With the NBA covered so widely today, through League Pass, YouTube and social media – in addition to the standard cable broadcasts. There is a lot more room for the leagues stars to shine brightly. When Scottie Pippen co-piloted the Bulls to 6 titles in 8 years with Michael Jordan in the 90’s this wasn’t the case. His Airness quite rightly took a lot of the shine. But what can we tell from Scotties stats today, how would he stack up against some of the stars of the current era?
What are Scottie Pippen stats? Scottie Pippen averaged 5.2 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 16.1 points per game. During his 17-year NBA career he averaged 47% field goal percentage and his 3-point percentage was 33%. He contributed on the defensive end as well getting 2 steals and a block during the 35 minutes a game he averaged.
Of course, there’s so much more data available to us now. For instance, he played the bulk of those minutes with Michael Jordan, how did his numbers change when Jordan was off the floor? Let’s have a deeper look at what the numbers tell us about Scottie Pippen.
How can we tell if Pippen could have been a franchise player?
One of the most interesting times of Pippen’s career to look at when looking at where his stats place him in the NBA’s storied history, are the two years Jordan played Baseball. It is well documented that after the Chicago Bulls first three-peat of ’91, ’92 and ’93 Jordan took a sabbatical to follow his childhood dream of playing professional baseball (a story for another time). During this time the Bulls continued to function as an elite team. Led by Scottie Pippen and largely keeping the rest of their Championship core intact they would finish with 55 wins the first season Jordan was absent, only two less than their title winning season before. Losing the Eastern Conference Semi Finals in 7 to the New York Knicks. The second season they would finish with a lower win record of 47-35 as Jordan would return late in the season, but be unable to lead them past Shaq and Penny’s Orlando Magic Team. In both of these seasons Scottie Pippen would lead the team in win shares (as per basketball-reference.com), the only player other than Jordan to do it since the 1985/86 season when Jordan was injured, playing only 18 games. As Chicago won their second three-peat on Jordan’s full return to action, he would resume his usual position, leading the Bulls in win shares.
This establishes that Pippen was clearly the second-best player on the Bulls title winning teams. He was capable of leading a franchise to a strong record, narrowly losing out to strong rivals in the playoffs. What do the stats show in how his game changed during Jordan’s absence.
The six NBA titles Pippen won with the Bulls sandwiching the 2 years Jordan took his break form the peak of Pippen’s career. The 8 years span his 25 – 32 age seasons, the expected physical peak of professional athletes.
First of all, let’s look at some basic metrics. Did Pippen’s Points, Assists and Rebounds go up in Jordan’s absence?
The graph above illustrates nicely that as expected, once Pippen became the main man for the Bulls, his points peaked, his rebounds went up. Only his assist numbers dipped slightly. This could be due to him no longer having the most lethal scorer on the planet to pass to? In Jordan’s absence Pippen stepped up and delivered what his team needed.
It can be seen that during his two years as he bulls main man, he continued to play a similar amount of games and a similar number of minutes per game.
His shooting numbers will also give us insight into how he performed as the main man on the Bulls. Did he take more shots, did his field goal percentages go up or down?
There is quite a lot to look at here. Let’s go column by column.
Firstly, we Can see that his total field goal attempts peaked. He was also able to sustain his incredible 48% plus shooting percentage. Even though he must have faced better defenders and less space as the opposition no longer had to account for Jordan.
His 3-point attempts and percentage started to rise. This was clearly an applied effort from Pippen and the Bulls team, his higher volume and percentage shooting would continue to rise even after Jordan returned. This is similar to how we have seen Lebron James add more 3-point shooting to his game as he has become less explosive.
Unbelievably despite his increased workload, extra attention from the defence and the absence of an elite go to scorer to bale him out, his effective field goal percentage managed to stay above 50%. Posting some of his best numbers during his time at the helm. This was in part due to his increased free throw attempts. Although his percentage dipped in the first season without MJ, he recovered in the second and consistently got to the line 1.5 times more per game. His trips to the line would revert back to normal as soon as MJ returned.
Offensively we can see that Pippen managed to carry a bigger load. Changing his game, shooting more from outside AND getting to the line more frequently. He adapted and succeeded. Pippen has always been known for his defence and this is maybe the area he upped the anti the most. Grabbing an extra steal per game and half a block more during MJ’s absence.
Although not conclusive, this analysis shows that Pippen would have been just fine as the leading man on any franchise. Probably the only statistic that MJ increased for Pippen was Championships won. How different would the NBA have been in the 1990’s if Pippen and Jordan had faced off against each other, rather than teaming up to dominate the league.