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Keltner List: Scottie Pippen

Posted by Neil Paine on May 6, 2009

In the comments section of our last Keltner List (which assessed Dikembe Mutombo's underrated career), a reader named Brandon suggested another topic for us:

"Alright, I have a suggestion for a Keltner list and it has probably been mentioned before, but I’d like to see Scottie Pippen done. I know it seems odd, but you did do Allen Iverson, and Scottie Pippen was never really considered the best in the game at any point in his career. So if you could [do] that it’d be awesome."

Sure, Brandon, we can do that. After all, Pippen becomes eligible next year... Will he follow in the footsteps of his highly-acclaimed teammate and accompany him to Springfield? Or was Scottie just riding on #23's considerable coattails? Read on to find out:

Position: Forward-Guard
Height: 6-7 Weight: 210 lbs.
Born: September 25, 1965 in Hamburg, Arkansas
High School: Hamburg in Hamburg, Arkansas
College: University of Central Arkansas
Draft: Selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1st round (5th pick, 5th overall) of the 1987 NBA draft.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball? No. There may have been faint whispers that he was the league's best all-around player in 1993-94, when Pippen earned the All-Star MVP award, was 1st-team All-Defense, and ranked 4th in the league in PER. But that would have been a distinctly minority opinion -- the general consensus was that either Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson was the NBA's top dog that year.

2. Was he the best player on his team? Yes. While Jordan was trying his hand at baseball in 1993-94 & half of 94-95, Pippen was unquestionably the Bulls' best player. After leaving Chicago, you could try to make a case that he was Portland's best all-around player in 2000, though Rasheed Wallace and Steve Smith were more obvious choices.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position? Yes. For 3 straight seasons from 1994-1996, Pippen was 1st-team All-NBA and pretty obviously the best small forward in basketball. Then Grant Hill came along and usurped that position.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course Pippen, a 6-time NBA Champion and a conference finalist on 2 other occasions, had a major postseason impact. He was never MVP of the Finals, mind you, and he had 2 postseason moments to forget (his ill-timed migraine in 1990, and "1.8-gate"), but without him there's no chance the 90s Bulls win 6 rings.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime? Yes. Pippen's prime ended in 1997-98, when injuries to his ankle and back limited him to 44 games and slowed him when he did play. Even so, he was still able to suit up for 345 more games (at 32.5 MPG, no less) over the final six seasons of his career.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame? No, that's still Artis Gilmore, folks.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? Yes. Pippen is one of only 4 players in NBA history to average 16 PPG, 6 RPG, 5 APG, and 2 SPG for his career. The other three? Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, and Clyde Drexler, all of whom are enshrined in Springfield. Even if you lessen the restrictions to 16/5/5/1.5, 8 of the remaining 9 non-Pippen qualifiers are either in the Hall of Fame already, or are future members (the only exception is Steve Francis).

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Absolutely. Pippen's career Hall of Fame probability is 99.94%, 2nd-highest all-time (to Karl Malone) among inactive players who aren't already in the HoF. Both Pippen and The Mailman become eligible next year.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Normally you'd say an outstanding defender like Pippen doesn't see his impact at that end show up fully in the stats, but this is a case where his career defensive ratings (translated to the 2009 average of 108.3 pts/100 poss.) really do tell the story about how good he was on D during his peak years:

Year Age Tm G Min trDRtg
1988 22 CHI 79 1650 103.6
1989 23 CHI 73 2413 105.6
1990 24 CHI 82 3148 105.5
1991 25 CHI 82 3014 102.0
1992 26 CHI 82 3164 102.3
1993 27 CHI 81 3123 104.0
1994 28 CHI 72 2759 98.7
1995 29 CHI 79 3014 98.2
1996 30 CHI 77 2825 101.1
1997 31 CHI 82 3095 102.7
1998 32 CHI 44 1652 101.8
1999 33 HOU 50 2011 107.4
2000 34 POR 82 2749 103.4
2001 35 POR 64 2133 106.3
2002 36 POR 62 1996 106.1
2003 37 POR 64 1911 105.5
2004 38 CHI 23 412 107.2
Career 1178 41069 103.2

