For more coverage of ESPN's "The Last Dance" which is currently streaming on Netflix outside of the United States, you can click here to find complete breakdowns of the biggest storylines surrounding the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause ... we've got you covered from all angles throughout the duration of the 10-part documentary series.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): ESPN's "The Last Dance" has given us all a chance to appreciate the greatness of Michael Jordan, but it's also given us a chance to give Scottie Pippen the respect he deserves.
Pippen was one of the greatest players of the 90s and because he played alongside Jordan, he might have flown under the radar for many who didn't see him play.
We just ranked the 15 best players from the 90s on NBA.com. Pippen ranked fifth. I had him ranked a slot lower, but do you think the crew did him justice in the ranking?
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I think so.
Full disclosure: I'm a 90s baby, so I didn't partake in these rankings because it would've taken me too long to put together a list I would've felt confident in. But based on what I do know about that era and everything the Bulls accomplished, having Pippen in that range feels right.
The tricky thing with Pippen is that he spent the prime of his career being the Robin to Jordan's Batman, so we didn't get much of a taste of him being unleashed outside of that one season Jordan missed. I thought Micah Adams framed it well in a conversation we had the other day in saying it would've been like had Kobe Bryant spent his entire career playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal. Had he, there's no way he becomes the player we know him as today.
So there is sort of a disconnect with Pippen because the players ahead of him were clear No. 1s as were some of the players behind him such as Reggie Miller, Grant Hill and Patrick Ewing. Even so, he might be the greatest No. 2 in NBA history. With how important he was to those championship teams, he deserved to rank as high as he did.
Gay: We did get a chance to see what the Bulls might have been like with Pippen as the guy. It was one season, but in that one season I think he proved his greatness. The Bulls only won two fewer games in the season immediately after Jordan's abrupt retirement and that's despite going just 4-6 in the games Pippen missed. With him in the lineup, they actually had a higher win percentage than they did in 1992-93 with Jordan. That first non-MJ team also pushed a tough New York Knicks team to seven games in the second round of the playoffs.
Coming into that 1993-94 season, the Bulls were given +1500 odds to four-peat as champs. It was the 10th-best odds. For perspective, the Knicks team they lost to had the best odds to win the title coming into the season at +200.
Pip also finished third in MVP voting that season behind David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, two guys who ranked higher than him on our top 15 list. I think that season, even though it was just one year by himself as the man, really cemented what Pippen was. However, I think we also forget how great of a season it was because it didn't end in a title.
Rafferty: If that's the case, why did you have him a spot lower? Because you sure made a compelling case for him to be higher than he finished...
Gay: For me, I had Charles Barkley ahead of him, and it really is a toss up.
What it came down to was that Barkley was for the large part of the decade the man on his team. There's pressure that comes with that which Pippen didn't have to deal with year in and year out. Chuck also won an MVP award in 1993 and that MVP award came in the prime of Jordan's dominance.
Like some say with LeBron James nowadays, you could've really given MJ the MVP award every year, but no one debates that Barkley earned that MVP in '93. He also was able to get his team to the Finals, and again, if it wasn't for Mike, Barkley would certainly have a ring.
So I gave Barkley the slight edge, but I could be talked into Pippen. This sort of goes back to the point that we made off the top - standing next to MJ might have hurt Pippen's legacy a bit.
In saying that, with what Pippen brought to the table, do you feel like he'd be better appreciated today?
Rafferty: Absolutely, especially on defence, which is saying something because the defensive stats are still lagging behind the offensive stats. But I wouldn't be surprised if Pippen was among the league leaders in things like defensive versatility rating, steals, deflections, loose balls recovered, Defensive Real-Plus Minus, you name it.
If those stats were available back then, I have no doubt that he would be remembered as an even more dominant defender than he already is.
You can probably speak more about his offence, but I'm sure he would be a plus-minus darling if nothing else because of how he tied everything together for the Bulls offensively.
MORE: Pippen's defensive versatility in one play
Gay: Yeah, his offensive versatility was special, especially at that time.
I think there's an art that people don't talk about when it comes to being a second option. You still have the responsibility to produce but far fewer opportunities than the first option would have. When the Bulls kept failing in the playoffs, it was Michael and everyone else. Case in point? The Game 7 loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals when Pippen shot just 1-10 and scored two points.
It wasn't until Pippen figured out how to pick his spots and deliver that they were able to break through and become the dynasty we know now.
In the four game sweep that essentially ended the Detroit Pistons' reign over the Eastern Conference, Jordan was great but Pippen averaged 22.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.0 steals! And 2.0 blocks! In the Finals that year, he was 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game and had a game-high 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the final game of the series.
If Pip doesn't get to the level he gets to scoring-wise and become the playmaker he became, the Bulls don't win as many titles. It wasn't a your turn, my turn situation, which we've seen fail when you have two stars on the floor. Pippen truly figured out how to pick his spots alongside Mike. To do that next to a guy in MJ, who was shooting well over 20 shots per game in an era where there wasn't as many possessions as there is now, that's truly special and something I don't think enough people realize when they talk about Pip.
For context, James Harden gets labelled as a ball hog in today's game. His career-high field goal attempts per game is 24.5 coming in 2018-19. MJ shot at least 24.0 field goal attempts for an entire season four times in his career - again, in an era that had far fewer possessions.
Rafferty: And I think that only helps Pippen's case in today's NBA because he's someone who could play alongside pretty much anyone with his ability to guard at least four positions and complement another star in any way they need.
Who do you think his best comparison is to in today's NBA in that regard? For me, the way in which he transcends eras because of how easily he fits on just about any team sort of reminds me of Klay Thompson, just without the 3-point shooting obviously. Skill-wise, he's probably somewhere closer to a Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. But I don't think peak Pippen would be able to lead an offence like peak Leonard has shown he can, so maybe it's George.
Gay: In terms of who he'd be, I don't think there's a clear comparison, but George fits. No disrespect to PG13 or Pip, but with them as your go-to guy, your team might be really good, maybe even a contender, but not good enough to win it all. With them as your second option, you see what can happen. In the case of Scottie, six titles alongside Mike. In the case of George, a legit title contender alongside Kawhi.
Rafferty: I mean, we saw more of George as a No. 1 option as we did with Pippen. The Indiana Pacers teams he was on were good, but they were always missing something. Same for the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that was short-lived and injuries played a role in their disappointing end to the 2018-19 season.
Gay: Yeah, I also think it's hard to replicate Pippen's playmaking. The Bulls would legit let the offence run through the hands of Pippen, not a point guard. I know PG13 is a decent playmaker but he's not getting the responsibility of carrying the load like Pippen did.
I think the bottom line here is this: Whether you saw him play or are finding out about him for the first time through "The Last Dance," we can all agree that Scottie Pippen is one of the best to ever lace them up and it's nice to see him getting the praise he's been getting in the doc and from the fans watching.
Rafferty: I certainly have more of an appreciation for him and I can't wait to see more.
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