I remember this edition of Slam, I believe it was one of the first I had ever got. My dad bought it for me, knowing that Scottie Pippen was my favourite player. It was at that time when he was alone, running the team, showing everyone that he could lead and take the Chicago Bulls to the playoffs and would have made it to the conference finals if it wasn’t for a -unanimously accepted- wrong call by the ref in the ending of Game 5 with the Knicks. All this without Michael Jordan and even without Horace Grant, with PIP leading the team in EVERY major statistic and even winning the All-Star MVP! Yes, he could lead a team when he was called to.
I remember reading the headline in his feature, “Is Scottie Pippen pound for pound the best player in the NBA?”. My thoughts were, “Hell yeah”, this is the guy that alongside MJ, got the Bulls their first 3peat! (another one later). He is one of the 5 players to ever have lead a team in 5 major statistical category and one of three players to ever record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, to name just a few of his feats.
When Jean (come on your name is Yiannis) asked me if I would contribute to the new GGX NBA endeavor, my first thought was “damn I haven’t really been following it too much since PIP stepped away”. I mean, don’t get me wrong, basketball and specifically the NBA have always been in my heart. But ever since the man on the above retired, there was a gap left that no player could fill it for me (Shaq is a close 2nd).
We’re talking about one of the greatest players ever to grace the polished wooden court. He is a 6-time NBA Champion, 7-time All Star, 3-time NBA First Team, and a whopping 8-time NBA All-Defensive First Team among other awards.
He is definitely my favourite player of all time and possibly the most underrated player of all time. Amongst the top 5 best defensive players of all time, always fun to watch (come on, as if you don’t remember him posterizing Ewing) and I am going to explain why he is the Greatest True Small (Point) Forward to ever play the game.
Now before you heathens start getting all worked up, let me remind you that “Several NBA players have placed Pippen on their all-time starting line-ups, some of which include Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone”, as per the Wikipedia article on Pippen. For them to have done that, he was their SF of choice. Remember, these guys are all post Julius Erving, Larry Bird (not a real SF), Magic Johnson (not a real SF), Elgin Baylor, Dominique Wilkins -among others- and they have also witnessed the likes of LeBron James (not a real SF) and Kevin Durant (not a real SF and has a lot to prove IMO).
Ok, so i’m sure you noticed the “not a real SF” bit. Yes, Magic played as a point guard. He may have had attributes of a point forward but still he was not. Durant, the man is almost 7 feet, actually based on the wiki article he is claimed to be that tall, more of a PF than a SF and the same applies for Bird. Finally, LeBron, again another purported SF who really is more of a PF. He had often played as one, just like Durant, and has a body type that could go either way.
Now with all that said, you may argue that I eliminated all eligible opposition, and I’d say that my thoughts will provide as much controversy as any argument for any “the greatest.. ever” topic.
Just think back, for example, to the multi dimensional conversation regarding who is the Greatest NBA player of all time. You’ve got the Jordan crowd, who has to deal with questions about how he retired three times and played when it suited him, that LeBron has statistically surpassed him even though he hasn’t won as many titles. However, how can anyone argue against the most dominating player of all time, “Wilt the Stilt”? They can just by saying one name: “Bill Russell”. 11 championships! But the Jordan and LeBron peeps will say it was a different era, less up to par competition for those guys bla bla bla.
Well, in my case I’m just weeding out those that I believe were not really SFs. Now, let’s see who we have left, in this race. The most notable mentions are probably Dr. J, Baylor, Nique, Rick Barry and John Havlicek. Now let’s quickly eliminate those without Championships, because ultimately, what makes one among the best is those damn rings. So, Wilkins and Baylor are out, which leaves us with “Hondo”, Barry and Dr. J.
The 10-time All-Defensive team Central Arkansas product was definitely the best defender out of all these legends mentioned above (including the fake SFs). As Phil Jackson once described him, Scottie was a “one-man wrecking crew”, who was able to defend anyone from the point guard to the center position (he even kept a young Shaq without points for an entire quarter!). So the fact that historically he leads all small forwards in steals (at 6th place with James trailing at 18th) should not surprise anyone. In the Assists department Pippen is also the leader among the SFs in question, but he also leads in all categories related to three point shooting.
In terms of scoring and field goals attempted, he is behind the aforementioned players, which also are products of him being the only real Point Forward in the group, as one could argue that he was one of the pioneers of that role/position.
A true team player, whether you witness his team work with MJ or even his time with the Trailblazers, bringing out the best from players such as Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire, players that post-Pippen never managed to achieve anything comparable to what they had during Pippen’s tenure over there.
As far as durability goes, he played the fewest minutes among his peers, as injuries were an issue in his career, which can be seen by his having the longest one among the four, but only comes 3rd in minutes played.
Compared to the other three, it could be said that he played during a more competitive era, however he still is right up there in all statistical areas. The only player who could carry the ball, execute, serve and defend at the highest level. One of the most versatile specimens to ever play and the titles, as well as personal accolades, are there to prove it.
It’s should be pretty clear after this, that as far as Point Forwards are considered, he is the true #1 in that aspect. Not even LeBron, who has certain Point Forward features but definitely does not truly play as one. Whenever he carries the ball 9/10 times the opposing defense would be already set on their side of the court. Pippen ran the ball down while dictating the pace of the game. Many times catching the opposing team off guard while always had someone stuck on him, for they knew that if he was not sufficiently covered, it will mean 2 or 3 points for his team, one way or another.
As a Small Forward, let’s throw them all in! It honestly comes down to two guys, Scottie Pippen and Lebron James, as I don’t believe Durant has achieved enough to this point to play in the game and I don’t consider Larry Bird a SF! I truly believe that it comes down to what type of player any given coach would want. What their basketball philosophy was and which pieces to the puzzle they already had. You want a scoring machine? You’d go with James, possibly one of the most dominating players ever, but possibly a bit of a choker in the clutch. Or do you want someone that will destroy the opponents’ game, defend and obliterate anyone, consistently score 20+, add another 10-20 via assists and, and selflessly raise the level for every teammate on the floor (6x Champion)?
I think you may go for PIP, I know I would. And so would MJ..