Corroborating this, Pippen also ranks 10th all-time in career Defensive Win Shares.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? By the time next year rolls around, Pippen will be the best SF eligible for induction. Bernard King doesn't have Pippen's all-around game or his durability, and after that you get into clearly inferior players like Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf, and Mark Aguirre, none of whom have a résumé that can touch Scottie's.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Pippen finished in the Top 5 in MVP voting twice -- 1994 & 1996 -- and was a constant fixture on the Win Shares leaderboard throughout the 90s. In 1994, he finished 4th in PER; using John Hollinger's handy scale, both Pippen's '94 & '95 campaigns fall somewhere in between "Bona fide All-Star" and "Weak MVP Candidate" territory.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame? Pippen was voted to 7 career All-Star Games, and would have been a no-brainer in '98 as well if he hadn't missed the first 2½ months of the season with the ankle injury. His 1991 season was also an All-Star-caliber campaign (+7.05 SPM). 9 ASG appearances would have put him in the neighborhood of HoFers like Lenny Wilkens, George Gervin, Dominique Wilkins, and Robert Parish. As it is, his 7 All-Star appearances puts him in the territory of Harry Gallatin, Ed Macauley, Slater Martin, Dick McGuire, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas, Chet Walker, Dave Bing, Walt Frazier, Jo Jo White, Dave Cowens, Jack Sikma, Kevin McHale, and James Worthy, which is still pretty damn good company if you ask me.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? Maybe not "likely", but certainly possible, if he was surrounded by a solid supporting cast. Pippen's best team as an alpha dog were the 1994 Bulls, who won 55 games (only 2 fewer than the previous year's Jordan-led squad) and came within a physical Game 7 of outlasting the Knicks and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Had the Bulls been able to stop Patrick Ewing down the stretch (he poured in 18 2nd-half points), there's a decent chance that Chicago would have captured their 4th straight championship in 1994, even without Michael Jordan.

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy? Pippen is noteworthy here for being one of the most successful small-college players ever at the pro level (tiny Central Arkansas was an NAIA program when he attended school), as well as for being a member of the iconic 1992 USA Men's National Team (aka "Dream Team I"). Also, Pippen's ability to effectively bring the ball up the court allowed Phil Jackson to use prototypical triangle PGs like John Paxson & Steve Kerr off the ball as shooters, which in turn helped popularize the use of the "Point Forward" across the league.

The Verdict: No pun intended, this is a slam dunk for Pippen. Pippen may have been Michael Jordan's sidekick for most of his career, but he's probably the most talented longtime second banana in league history. Generally speaking, when you win 6 NBA championships, make the playoffs virtually every season of your career, garner 7 ASG nods & 3 1st-team All-NBA selections, finish in the Top 10 in MVP voting 4 times, and make All-Defense 10 times, you're basically a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame. In other words, get that induction speech ready, Scottie... You're going to need it!

24 Responses to “Keltner List: Scottie Pippen”

  1. Romain Says:

    As you say in your verdict, Pippen in the HOF is a no-brainer.... I think it's more intersting to have a Keltner List on players like Dennis Rodman where it's not as obvious...

    I'm really not sure that the 1994 Bulls could have beaten the Rockets had they advanced to the finals... Don't you think Olajuwon would have killed them down low?

  2. Bradlee Says:

    Exactly Romain! I have also suggested that they do Dennis Rodman. Why do the obvious? Seems like they just like to take the slow pitches right down the middle. How about a completing player who would spark real deliberation.

  3. Brandon Says:

    I am not exactly sure why I thought that Pippen would be iffy on Hall of Fame status. Maybe I thought that the voters would look too much at him never leading a team to the finals by himself even when surrounded by really good to great players. (Especially in Houston and Portland).

  4. Jason J Says:

    Boy, Neil, I didn't believe it when I saw only 3 1st team all NBA selections, but it's true, and looking at the forwards who made it, it's correct (except maybe 1992). Chuck and Karl were too good.

    I think it's disputable to say that a team with Pippen as its best player is a real threat to win it all. It would have to be a Pistonsesque team with a ton of balanced talent at all positions because when I think of Finals MVPs over the years, Scottie's not quite at that level. I realize that the Bulls did well in 1994, but their point differential was not really up there with the traditional championship teams. They were gutty, clutch, defensively sound, and very deep, but they didn't have the firepower to create real separation.

    There's no keeping him out of the HoF though. No way. He could legitimately be considered the best perimeter defender ever, and he was, for all intents and purposes, an all-star point for 6 title teams.

  5. Bradlee Says:

    sp....compelling not completing.

  6. Mike G Says:

    In the 1998 playoffs, Pippen was the favorite for Finals MVP, until his back acted up.
    At that time, Pip carried the team defensively. He dominated Mark Jackson in the Conference Championship.
    He was definitely better than some Finals MVP's. As long as Jordan was around, he was MVP. That last time, he had Scottie hold the trophy.

