Chicago Bulls

Debunking The Myth: Did Scottie Pippen Always Guard the Other Team’s Best Player?

If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my years of watching the NBA, it’s that there exists an inordinate number of inaccurate and illogical myths that have gone unquestioned over time. Granted, while the majority of these myths have been generated and promoted by a sensationalist media, equally culpable are those casual fans whose ignorance and laziness in failing to challenge the status quo has resulted in nothing short of blind acceptance, and the eventual penetration into our sports subconscious.

One such myth that has continued to subsist is the notion that Scottie Pippen – not Michael Jordan – always guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player during the Chicago Bulls’ 6 championship runs. Having been a lifelong fan of the Bulls, and having watched every single playoff game at least twice, I never felt quite comfortable with this assumption. Didn’t Jordan lock down Clyde Drexler during the 1992 Finals? Didn’t he repeatedly frustrate Tim Hardaway during the 1996 playoffs? Or had I been remembering MJ’s defensive contributions inaccurately? If not, where did this notion that “Scottie Pippen always guarded the best player” originate from?

The Genesis of the Myth

The genesis of this myth began during Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals when Scottie Pippen helped change the momentum of the series by defensively switching onto Magic Johnson in an effort to alleviate MJ’s workload. Up until that point, Michael Jordan had struggled to maintain a balance between guarding Magic Johnson, staying out of foul trouble, and serving as the Bulls’ primary offensive weapon. As a result, Phil Jackson decided to guard Magic with the taller, longer, and more physical Scottie Pippen. The plan worked wonders, and once the NBA Finals ended, Pippen quickly earned league-wide recognition as one of the NBA’s premier on-ball defenders.

Fast forward to 2012, and Pippen’s legacy has now evolved from “premier on-ball defender in the NBA”, to “best defensive small forward in the NBA”, to “best perimeter defender in the NBA”, to “arguably the best Defensive player ever in the NBA”, to…….. “always guarded the opponent’s best player”?

 

 

 

Yep, Scottie Pippen’s defensive responsibilities have now evolved into a myth, and it’s protectors over the years have been 4 segments of NBA fans:

1.) Anti-Jordan fans

2.) Scottie Pippen legacy-defenders who justly believe that Scottie Pippen never received due credit for his contributions. This contingent is ironically headed by none other than ….. Scottie Pippen .

3.) Juanita Jordan

4.) Members of Kobe Nation: Those ardent fans of Kobe Bryant who began promoting this myth as an attempt to provide distinction from MJ. In this scenario, Kobe has been cast as a player who always eagerly guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player (another myth, which we will dispel in an upcoming article) while Jordan has been painted as a player who routinely deferred to Scottie Pippen for the tough defensive assignments.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Scottie Pippen; 10 time All-NBA Defensive Player, the greatest defensive small forward to ever play, arguably the greatest defensive wing player to ever play, and undoubtedly in my mind, the greatest help defender to every play. However, as previously mentioned,  I never once felt as if Phil Jackson intentionally assigned Pippen to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player. Instead, I always felt as if Jordan and Pippen simply guarded those players who matched up according to their respective positions. However, as we have repeatedly proven on Chasing 23, emotions can be very deceiving, and memories oftentimes fragmented. No sense in relying upon my “feelings” to uncover the truth – time to turn to the video.

The Verdict

After re-watching hours of game film, we were able to compile a list of each of the Bulls playoff opponents, the opponent’s best perimeter player, and the Bulls defender that guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player. Our list captures all 24 playoff series from the Bulls’ 6 championship runs (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998, 1998), and identifies the player that assumed the vast majority of defensive responsibilities, with particular emphasis on 4Q and Crunchtime. We also took into account any situational defensive switches that may have been pertinent.

Did Scottie Pippen Always Guard the Other Team’s Best Player? The following highlights the results of our analysis:

Playoff Series

Opposition’s Best Perimeter Player

Bulls Defender

1991 vs. Knicks

Mark Jackson

John Paxson

1991 vs. Sixers

Charles Barkley

Scottie Pippen

1991 vs. Pistons

Isiah Thomas

John Paxson

1991 vs. Lakers

Magic Johnson

Michael Jordan

1992 vs. Heat

Glen Rice

Scottie Pippen

1992 vs. Knicks

Xavier McDaniel

Scottie Pippen

1992 vs. Cavs

Mark Price

John Paxson

1992 vs. Blazers

Clyde Drexler

Michael Jordan

1993 vs. Hawks

Dominique Wilkins

Scottie Pippen

1993 vs. Cavs

Mark Price

B.J Armstrong

1993 vs. Knicks

John Starks

Michael Jordan

1993 vs. Suns

Kevin Johnson

B.J. Armstrong

1996 vs. Heat

Tim Hardaway

Michael Jordan

1996 vs. Knicks

Anthony Mason

Scottie Pippen

1996 vs. Magic

Anfernee Hardaway

Scottie Pippen

1996 vs. Sonics

Gary Payton

Ron Harper

1997 vs. Bullets

Rod Strickland

Michael Jordan

1997 vs. Hawks

Steve Smith

Michael Jordan

1997 vs. Heat

Tim Hardaway

Michael Jordan

1997 vs. Jazz

John Stockton

Ron Harper

1998 vs. Nets

Sam Cassell

Ron Harper

1998 vs. Hornets

Glen Rice

Scottie Pippen

1998 vs. Pacers

Reggie Miller

Michael Jordan

1998 vs. Jazz

John Stockton

Ron Harper

The following becomes apparent:

