pippen stats that underscores his importance on the basket court: five different times in his playoff career, Scottie Pippen led all post-season eligible players in steals. He posted a career-best 47 steals in only 18 playoff games in the ’95-’96 season. One season in which he didn’t lead post-season players in steals, he still swiped 41 in 22 games.
Point blank, if you had the ball in your hands when it matter most, the last guy in the history of the game you wanted to see as you crossed half court before you got to the 3-point arc was Scottie Pippen. That type of player, easily, climbs into our Top 25.