Keltner List: Scottie Pippen
“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:
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:
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!