  • Contrary to popular opinion, Michael Jordan – not Scottie Pippen –  most often drew the opposition’s toughest perimeter assignment. However, it was close: Jordan did so 8 times, while Scottie Pippen assumed this responsibility 7 times.
  • As suspected, our analysis confirmed that Phil Jackson assigned defensive responsibilities according to position – not according to the opponent’s best perimeter player. In other words, during most instances, point guards defended point guards, shooting guards defended shooting guards, and small forwards defended small forwards – irrespective of the opposing player’s stature, skill, or talent. There were however, a few exceptions:
    • For the bulk of the 1996 and 1997 playoffs, Michael Jordan assumed defensive responsibilities on opposing point guards while Ron Harper guarded opposing shooting guards.
    • In 1996 Scottie Pippen switched with Ron Harper and guarded PG Anfernee Hardaway for the bulk of their series against the Orlando Magic.
    • In 1998 Scottie Pippen assumed defensive responsibilities for PG Mark Jackson during key stretches and crunchtime moments of the series against the Indiana Pacers.
  • Interestingly enough, during 9 of the 24 playoff series, the opponents best perimeter player was actually guarded by neither Jordan nor Pippen (further substantiating my earlier point that defensive matchups were determined by position). Ron Harper attained this distinction 4 times (Gary Payton, John Stockton twice, and Sam Cassell),  John Paxson 3 times (Isiah Thomas, Mark Jackson, and Mark Price), and BJ Armstrong twice (Mark Price, Kevin Johnson).
  • It turns out that even the  genesis of the myth itself is entirely flawed. After reviewing the game film from the 1991 NBA Finals, it turns out the Jordan – not Pippen – guarded Magic Johnson for nearly 85-90% of that series. The exception was the first half of Game 2 and the 2H of Game 3.

Jordan vs. Pippen

To further debunk this myth, we focused only on those players that Jordan and Pippen guarded, irrespective of the defensive assignments of any of the other Bulls’ players. Who guarded the better player?

 

Year

Jordan

Pippen

Tougher Assignment

1991 vs. Knicks

Trent Tucker

Kiki Vandeweghe

Even

1991 vs. Sixers

Hersey Hawkins

Charles Barkley

Pippen

1991 vs. Pistons

Joe Dumars

Mark Aguirre

Jordan

1991 vs. Lakers

Magic Johnson

James Worthy

Jordan

1992 vs. Heat

Steve Smith

Glen Rice

Pippen

1992 vs. Knicks

John Starks

Xavier McDaniel

Pippen

1992 vs. Cavs

Craig Ehlo

Larry Nance

Pippen

1992 vs. Blazers

Clyde Drexler

Jerome Kersey

Jordan

1993 vs. Hawks

Stacey Augmon

Dominique Wilkens

Pippen

1993 vs. Cavs

Gerald Wilkens

Larry Nance

Pippen

1993 vs. Knicks

John Starks

Charles Smith

Jordan

1993 vs. Suns

Dan Majerle

Richard Dumas

Jordan

1996 vs. Heat

Tim Hardaway

Jamal Mashburn

Jordan

1996 vs. Knicks

Derek Harper

Anthony Mason

Pippen

1996 vs. Magic

Nick Anderson

Anfernee Hardaway

Pippen

1996 vs. Sonics

Hersey Hawkins

Detlef Schrempf

Pippen

1997 vs. Bullets

Rod Strickland

Juwan Howard

Jordan

1997 vs. Hawks

Steve Smith

Tyrone Corbin

Jordan

1997 vs. Heat

Tim Hardaway

Jamaal Mashburn

Jordan

1997 vs. Jazz

Jeff Hornacek

Bryon Russell

Jordan

1998 vs. Nets

Kerry Kittles

Kendall Gill

Jordan

1998 vs. Hornets

Bobby Phills

Glen Rice

Pippen

1998 vs. Pacers

Reggie Miller

Chris Mullin

Jordan

1998 vs. Jazz

Jeff Hornacek

Bryon Russell

Jordan

When looking at a head-to-head comparison, the following becomes apparent:

  • Out of 24 playoff series, Michael Jordan – not Scottie Pippen -guarded the better  perimeter player more often. Specifically,Jordan guarded the better perimeter player during 13 playoff series, while Pippen guarded the better perimeter player 11 times.
  • Out of the 24 playoff series, both Jordan and Pippen guarded an All-Star perimeter players 6 times each.
    • Jordan: Magic Johnson (91),Clyde Drexler (92), Dan Majerle (93), Gary Payton (96), Tim Hardaway (97), and Reggie Miller (98).
    • Pippen: Charles Barkley (91), James Worthy (91), Dominique Wilkens (93), Anfernee Hardaway (96), Larry Nance (93), and Glen Rice (98)

With all of the aforementioned being said, 2 things need to be stated in acknowledgement of Scottie Pippen’s contributions:

1.)   Throughout their championship run, and especially during the Bulls’ 2nd three-peat when Jordan started slowing down defensively in 97 and 98, Scottie Pippen took on more overall defensive responsibilities. In addition to assuming on-ball responsibilities for his own man, Pippen served as a roamer, a one man wrecking crew, and one of the greatest help defenders we have ever seen, thereby allowing an older MJ to preserve his energy on defense and focus more on offense. Those last 2 years have likely enhanced the false perceptions that I am challenging in my article today.

