Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is ranking the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player No. 33, Scottie Pippen.
Scottie Pippen’s career highlights:
- Seven-time All-Star
- Three-time first-team-All-NBA, two-time second team, two-time third team
- Eight-time all-defensive first team, two-time second team
- 1995 steals champion
Scottie Pippen was the only All-Star Michael Jordan ever played with. Over just 10 seasons, they formed the winningest duo of the last 50 years. While there was no mistaking the pecking order between the two Bulls legends, history hasn’t quite known what to do with Pippen’s contributions.
Their skill sets, like their primes, overlapped almost entirely. Two years Jordan’s junior, Pippen was taller, longer, equally strong, a less refined scorer but a more inclined rebounder and facilitator, and a superior defender. The wiry small forward proved to be the perfect complement to His Airness.
And for the bulk of their partnership, all they did was win. Jordan, it’s worth noting, won just one playoff game in his career without Pippen.
“Let’s not act like Scottie Pippen was just riding Jordan’s coattails,” Wright said.
Scottie Pippen is No. 33 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years
Scottie Pippen was more than just Michael Jordan’s apprentice for the Bulls. Arguably the best perimeter defender of all time, Pippen was 10-time all-defense and had two top-five MVP finishes while winning six championships with those legendary Chicago teams.
That might have been true for Pippen’s first two seasons. But by Year 3, he was a two-way star whose production spiked in the playoffs. His helped turn Chicago into a contender, yet he caught a fair amount of flak for the team’s three postseason losses to the Pistons. In ’88, he was too young. In ’89, he missed an elimination game after taking an elbow from Bill Laimbeer. In ’90, he was completely ineffective in a Game 7 while playing through a severe migraine.
Pippen quieted doubts about his big-game acumen in the Bulls’ first title run, leading the team in rebounding, assists and steals during the playoffs while averaging 21.6 points. In the Finals, he stifled Magic Johnson and registered 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals as Chicago closed out the Lakers in five.
It was one of several huge performances from the player not always flatteringly referred to as “Robin.” In Game 7 of the 1992 conference semifinals against the Knicks – one of just two Game 7s that the Bulls played in during their championship years – Pippen put up a triple-double. One round later, he tallied 29 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and four blocks in an elimination game against the Cavaliers.
Those types of lines weren’t uncommon for Pip, especially during the Bulls’ first three-peat. Moreover, his clutch play in the 1993 conference finals versus the Knicks and ensuing Finals against the Suns were crucial to Chicago becoming the first NBA team in more than 35 years to win three titles in a row.
“Jordan fans like to act like Scottie Pippen was a glorified Orlando Woolridge who Jordan just pulled to the Finals,” Wright said. “Flatly untrue.”
After Jordan’s first retirement, Pippen carried the Bulls to 55 wins and finished third in MVP voting. His all-around excellence would soon be overshadowed, though, by his stunning refusal to play the final seconds of a playoff game against the Knicks, after Phil Jackson drew up a game-winning shot for rookie Toni Kukoc.
In 1995, Pippen became the second player in league history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. But neither he nor Jordan, who came out of retirement late in the season, played to their usual playoff standards as the Bulls fell again in the conference semis.
They’d both rebound in rebounding fashion the following year, leading the Bulls to an NBA record 72 wins and launching another three-peat. By 1998, injuries had taken their toll on Pippen. The six-time champ’s subsequent decline, which played out over a handful of seasons with the Rockets and Trail Blazers and a swan song with the Bulls, coupled with the deification of Jordan have perhaps colored perceptions of Pippen’s career.
Let the record show that the inimitable running mate garnered two Olympic gold medals, the most all-defense selections at his position, and the seventh-highest win total and winning percentage in the playoffs (among players with at least 100 victories). It’s natural to assume Pippen would have accomplished less had he never played with Jordan. With certain exceptions, the opposite might also have been true.
“One of the greatest defenders ever. He showed up in the postseason,” Wright said. “He without a doubt belongs on this list.”
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