Every week on NBA.com, we'll unveil a new bracket with daily matchups to vote on. By the end of the week, we'll crown a champion and determine a winner based on fan voting. Up next for this week? The best sidekicks in NBA history.
PREVIOUS BRACKETS: Greatest shots in playoff history | Best all-time duos
Kobe Bryant in 2001-02.
Scottie Pippen in 1995-96.
After a week of fan voting, one will be selected as the best season by any sidekick in NBA history.
The idea of the sidekick is hard to quantify and in most cases, you just kind of know it when you see it. Performance AND perception matter. Rare is the case of the career sidekick, but while labels don't stick over the course of an entire career, it's a bit more manageable - though still not easy! - to pick out individual seasons.
And so that's exactly what we did.
We picked out 16 of the best sidekick seasons in NBA history and seeded them 1-16. You can skip down to see the entire field and see how the entire bracket has unfolded. And now we're down to just two. Onto the championship!
Compare stats: 2 Kobe Bryant in 2001-02 vs 3 Scottie Pippen in 1995-96
Both won championships.
Both made All-NBA First Team.
Both made All-Defence.
Both finished fifth in MVP voting.
Both were part of 3-peats.
In terms of tree-top accomplishments, picking between them truly is splitting hairs. The biggest difference is in the moniker of "sidekick", itself. There's zero question that Pippen played the role of Robin to Michael Jordan's Batman. There's a little more ambiguity with Bryant's role on the Lakers, though I'm in the camp which believes the Finals MVP sweeps by Shaquille O'Neal and general 'big brother, little brother' dynamic leaves a clear enough pecking order.
The stats are close as you can see in the link above. Bryant's the more prolific scorer while Pippen's defensive stats jump out a bit more. The rebounding, assist and shooting spits are about the same. Bryant holds the edge in Player Efficiency Rating and Pippen reigns surpreme in Box Plus-Minus.
MORE: All of Pippen's defensive brilliance in one play
You can't go wrong with either... but...
There can only be one winner...
In the semifinals, Pippen cruised by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1984-85 season while Bryant just barely snuck by Magic Johnson in what was the closest vote of the entire tournament. We re-seeded in the semifinals in order to keep the two highest remaining seeds on opposite sides of the bracket.
- 2 Kobe Bryant in 2001-02 def. 13 Magic Johnson in 1979-80: 52% of vote
- 3 Scottie Pippen in 1995-96 def. 9 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1984-85: 67% of vote
The quarterfinals included a massive upset with the top overall seed - Julius Erving's 1982-83 season - falling to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a tight vote. Another Laker legend scored an upset resulting in two Showtime Cinderella stories in the final four.
- 9 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1984-85 def. 1 Julius Erving in 1982-83: 54% of vote
- 2 Kobe Bryant in 2001-02 def. 7 John Stockton in 1994-95: 68% of vote
- 3 Scottie Pippen in 1995-96 def. 6 Penny Hardaway in 1995-96: 80% of vote
- 13 Magic Johnson in 1979-80 def. 5 Russell Westbrook in 2015-16: 70% of vote
The first round included several notable upsets and a couple of more close calls. Here's how it played out:
- 1 Julius Erving in 1982-83 def 16 John Havlicek in 1968-69: 89% of vote
- 2 Kobe Bryant in 2001-02 def 15 Pau Gasol in 2009-10: 65% of vote
- 3 Scottie Pippen in 1995-96 def 14 Manu Ginóbili in 2007-08: 64% of vote
- 13 Magic Johnson in 1979-80 def 4 Kevin McHale in 1986-87: 70% of vote
- 5 Russell Westbrook in 2015-16 def 12 David Robinson in 1998-99: 60% of vote
- 6 Penny Hardaway in 1995-96 def 11 Anthony Davis in 2019-20: 55% of vote
- 7 John Stockton in 1994-95 def 10 Dwyane Wade in 2010-11: 56% of vote
- 9 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1984-85 def 8 Wilt Chamberlain in 1971-72: 64% of vote
The race for the top seed came down to three players: Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant and Scottie Pippen.
All three made All-NBA First Team. All three won the NBA title. All three finished fifth in MVP voting.
If you value team legacy, it's hard to pick against Pippen who helped the Bulls to an NBA record 72-10 record.
If you value individual stats, it's hard to pick against Bryant who was the most prolific of the three.
That said, Erving himself was a megastar even beyond the likes of Pippen and Bryant at that point. This was the first season in which he truly moved on from alpha dog status which he ceded to league MVP Moses Malone. And though he finished fifth in MVP voting, Dr. J actually received more first-place votes than anyone other than Malone. That says all you need to know about his standing in the game even as a second banana.
|1.||1982-83 Julius Erving|
|2.||2001-02 Kobe Bryant|
|3.||1995-96 Scottie Pippen|
|4.||1986-87 Kevin McHale|
|5.||2015-16 Russell Westbrook|
|6.||1995-96 Penny Hardaway|
|7.||1994-95 John Stockton|
|8.||1971-72 Wilt Chamberlain|
|9.||1984-85 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar|
|10.||2010-11 Dwyane Wade|
|11.||2019-20 Anthony Davis|
|12.||1998-99 David Robinson|
|13.||1979-80 Magic Johnson|
|14.||2007-08 Manu Ginóbili|
|15.||2009-10 Pau Gasol|
|16.||1968-69 John Havlicek|
- Each player could only count once. Was 1995-96 Scottie Pippen better than 1991-92 Scottie Pippen? That's a different debate, but one we had for each player selected.
- In cases of a true 1a/1b, we simply passed because it doesn't truly buy into the spirit of the sidekick. It's why you won't see either Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant from their time together in Golden State or Elgin Baylor and Jerry West from their run with the Los Angeles Lakers.
- We tried to limit overlap within the same team. So because we rolled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a mid 80s sidekick to Magic Johnson, we didn't include James Worthy. Ditto with picking Manu Ginobili over Tony Parker.
- Winning matters. All-NBA selections matter. MVP voting matters. It all matters!
- We've got snubs for days. Some of the hardest omissions: Oscar Robertson on the Bucks, Shaquille O'Neal on the Heat, Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers, Klay Thompson on the Warriors
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.