2.)   Scottie’s defensive versatility was unmatched. In sum, at one time or another, Pippen guarded 5 different positions during crucial moments in the playoffs. In 1993, he effectively guarded PF Charles Barkley during the late stages of games. In 1998, he effectively guarded PG Mark Jackson in an effort to disrupt the Pacers offense. In 1991, he effectively guarded Center Vlade Divac in key fourth quarters. Lastly, in 1996, he guarded SG Nick Anderson during key spurts to provide relief to Jordan and Harper.

In closing, if one wants to argue that Scottie Pippen was a better overall defender, a more versatile defender than Michael Jordan, or even assumed more overall defensive responsibilities, it remains a fair argument. Pippen excelled on the defensive end much the way that Jordan excelled on the offensive end.  However, the notion that Scottie Pippen always guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player during those Bulls’ champions runs remains one of the great myths in NBA history.

 

 

Related posts:

  1. The 9 Dominant Teams in NBA History
  2. Who Was the Better 3rd Year Point Guard: Derrick Rose or Chris Paul?
  3. Michael Jordan: Game Winning Shots
  4. Can Three NBA Teams Thrive In Los Angeles?
  5. 2011 NBA Most Improved Player Of The Year: Chasing 23 Writers’ Picks

Discussion

61 Responses to “Debunking The Myth: Did Scottie Pippen Always Guard the Other Team’s Best Player?”

  1. Hi,
    great post, but I don’t agree with who guarded who during 1998 ECF vs Pacers. I watched whole series and Jordan mainly guarded Mullin, Harper Reggie and Pippen Jackson. Whole series is on youtube so everyone could check it.

    Posted by DavidStern | January 20, 2012, 2:44 pm
    • That is absolutely right. Pippen guarded Jackson. It is obvious that whomever posted all this info doesn’t know what the hell they are talkin about or are strictly favoring Jordan. What happened with the Suns in 1993? Jordan didn’t have a tough assignment there. Also, pippen guarded Magic in 1991 because he abused jordan with his size. Contrary to popular belief magic is only 6’7 or 6’8 while jordan is closer to 6’4. Pippen is more 6’7 and was able to bang with Magic. While Pippen didn’t completely shut him down, the Bulls did win all of their games with Pip guarding him as Jordan was able to expend his energy on offense, which was his norm. I think Jordan is the GOAT and even is today above Lebron or Kobe but Pip was a better defensive player than MJ hands down.

      Posted by Josh | August 30, 2013, 12:45 pm
      • I’m pretty sure you haven’t seen the 1991 Finals. This article is right when it says that MJ guarded Magic 85-90 % of the time. It’s true that MJ struggled, but guess what, pippen didn’t really do a better job. the only difference is that pippen was more physical, but he still made the same mistake MJ made when he was guarding magic: he gambled a lot. magic was so smart that he always took advantage of this.

        pippen changing the outcome of the series because he guarded magic is just a myth. he did not guard magic that much, and when he did guard him, magic was still making good plays.

        Posted by Daniel | October 21, 2013, 2:48 pm
  2. ok, I’ll take the bait here Realist. In my OPINION, while Jordan was better at filling the gaps and probably had quicker hands than Kobe (therefore resulting in a higher career SPG), Kobe is the better onball/lockdown defender.

    If I have one possession where I need a stop, I take Kobe over Jordan.

    Posted by Brown Mamba | January 20, 2012, 3:09 pm
    • Thanks Mamba, but I think that you are trying to address a different argument altogether.

      My intent is simply to dispel 2 long-held myths in the NBA:
      1.) Scottie always guarded the opponent’s best player
      2.) Kobe always guarded the opponent’s best player.

      One down.. one to go.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 20, 2012, 3:32 pm
      • I would argue that in the Steve Smith/Glen Rice match-up that Jordan had the more difficult job. Smith could shoot off the dribble. While Rice was a deadly spot up shooter, he was never going to put the ball on the deck. I think Jordan gets a wider edge there.

        I also was listening to John (I’m the reason the pros play in the Olympics) Thompson on the radio and recall him saying about a Lakers- Cavs match-up

        “We know Kobe is going to be guarding leBron”

        In what world would you want your best player to pick up fouls trying to guard a player that is going ot attack the rim like LeBron?
        Give it a rest. Kobe is a great defender, but only a poor coach would WANT Kobe to guard a player like LeBron for a full game.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 20, 2012, 11:46 pm
        • Paulie: Appreciate the read. You have to remember that this was 1992, and at that time, Glenn Rice was clearly the better player, and Alpha-Dog for the Heat:

          Rice: 22 ppg-5 reb-4 ass -56% TS
          Smith:12 ppg -3reb – 5 ass – 51% TS

          Therefore, Pippen clearly had the tougher assignment. However, you argument certainly holds water if we were to fast forward 5-6 years.

          With regards to the Kobe-always-guarded-the-best-player myth, I agree and it’s not even close. Kobe RARELY guarded the opponents best player, and not because he was incapable – per your explanation, it simply does not make any sense to risk having your best player in foul trouble. I plan on revealing my analysis in a future post.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | January 21, 2012, 1:12 pm
          • After remembering that Smitty was just a rookie and Rice was now in his 3rd season.

            I like both Smith and Rice as they are both part of the wealth of talent form the great mitten state!

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 21, 2012, 10:48 pm
  3. Once again, very well done. Analysis was well-executed and easy to read. I always had an inkling that this was a bit of a myth, so I’m glad to see a little research on it. I must say I have yet to be so pleased with such material from a non-professional writer.