  7. Bradlee Says:

    This statement got me thinking: "he’s(Pippen)probably the most talented longtime second banana in league history"

    Who was the second banana in the Baylor/West relationship? They were longtime teammates, but could you relegate one to second banana?

  8. Bradlee Says:

    ....or Karl Malone and John Stockton. I think there are several groups of longterm teammates who were both great players in their own right, but you wouldn't mention either one as second banana.

    What I'm getting at is you hear a lot of people who are quick to say that Pippen was not that great because he was riding the coat tails of the best player on the team (Jordan), yet you never hear that label on John Stockton who played with the great Karl Malone or Elgin Baylor who player with the great Jerry West. Also never hear that much about McHale

    Just something to think about. Then again maybe it is because Pippen wasn't as great as the players mentioned above. Probably could make a better case with someone like Tom Heinsohn as a second banana to Russell or Worthy to Magic.

  9. Mike G Says:

    Pippen was as good as Baylor, or West, or McHale. They didn't play alongside Jordan. 2nd to Jordan is as good as one could be.

  10. Mike G Says:

    Let me clarify my previous comment. During the Jordan/Pippen years, every season there would be a player of similar size mentioned as possibly as good or better than one or both. When the 1991 playoffs began, Magic was the reigning (2-time) MVP. Before they met in the Finals, Jordan had re-copped the crown. So the 2 best (midsized) players were meeting in the NBA Finals.

    But the 2nd-best player was Pippen.

    In 1992, Clyde Drexler was promoted by many as virtually as good as MJ at most things, and much better at the 3-point line. Shrug. Again, the 2nd-best player in those Finals was Pippen.

    In 1993, the only players with better Finals than Pip were Jordan and alleged MVP Barkley.

    In '96, it was Kemp, Jordan, Pippen

    In '97, Jordan, Malone, and a Stockton/Pippen tossup. Same in '98.

    So in 6 NBA Finals, Pippen was never outperformed by an inferior player. He did outplay (or neutralize) Magic, Drex, KJ, Schrempf, Payton, Hornacek, and everyone else, most of them embarrassingly so.

  11. Neil Paine Says:

    Yeah, sometimes you have 2 iconic stars on one team: West/Baylor, Kobe/Shaq, Stockton/Malone, etc. But I think they're basically considered equals in that case -- nobody is a "second banana" per se. But with Pippen, he was clearly designated Jordan's sidekick throughout their run, and I can't think of another longtime, obvious 2nd banana who was better.

  12. mike mo Says:

    while he looks to be an obvious choice for the hall of fame, "no-tippin' pippen" is crossing his fingers that none of the voters ever held jobs as waiters or waitresses...

  13. Jason J Says:

    Mike G, I know where you're coming from, but in this case I think you're overstating or misremembering a couple of cases a little bit.

    Pippen did not outplay Magic, certainly not "embarrassingly so" in the 1991 finals. Magic averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 12.5 assists and kept the two best defensive swingmen in the game (possibly in the history of the game actually) in foul trouble throughout. I watched the series when it happened and taped it then and then bought the DVDs when they were released. Magic had a very strong series (and for the record Jordan actually did the majority of the work defending Magic - Scottie was the second defender on him when Mike picked up fouls, and in both cases it was team defense that worked. Magic was able to create scoring opportunities against either of them because of his size and strength).

    Pippen did not outplay Payton in 1996. Scottie shot 34% from the field. Gary out performed him in every statistical category except rebounds (but still got 6 a game from the pg spot) and blocks. Normally you could at least say Pippen contributed more than the other guy on defense, but Gary Gloved out on Jordan in that series better than anyone else ever did in Mike's playoff career, while Scottie joined Dennis in being frustrated by one of Kemp's best series of his career.

    Clyde for me is a tough one to come down too hard on in that series only because he had to contend with Michael at both ends. Did Scottie play well in the series? Definitely. That whole season was the Scottie Pippen superstar express train. But Clyde played well too and had to defend Jordan at one end and lead his team's offense against Jordan at the other. That's going to bring the old stats down for almost anybody.

    But I mean, your point about Pippen being no worse than the third best player in those series is definitely true of all of them except in the case of Payton and the Sonics and maybe Stockton in the first series against the Jazz (ironic that it would be those two since they are the premier PGs of the era, and Scottie was for all intents and purposes the winningest point guard / forward of that era).

