The Forgotten Jordan-less Scottie Pippen


Scottie Pippen has and always will be remembered as the sidekick in all of Michael Jordan’s six NBA Finals runs.

Jordan had the bigger accolades, winning five MVP Awards, 10 scoring championships and becoming a 14x All-Star. Although Pippen’s accolades are less impressive — 8x All-Defensive First Team Member, 7x All-NBA Team Member and 7x All-Star all while making the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team — he still had a very monumental career. Many forget how elite of a player Pippen still was without having the likes of Michael Jordan as a teammate.

Central Arkansas (1984-1987)

Stats: 17.2 PPG 8.1 RPG 2.7 APG .563 FG%

The notion of Scottie Pippen not being a “great player” until he suited up with Jordan should all be put to rest after the effective career Pippen had in college at the University of Central Arkansas. Pippen was a 6’1 walk-on his freshman year and was a point guard long before he started his growth spurt in college. By his sophomore year, he had grown to 6’5 and was averaging 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Pippen’s junior year was very similar to his sophomore year, as he was the team’s leader in points and rebounds while being named to the NAIA All-American Team. As a senior, Pippen made the NAIA All-American Team once again with a very exceptional statline of 23.6 points, 10 rebounds and 4.2 steals per game. Being at Central Arkansas wouldn’t get most college stars many looks from NBA scouts, but Pippen made it inevitable for the NBA scouts to notice him with his amazing ability to play all five positions. NBA teams wouldn’t let the young, now 6’7 point forward pass by in the draft, as the Seattle Supersonics (later dealt to the Bulls) would select Pippen with the 5th overall pick in the 1987 draft.

Chicago Bulls (1993-95)

Stats: 21.8 PPG 8.5 RPG 6.0 APG .479 FG%

After making three All-Star games, two All-NBA teams and winning three NBA titles, Pippen would have to take the defending champions under his wing after Michael Jordan announced his first retirement from the NBA in 1993. While Michael Jordan was playing minor league baseball, Scottie Pippen would have his best NBA season averaging 22 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game. Pippen showed how much of an elite player he could be in the league, even without 3x MVP Michael Jordan leading the Bulls.

It would become clear that with 34-year-old Dominique Wilkins having his last dominant NBA season, Scottie Pippen would take the crown as the best small forward in the NBA. Earning his first All-NBA 1st team honor and finishing 3rd in MVP voting, the Chicago Bulls would finish with only two fewer wins (55) than the previous season and Pippen would bring them to the second round in a controversial series against the New York Knicks.

With the series tied 2-2, the Bulls were leading the Knicks 86-85 with under 10 seconds remaining in Game 5. Hubert Davis would attempt a shot defended by Pippen that could’ve been a no-call, but Hue Hollins whistled Pippen for a foul with 2.1 seconds left. Davis proceeded to knock down both free throws and the Bulls responded with a failed inbound pass to go down in the series 3-2.

The series would take an immediate shift, as the Bulls were able to force a Game 7, but they were nearly outrebounded in the win-or-go-home game by the Knicks’ frontcourt alone (Chicago 44 Reb, Ewing & Oakley 37 Reb). The Knicks would take full advantage of this, finishing off the Bulls 87-77 to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Scottie Pippen would have another convincing season, leading the Bulls in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, being the second of four players to do so in a season (Dave Cowens, Kevin Garnett & LeBron James). He earned another All-NBA First Team honor, as well as an All-Defensive First Team honor and finish first in steals in the NBA. Pippen could’ve possibly had his second consecutive season being in the top 10 in points per game in the NBA, if it weren’t for Michael Jordan making his way back into the NBA with 17 games left in the season. Chicago made the playoffs as a 5th seed, but bowed out in the second round again, this time to the Shaquille O’Neal-led Magic in six.

Houston Rockets (1998-1999)

Stats: 14.5 PPG 6.5 RPG 5.9 APG .432 FG%

With Michael Jordan making his second retirement, 6x champion Scottie Pippen would be involved in a trade to Houston, teaming up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. Despite being past their primes at ages 33+, they still managed the 5th-best record in the Western Conference, but Pippen would fall to Shaq for a second time, this time to the Lakers in four games. With the chemistry was not there for Houston’s aged lineup, Pippen would demand a trade and end up in Portland.