    One thing: Not sure how some people are actively differentiating between the help defense abilities of MJ and Pip. To me, Pip was a better defender and more versatile. A better defensive leader, even. But MJ was incredibly dangerous when someone other than his man had the ball.

    Posted by Billy Hoyle | January 21, 2012, 1:38 am
  4. Why is an argument for Jordan always apparently an indictment on Kobe or something? The fact is Scottie Pippen helped Jordan corral defenses for a SUSTAINED amount of time, further freeing Jordan having to defend multiple positions. This is something Kobe has done in the past 8 or so years. Fact.

    By the way, the myth that you assume is brought up by Kobe-Nation, is really simple to wrap your head around: Jordan had GREAT, not good, not amazing, historically GREAT backcourt help for 97% of his career. Kobe did not, since you brought Kobe up.

    Prior to 2009, and 2010, Kobe’s back court consisted of Derek Fisher, himself, and Trevor Ariza/Ron Artest before his inevitable dropoff. He was still a good defender, but nevertheless far removed from his glory days from Indiana, Sacramento, and yes Houston.

    If you want to expand on this argument and make a blog post comparing Kobe’s backcourt to Jordan’s for their careers go ahead. In it, also include the minutes played, on court production, substitution patterns and whatever to support why or why you don’t think this is true.

    Posted by DODOO | January 21, 2012, 4:08 pm
    • DoDoo – Thanks for the read, but I completely disagree with everything that you mentioned.

      1.) While Scottie Pippen may have helped “corral defenses for a sustained amount of time, I am not sure what you mean by “freeing Jordan from having to defend multiple positions”. Can you explain to me how Kobe guarded multiple positions any more than MJ? Jordan guarded PG, SG, and SF throughout his career and my list highlights each at one time or another? Are you really implying that Kobe guarded power forwards and centers?

      2.) Jordan certainly had great offensive players as backcourt mates (Paxson, Kerr, Armstrong), but since when were those guys ever considered GREAT on the defensive end? In fact I would argue that Derek Fisher was a better defender than any of the backcourt mates that Jordan had, with the possible exception of Ron Harper (and only the 1996 version of Harper).

      3.) You do realize that Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza are small forwards right? Therefore, they are not part of the backcourt, but the “front” court?

      I do not doubt that Jordan played with a better second defender than what Kobe played with, (much like Kobe had a better 2nd offensive player throughout his career). However, this notion that Kobe guarded 5 different positions, or even more positions than MJ – or that Kobe always took on the toughest assignment, is complete and utter nonsense.

      I encourage you to watch the tape.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 21, 2012, 4:51 pm
  5. Ok wing help.

    Jordan had an upgrade over Kobe at wing help.

    Today’s game, SF’s are considered to being part of the back court. Specially since cut-screens SINCE the days of Jordan started to be a major part of the game. This helped enable, and free Jordan from having to defend those very guys because even when they beat Pip, Jordan would come from behind to block shots.

    I didn’t say Kobe guarded centers and PF’s although he’s done it, but rather he’s had to go from defending opposing point guards, sg’s, sf’s, and at times PF’s and very rarely in team-defense situations C’s but not one-on-one. For much longer periods of time, specially since he’s never had anybody, nobody anywhere stacking up to Pips in the wing, or for that matter, backcourt, and specially in the playoffs, go look at the Celtics series when Ron Artest and Kobe took Pierce as an assignment at times.

    And my second point is Kobe had Shaq, but he is a center, and Kobe’s assignment was mostly as a playmaker, for Shaq, he didn’t have to defend the front court, because guys like Horace Grant, did.

    Yes Fisher is a good defense, and it’s debatable that they are THAT much more defensive than Paxson etc. Kobe having to expend more effort from the wing-to the back court is another reason why Kobe had less to work with, and thus proves the point that he’s had to do it because he had no choice, when Fisher’s assignment beat him to the dribble, Kobe had to check and slide over in that direction.

    Jordan rarely had to waste his energy doing that, as much as Kobe has done it.

    Posted by DODOO | January 21, 2012, 5:01 pm
    • fisher is a good defensive player, but only was considered that a few years ago, he was no way better than Pips is what I meant to say.

      Not to mention,Kobe never had consistently good perimeter shooters. Kobe has had to carry this burden for most of his career, except the “threepeat” when the Shaq-Kobe tandem had one.

      Shaq was one guy in the paint and to his credit a very good defensive player.. Jordan had the benefit of having an equally good defensive player in Pips for a longer period that’s all I’m saying.

      Posted by DODOO | January 21, 2012, 5:06 pm
    • Dodoo,

      1.) SF’ are not, nor have ever been, considered part of the “backcourt”. They have always been considered to be part of the “front court” and remain that way today. Nonetheless, I certainly welcome any evidence that suggests otherwise.

      2.)I encourage you to re-read the article again, because it sounds like you completely missed my points, particularly the fact than I included Small Forwards in my analysis. I don’t know how to break this to you, but as a shooting guard, Jordan didn’t guard small forwards for the majority of time because he was a shooting guard – which is typically how defensive matchups occurred – not because Pippen assumed the tougher defensive assignment, freeing up MJ for weakside blocks. In fact, the data proves the opposite -that Jordan, not Pippen, more often guarded the opponents best player on the opposing team. So explain to me how Kobe was unique in anyway?