  14. Daniel Bui Says:

    You need to make a Keltner List for Rodman and Ben Wallace.

  15. Sean Says:

    I second Daniel Bui's Keltner List suggestions, but I have one other ex-Piston in mind as well: Chauncey Billups.

  16. TRad Says:

    Two players, a mystery XYZ and Pippen.

    Pip XYZ
    Pts/G 16.1 17.8
    Reb/G 6.4 9.9
    Ast/G 5.2 2.0
    Stl/G 2.0 1.8
    Blk/G 0.8 1.3
    FG% .473 .481
    3% .326 .331
    FT% .704 .802
    WS/G .104 .137

    So XYZ isn't a HOF candidate because he didn't played with Jordan?

  17. Justin Kubatko Says:

    TRad wrote:

    So XYZ isn’t a HOF candidate because he didn’t played with Jordan?

    First, player XYZ (aka Shawn Marion) is still active but has probably seen his best years, so those career per game numbers are going to decrease as time goes by. Second, Marion's list of career honors looks like this: All-NBA 3rd team (twice). That's it. Here's Pippen's list: All-NBA 1st team (3 selections), All-NBA 2nd team (2), All-NBA 3rd team (2), All-Defensive 1st team (8), All-Defensive 2nd team (2).

  18. Mike G Says:

    Some would even argue that Marion's 2 3rd-teams and 3 of 4 allstar games were 'because he played with Nash'.

  19. Mike G Says:

    Jason J: Magic in '91 and Payton '96 were not among those who were 'embarrassed' vs the Bulls, but I still maintain Scottie's number were better. Magic certainly had his hands full; those per-game averages (and Payton's in '96) were for 46 minutes per game, and both played great series.

    Playing great defense, while maintaining your offense, is certainly a tall order. But Jordan managed it and then some, every time. Pippen, sometimes. Among those who didn't (i.e., 'embarrassingly'): James Worthy, Byron Scott, Terry Porter, Kevin Johnson, Danny Ainge (for 2 teams), Tom Chambers, Detlef Schrempf, Hersey Hawkins, Jeff Hornacek. These guys were all not far removed from their Allstar selves; but put up paltry numbers vs the Bulls in the Finals.

  20. Jason J Says:

    Completely off-topic, but these last couple of posts made me think it would be interesting to see Marion next to MJ. He makes good cuts, shoots well from the corners, hits the offensive glass, and defends (sort of a smaller, more perimeter-based and offensively gifted Horace Grant). I bet you could win rings with that 1 - 2 punch. Matrix couldn't be Pip. It would be a different dynamic, but I could see them bringing home titles.

  21. steve norris Says:

    somebody from this website please tell me why steve nash has 2 mvp seasons? i still cant figure it out cause to me he was not even close to top 10 player in the league

  22. Jason J Says:

    Mike - I really wish I agreed wholeheartedly on this subject, because I'm a longtime Bulls fan! I guess you could make an argument against Magic, though honestly, having watched the series at least 20 times over the years, I wouldn't personally come to that conclusion.

    I really don't see an argument against Payton. 46 minutes or not, he outproduced Pippen overall and shot 10% higher from the field including 10% higher from 3 against two terrific one on one defenders (Jordan & Harper). And again, Scottie limiting Detlef to 44% shooting and getting waxed by Kemp (which only happened because Rodman also got waxed by Kemp, and Phil didn't have a decent back up 4 to go to) is less impressive than Payton acting as primary cover on Jordan in what was quite possibly the very worst playoff series of his life. So to me the defensive edge in the comparison also goes to the Glove.

    Was Pippen a better player than Payton for his career? I think so (though I'm a biased Bulls fan), but he had a lousy series against Seattle. Everybody did. Dennis's rebounding & Jordan's ability to get to the line held us in it while we stunk up the joint from the field, though at the same time their inability to lock up Kemp & GP were quite possibly the biggest problems in the whole series.

    Wouldn't argue against anyone else except Worthy who didn't play poorly until he got hurt. He played pretty well before the injury (schooled Ho and Scottie on the blocks a little bit with those hooks and diving finger rolls he had).

  23. steve norris Says:

    nice work on pippen. i say all you have to do is just watch and you know who is great. a player like bernard king, i know he was hall material. he dont need stats to prove how good he was.

  24. пyпo Says:

    Даа... Достаточно спорно, поспорил бы с автором...