Portland Trail Blazers (1999-2003)

Stats: 11.4 PPG 5.3 RPG 5.0 APG .440 FG%

As the 1999-2000 season approached, it was clear that Scottie Pippen was no longer the scoring threat he once was (12.5 PPG). He remained a starter for the Blazers, however, and reminded the league he was still one of the premier defenders, making the All-Defensive Second team. Pippen would play alongside Rasheed Wallace and Steve Smith to take the Blazers to a 59-23 record. They would dominate the first two rounds with only two losses, setting up a gauntlet the Western Conference Finals against NBA MVP Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers.

The series was back and forth until the Blazers looked like they were on their way to the NBA Finals with a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Pippen’s former coach, Phil Jackson, had one of the NBA’s best duos in the aforementioned Shaq and young star Kobe Bryant that mounted one of the best comebacks in NBA history, handing Scottie Pippen’s Blazers one of the worst fourth-quarter meltdowns in NBA history.

Portland’s chemistry wouldn’t click that well again, dropping down four seeds to seventh in the West. Pippen had another declining season (11.3 PPG), but he still produced as a 35-year-old starter, even with elbow tendinitis sidelining him 18 games.

As if Pippen hadn’t had enough playoff losses to Shaq, he would unfortunately have to face the future three-peating Lakers for the next two years in the first round, being swept both times. His last year in Portland would come up short too, as the Blazers — despite winning three straight down 3-0 in the first round — fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the winner-take-all Game 7.

Chicago Bulls (2003-2004)

Stats: 5.9 PPG 3.0 RPG 2.2 APG .379 FG%

With Scottie Pippen on his last leg, it was only right to end his career where he won his six titles and had his best years of his 17-year career. Pippen would take a veteran role for the Bulls that was anything less of impressive since Pippen’s departure and Jordan’s retirement from Chicago. Pippen would face numerous injuries, appearing in only 23 games that season before retiring in 2004.

Scottie Remains Vastly Underrated

Scottie Pippen’s career is one that is highly underrated in the sports world. His titles are looked at as Jordan’s accolades, rather than his own, which is preposterous to say the least. Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players we will ever see in sports, but to diminish Pippen’s greatness only to enlarge Jordan’s is just specious and fraudulent.

When those 90’s championship Chicago Bulls teams are brought up in history, it’s important to note that, yes, Jordan was without a doubt the best scorer on the team and in the league. He held such a big haul offensively that other players won’t ever be able to match. Even with Jordan’s charismatic skills, those couldn’t get him out of the first round alone (1-9 in the playoffs before teaming up with Pippen). Pippen was a bigger defensive presence than any other superstar comparable to him has ever had in their championship runs. If Pippen was just another great scorer and an average defender, the Bulls would run up the score, but continue to allow Karl Malone or Clyde Drexler — both who Scottie guarded in the finals — tear up the opposing team’s defender and run up the score as well.

Scottie Pippen played with his greatest teams while teamed up with Michael Jordan, but his success without Jordan must not be forgotten either. In Pippen’s seven seasons without Jordan, he only missed the playoffs once. He has also managed to make one more conference finals appearance than Jordan, along with more playoff wins at 136 to Jordan’s 119. Pippen has made one more All-Defensive team than Jordan and continued to be a force in Jordan’s absence from the Bulls.

Even when Pippen was in his 30s, he managed to be a great contributor to five other playoff teams. Their records without each other in the playoffs are both sub-.500 (Jordan 1-9, Pippen 20-23). Even though Pippen’s record is more superior to Jordan’s and it’s clear who was the leader of their championship teams, Jordan needed Pippen just as bad as Pippen needed Jordan.

The old saying, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships,” applies more to the Bulls than any other championship team. Michael Jordan will always be the flashy guy who scored 63 points in a playoff game and hit the last-second shots to win, but Scottie Pippen was the defender that was able make the crucial stop, providing MJ with opportunities in crunch time.

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About Juwan M. Davis

Editor/Writer for NBALEAD. Born and raised in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Living in Los Angeles. Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Twitter: @JuwanMalikDavis

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