      3.) Again re-read the article, because Jordan spent the entire 1996 SEASON guarding PGs instead of shooting guards. Therefore, the only difference is that Jordan actually demonstrated more SUSTAINED versatility than Kobe did. He didn’t simply guard PG for 2 games in a series. He guarded out of positon for an entire season. Lastly, in a future arguement, I plan on demonstrating the exact opposite – that Kobe Bryant actually drew the weaker assignment, and especially from 2008-2011 – not the stronger one. Trust me, it was not Kobe Bryant matching up against Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, and Carmelo Anthony for the majority of those playoff series. It was Ariza and Artest. Kobe on the other hand, spent the bulk of those series guarding Thabo Sefalosha, Dante Jones, and Rajon Rondo.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 21, 2012, 5:26 pm
      • Ron Harper also played for the Lakers with Kobe.

        Harper was a very good defender after his knee injury limited his scoring.

        Derek Fisher is a total sieve on D.
        A complete matador and always has been.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 21, 2012, 10:44 pm
    • Kobe fetishists even try and distort history and what we see before our own eyes when trying to pump him up.

      SFs are front court players. They have always been front court players. Make a list of the starting SFs today and tell me which one of them plays the majority of this game in the back court.

      Posted by Eric | January 31, 2012, 1:17 pm
  6. Incredible text, as much as the previous ones. It’s really not easy to go against the flow, so I really admire your striving to bust these modern myths which are mostly based on the read stuff and not on the watched games. For a clear game analysis, emotions must be pushed aside, and therefore, the game(s) must be watched more than once to make proper conclusions.

    Kobe is a great player, no doubt. But the epic dimensions have been attributed to his game these past few years by his army of fans, mostly because these guys had never watched MJ in his prime. Kobe is “their” guy, the Man of their epoch. Emotional attachment, again. And laziness, also, because it seems to be easier to argue and prove Kobe’s greatness than to actually watch some old game which the Internet is full of. They don’t even need SOPA :)

    Keep up with good work,
    Greets from Serbia

    Posted by Nikola Jovanovic | January 23, 2012, 3:53 am
    • Niklola, Thank you for the kind works and we are glad to hear that we have a Serbian contingent.

      There are many myths regarding the NBA and this just happens to be one. However, in fairness to Kobe, he has also been the victim of certain media-driven fallacies as well, as illustrated by my fellow writer, Brown Mamba:
      http://chasing23.com/kobe-bryant-quit-game-7/

      Regardless, we will continue work to expose more incorrect assumptions in the future.

      Hvala!

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 23, 2012, 11:54 am
  7. Thank you! Not just for this article, but for spreading the TRUTH in a day where the media brain washes not only the common fan but those who are “experts”.

    I have read your articles int he past and the clutch Kobe/Lebron/MJ articles have hooked me. Your name is VERY VERY fitting.

    Posted by ThePearl | January 23, 2012, 9:23 am
  8. I have never been a Kobe fan but I give him his props for being a great player. All this lebron vs. Kobe stuff over the past few years is insane. Who would you want with the ball in his hands with a down 2 in the fourth quarter?? All that aside there is no doubt that Jordan is the better player.. period! DOODOO: MJ had the assignment of guarding a center (Divac) through 4 games of a series. To my knowledge Kobe has never had a defensive assignment like that. Jordan clearly had more versatility on the defensive end. You did not want to pass the ball anywhere near him. Yes, you can make the argument that Jordan had a more interchangeable defensive partner in Pippen but you have to remember that Kobe had a dominate presence sitting in the paint deterring anyone from driving. You can not compare any of the slow footed unathletic centers that Jordan played with. There is no debate about Fisher being a better defender that Kerr and Paxson.. BJ wasn’t bad. Fisher and Kobe could switch without much of a mismatch in large part because Fish was a good defender and his physical strength is above average. Lets also not forget that Odom, Ariza, Artest were there to help as well. First they had Shaq clogging up the middle (which should always be a consideration) then they had the biggest and longest front line in the league (Bynum, Gasol, Odom). Jordan never had that type of help standing behind him. I could go on and on but I think I made my point. As much as Kobe is a great player and probably the closest thing we will get to The Man.. there will never be another Michael Jordan!

    Posted by DSW | January 23, 2012, 12:59 pm
  9. there are some i kind of questioned, like somebody mentioned i remember jordan guarding mullin more than reggie, pippen was playing his role disrupting mark jackson.

    also i remember in 97 jordan was guarding mookie blaylock for a game or two then switched on to chaney while ron shut down mookie and pippen put the clamps on steve smith.

    against the 97′ heat ron harper was the one guarding hardaway. jordan was on voshon while pippen was on mashburn.

    Posted by stillshining | January 23, 2012, 7:37 pm
    • Thanks for the read stillshining. Jordan absolutely guarded Mullin, Divacs, and Blaylock. He even guarded Jalen Rose for an extended period of time. However, he only guarded these folks in spots. I worked to capture the opponent based on the majority.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 24, 2012, 8:42 am
  10. one last one, jordan guarded divac most of the time after game 2 while pippen took turns with worthy and magic

    Posted by stillshining | January 23, 2012, 7:40 pm
    • Not really. As I mentioned in my article, he guarded Divacs in Game 3 and the second half of game 2. However, the bulk of his minutes were spent guarding Magic.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 24, 2012, 8:43 am
  11. Lifelong Bulls fan here. Very well written article and great input, but in the end, I still think Scottie was the better defender. Jordan was a 6’6 big guard with a huge size advantage over most of the players listed above (minus Magic, Drexler and Miller). Depends on how you look at it, but great article.

    Posted by Michael | January 23, 2012, 8:29 pm
    • Michael, thanks for the read and the kind words. I can’t disagree with you that Pippen was the better defender throughout his career. Perhaps not as good on-ball, but he definitely excelled on help defense. I will however posit that Jordan peaked higher as a defender in 1988 when he essentially excelled at all aspects of defense: help defense, on-ball, weakside, passing lanes, etc – and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 24, 2012, 8:46 am
  12. Solid logic – “The genesis of this myth began during Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals when Scottie Pippen helped change the momentum of the series by defensively switching onto Magic Johnson in an effort to alleviate MJ’s workload. ” – but it’s Jordan in the table guarding Magic…
    Solid logic 2 – Anthony Mason – a perimeter player on the Knicks…
    That basically makes this post unreliable….

    Posted by pk | January 24, 2012, 1:17 am
    • Pk, sounds like you didn’t read the whole article. Read it again and that will help you understand why Magic is int he table. Also, pay special emphasis to the word “majority” when reading.

      Second, Anthony Mason did play small forward, and evolved into a point forward with Charlotte. So yes, Pippen did guard Mason, while Harper guarded Starks, and Jordan guarded Harper. Oakly and Ewing played the 4 and 5

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 24, 2012, 8:39 am
  13. Love the article Realist, I agree 100% that the players positions dicates who they guard the far majority of the time.
    As a Kobe fan and a fan of the NBA, I find the comparisons between eras somewhat useless for the mere fact that they are impossible to prove. AND Kobe only chooses to guard the other teams best player, even if its out of positon, for the last few minutes of the game, assuming he has fouls to give. Jordan and Pippen did it for whole series.
    When comparing Kobe and Scottie as lock down defenders you have to look at not only who they are guarding individually and what threat that person poses, but also who is around them and who is on the other team.
    For example, if we look at the 97 finals and the 04 finals (just two random years) and focus on the pippen, jordan and harper guarding hornacek, russell and stockton how does that compare to kobe, payton and shaq gaurding billups, hamilton and wallace. Yes I know the positions dont match up, but thats kind of the point…
    Unless we can somehow put Kobe in the same situation as Jordon or Lebron or whomever, we wont really know how he would have or could have played. I think its safe to say that after watching him for 16 years; he would have developed his game to win…cause thats what winners do. Its taken Lebron almost 10 years to realize he should work on his low post game…in my opinion, thats where the comparisons between MJ and kobe come from, his desire to win and improve. Its something no other player has shown…

    Posted by Anti Bill Simmons | January 24, 2012, 8:57 am
  14. Whoever says that Pippen, Jordan, Kobe, Lebron, etc. ALWAYS guards the opponents best player obviously doesn’t watch the game.

    Pippen gave Magic fits in that Finals series, but I remember Jordan being a better defender overall.

    Posted by J.T. | January 24, 2012, 10:41 am
  15. Well, you could easily say another “NBA myth” is that MJ locked down Drexler in the 1992 playoffs. Consider these facts:

    1. Drexler averaged about 25 points in that series. That was his season average. He shot a lower percentage than during the regular season, but that was hardly unusual for Clyde (see the 1990 Spurs and Suns series). It certainly wasn’t “locking him down.”

    2. If you throw out the blowout Game 1, when Clyde sat out the fourth quarter, he averaged 26.6 ppg, which is higher than his season average and career playoff average.

    3. Jordan guarded Clyde most of the minutes, but Scottie guarded him the rest. That’s pretty daunting tag team. By contrast, MJ and Scottie had it easy.

    MJ certainly dominated Clyde in that series, but it’s more accurate to say MJ lit Clyde up rather than shut him down.

    Posted by Brian | January 26, 2012, 11:27 am
    • Brian, Thanks for the read, but a “lower” percentage? You think? Drexler shot 7 percentage points lower going from 47% to 40% in the NBA Finals. I call that locking a player down. Yes, he scored the same number of points, but had to take several shots more to get there. This inefficiency didn’t help Portland, it hurt them.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | January 29, 2012, 1:20 pm
  16. Hi Realist,

    I never heard “opponent’s best player” before. What was often done was — if it could be done with shuffling Jordan to guarding the 3 and Harper or Armstrong guarding the 2 — putting Pippen on the playmaker (Magic in 1991, Mark Jackson in 1998). The “Pippen puts pressure on the ballhandler coming up the court” was something I saw often, at least in playoff games — it cuts down the opponent’s shot clock, and it gives Michael some breathing room.

    I don’t think we’ll ever answer who the better defender actually is — my head says Michael but my heart says Pippen — because of their different roles on the offensive end. But I think because of how Michael was depended upon to deliver on the offensive end, having Scottie be their defensive heart alleviated the pressure and made it easier for MJ. I was rewatching the last Jazz series recently, and they had Scottie playing free safety on that one — putting him on the weakest offensive threat and then pouncing.

    It’s different for each team.

    Posted by Duy | February 4, 2012, 6:09 pm
  17. why dont you put the numbers the opposing player put up against them…. for example Majerle and Drexler both put up stats against Jordan in the Finals…and Pippen didnt stop Magic, go look at the numbers and watch the games.

    Posted by john | February 6, 2012, 7:21 pm
  18. I watched the 1991 NBA Finals just last year. Pippen never claimed to stop Magic, but he did cause him a lot of problems. It should also be noted that Magic’s offense was much smoother when Pippen wasn’t guarding him. He didn’t guard him the entire time.

    The same could be said for Rodman on Malone in 97 and 98. If you look at the numbers, Malone was fine. But most of those points came against Longley.

    Posted by Duy | February 6, 2012, 7:55 pm
  19. NBA Realist has invented a myth to the effect that Scottie Pippen “always guarded the opposing team’s best player.” No serious historian’s ever tried to make such a case. Provide some examples & debunking the “myth” might seem a more worthwhile exercise instead of a simple straw man.

    The points made re Pippen guarding Mark Jackson in the ’98 playoffs are sound, but I don’t think anybody’s explained why Pip was assigned to Jax. In the ’98 season Jackson had been posting up other point guards. I personally never thought that was a great strategy, but Larry Bird evidently felt it was, & who can argue w/ Bird’s coaching prowess? Anyway, the reason Pippen marked Jackson was to keep him from posting up. That Phil Jackson specifically designated Pippen & not Jordan or Harper for this key task speaks to Phil’s regard for Pip’s defensive responsibility. Of course, Jax wasn’t the best Pacer player, but disrupting the ’98 Pacer strategy was paramount. Pippen, we also might recall, stole a jump ball from Rik Smits in crunch time of Game Seven.

    Posted by Keith Ellis | February 25, 2012, 6:12 pm
  20. Hey, have not seen the debunk on Kobe’s defense…didnt know if I was looking in the right spots. Awesome columns all the way around…

    Posted by Richard | May 23, 2012, 1:48 pm
  21. I do think it’s a bit odd you’ve tried to tackle this “myth” (I’ve never heard it and followed the 90′s Bulls incredibly closely), but with that said, I take one major exception to what you’ve published here, and that’s your list of who the better player was between MJ and Pip’s covers.

    There are a number of years where I believe your conclusions are poor, and there are a number of years where context MUST be applied. Chicago was always the better team, and with the versatility of Pip and MJ didn’t ever need to change their strategy or rotation, so instead they reacted accordingly to matchups. To wit:

    In 1991, Aguirre scored more per 36 than Dumars. I was confused reading the list why this wasn’t called a wash.

    When Chicago played big teams, who was supposed to guard the 3? BJ Armstrong? Why would they put Jordan on one? So,

    In 1992, Pippen guards Kersey.
    In 1993, Pippen guards Nance.
    In 1993 Pippen guards Charles Smith.

    Then in 1993 you call Dumas a weaker assignment than Majerle. That one confused me a bit too, since Dumas scored way more per 36 than Majerle. And again, he was a sweeping athlete, Majerle more of a spot-up shooter — why waste Pippen on him?

    In 1996, Mash was a 6-8 forward who loved to post up — why go with Jordan there??

    Again, in 1997, Pippen guards Juwan Howard because of the giant Washington frontcourt. Again, Jordan could not do this nor should he.

    In 1998 Kittles was more of a shooter, and they didn’t like to (or need to) have Pip chase shooters. Gill wasn’t a slouch.

    It seems to me the only voluntary time in 24 series, according to your chart, that Jordan clearly took the tougher assignment was 1991 against LA…which is ironically the series Pippen is known for switching on to Magic and disrupting him. (And he did not guard him a lot in the games back in the forum too?)

    Posted by ElGee | May 30, 2012, 12:28 am
  22. Anything to make Jordan look better

    Posted by dbz | June 7, 2012, 1:15 am
    • How, exactly, can we make Jordan look better as a player?

      That is a pretty silly comment.

      Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 7, 2012, 9:02 am
    • Wake me up when another player wins the regular season MVP 33% of their seasons played and wins the Finals MVP 40% of their seasons played … when you consider that a great many find ample reason to believe that MJ would have two more of each type of MVP if he hadn’t left the NBA in his prime, it’s really remarkable what this player did to cement his legacy as the greatest player ever, with no equal to even come within sniffing distance … odds are, he retires with 7 regular season MVPs and 8 Finals MVPs if boredom, his father’s passing, feeble baseball attempts, and/or the gambling controversy had not intervened … wow.

      Posted by Ken | June 7, 2012, 10:42 am
  23. You forgot leading the league in scoring 10 times.

    And being the only player to win an MVP AND the Defensive Player of the year in the same season.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 7, 2012, 11:45 am
    • Didn’t Hakeem win MVP, Defensive MVP and Finals MVP in the same year? The only player to ever achieve all 3 by the way.

      Realist – Great article, the oly reason I kept my VHS player is to watch my 91 Finals and MJ 3 peat videos! And I’m a Rockets/Dream fan..

      Posted by Whozee | July 14, 2012, 7:26 pm
  24. NBA Realist, i love your posts and great article. I don’t agree with you saying that Scottie Pippen was the greatest perimeter defender myth. Every time i hear NBA analyst or commentators talk about great wing, low post, or perimeter defenders the first name is always Jordan. Even if he is the greatest or not I hear his name first, anyway still a great post

    Posted by Javier Cortez | June 13, 2012, 10:37 pm
  25. A big reason Jordan was a great defender was, MJ could “hand check” on defense, Kobe could not most of his career. Huge advantage for Jordan, right? At least that’s the argument many use to downgrade Kobe’s offensive exploits.

    Posted by GooGoo | August 4, 2012, 6:22 pm
  26. This is a nice break down.

    Pippen is a versatile defender who could guard all 5 position. Unlike MJ kobe never have such a luxury. Imo if Kobe had a guy like Artest they would have better chance of beating the Celtic in 2008. In 2008 Paul Pierce was guarded by Luke Walton lol

    Posted by Cuong Pham the baller | October 18, 2012, 3:41 pm
  27. Really enjoyed this article. I was intrigued by the title, as I at first thought it was leaning toward the argument that Jordan was a better defender than Pippen (which after reading it, it clearly does not state that. Still glad I read the article though :) I look forward to reading more of your debunking myths articles. Well written!!!

    Posted by NBAFANADDICT | January 9, 2013, 1:20 pm
  28. As a Sonics fan, I have nothing but my old VHS tapes of ’91-’97 Sonic Reg. Season and Playoff games to re-watch and cry about.
    My take on this articles main argument is based on said tapes…
    1. This article isn’t about who is better, it’s about debunking a myth before it actually gains traction and becomes fact. (Like how Jordan beat Nique in ’88 with a behind the line dunk on his 1st try). If you watch those games you see it’s pretty much a myth, but I’d be interested in digging deeper to find out what the data and film actually reveal then. Here’s my mediocre take…
    2. Pre 1994, Jordan could guard anyone on the floor, while scoring at will, because he was so blessed and hungry. Coach Phil had two of the top 4 defenders in the world (Payton, Olajuwon) and seemed to mix assignments to match his teams goals in a given week (accounting for health, travel, competition, etc) or playoff series (same).
    3. Post Mid-season 1995, Jordan could legitimately guard almost anyone but at the expense of some offensive contributions – at least over a series or long road trip, etc. But coach Phil had 3 of the top 4 defenders in the world (yes, adding Rodman. And Payton is the other.). So coach did not have to switch Pippen onto anyone specifically, he just let the opposing coach worry about that crap. The Bulls seemed only concerned with themselves (like all greats).
    4. Phil had a team that was infected with defense. That’s what separated the ’96-’98 group. Defensive versatility. Payton, Kemp, and Schempf of the ’93-’97 Sonics were matchup nightmares for all comers, except the Bulls, because of this. The ’90′s Sonics were lunatics and self destructed most seasons but in ’96 they lost to a better team of defenders. Jordan had his worst playoff series (still good) but he had the help now. It’s frustrating to watch for me.
    In sum, Jordan as a defender, is two careers. Pippen, because of this, also has two defensive careers. Pippen became great after Jordan bailed and seemed to do everything to hang on to his best defender label after Jordan’s return. It’s all he had guys.

    I. So, pre-’94 Jordan is the best defender on the bulls, and post -’94 Pippen is the bulls top defender.

    II. Top 5 defenders of my NBA watching days 1987-2013 are.. 5. Dennis Rodman. 4. Scottie Pippen 3. Michael Jordan. 2. Gary Payton 1. Hakeem Olajuwon.

    III. Factoring in my Dickhead index is how this top 5 was made final.
    Jordan is the biggest Dickhead ever, so he gets ranked ahead of Pippen. Such a dick wouldn’t let himself be out defended by a teammate if it came down to it.
    Rodman is a dickhead that made his opponent become a dickhead and then Rodman could take advantage of home dickhead court advantage.
    Payton was such a dickhead that he believed he was good enough to lockdown MJ and anyone else. He trash talked to get himself in that mode, not to make a pathetic attempt at bringing down his opponent – which wouldn’t work vs. a great player, this is evident in ’96 finals. Though blown outa proportion, GP did have more success on #23 (my favorite version of #23) in that series final 3.5 games.
    Hakeem is #1 because he is not a dickhead at all, yet he was still a beast.

    Posted by Reno Hightower | May 28, 2013, 1:08 pm
    • I forgot to add, though I agree with your verdict, I do disagree with a few of the calls you made on the defensive assignment chart. However, I think sound reasoning could have been used that I’m not aware of, and I’ve seen it used in the comments, so it’s possible at least.

      1. A third of your decisions I would say depend on half court or fast break situations. Strickland v Howard etc.

      2. I’d rank guarding Reggie Miller as a 10/10. While a Bobby Phills a 4/10. So a simple vote of who’s better on a team could be a marginal or scale thing. Not a yes/no thing

      3. Guarding Barkley in 1993 was about as tough as they saw in Chicago. He could hit the 3 and drive the lane and get ugly in the paint. That’s worth a lot more than any time with Dumas.

      4. Some of these guys have no business being on the same floor.

      5. How did my Sonics make only 1 finals? Gross. Oh yeah, the Suns shot 64 free throws in game 7 of 1993. 40 more than us. We still had not been Mutumbo’ed yet and had clueless hope, coulda forced the bulls to a game 7 at least once ever before they won.

      Posted by Reno Hightower | May 28, 2013, 1:31 pm
  29. If MJ was such a great defender, why did the Bulls defensive rating improve in 1994 after MJ left the team? Why did the the 1994 Bulls hold teams to less point per game in 1994 than they did with MJ in 1993. MJ was a great individual defender, but he was never the team defender that Scottie Pippen was and basketball is after all a team sport.

    Posted by Merkin | August 30, 2013, 11:40 pm
  30. As I said (to the derision of box score and award junkies here) basketball stat analysis is so much more meaningful when incorporating spacing into the analysis … and now we’re starting to see more of it

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9795591/kirk-goldsberry-introduces-new-way-understand-nba-best-scorers

    Posted by Gil Meriken | October 9, 2013, 3:55 pm
    • For the LAST TIME Gil, NO ONE IS ARGUING THAT SPATIAL ANALYSIS WILL BE A GOOD THING. You are arguing, literally, no one on this concept. The argument has always been whether the spatial analysis will show a massive leap in KOBE BRYANT’S ability, which the majority of us have answered “no,” you being the opposite. (Bryant, by the way, does NOT appear in the article.)

      Posted by pointguard40 | October 18, 2013, 1:18 am

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