Tag Archives: Michael Jordan

Well, this stinks.  Two months of quarantining were largely made tolerable by having new episodes of The Last Dance to look forward to.  And now that’s over.

My social life is pretty sad during regular times, and it’s even sadder during a quarantine.  During regular times, a major part of my socializing is watching basketball with friends and talking about basketball with friends.  That remained true during the quarantine, even without live basketball to watch.  My text messages would be most active on Sunday evenings into Monday, with chatter about the current episodes.

Now that the documentary is over, and there’s no end of the quarantine on the immediate horizon, the outlook is grim for my social life.  I might as well try to extend the discussion by posting my thoughts about the documentary and the discussion it generated, and hope it motivates a few people to communicate with me.

After watching all 10 episodes of the documentary, discussing lots of it with my friends, and spending too much time on Twitter reading what strangers were saying about it, my main thought… is about Carmen Electra.

Actually, strike that.  I should stick to basketball. I’ll try again.

Basketball, basketball, basketball. You know who must have been really good at basketball? Carmen Electra must have been really good at basketball.  In 1998,  Dennis Rodman’s productivity was slipping, then he spent a few days in the middle of the season in Las Vegas with Carmen, and he came back an improved basketball player.  Stands to reason that she’s great at basketball, and they got some quality practice time together while in Vegas.  Right?

Uhhh…. You know what?  Let’s forget about Carmen Electra altogether, and move on to other topics.

My main thought, after watching the documentary, discussing the documentary, listening to commentary about the documentary, and reading about the documentary, is that Scottie Pippen has become extremely over-rated.

Yeah, I said it.  OVERrated.

I keep hearing that Scottie Pippen was under-rated. For the life of me, I don’t understand where the people who make this claim think Scottie Pippen is rated. Back when the NBA “turned 50,” it recognized 50 players as the best 50 to have ever played.  Pippen was among the top 50. Bill Simmons is the one person alive who has devoted years to creating a system for ranking the best NBA players throughout history, and then actually ranking them.  He has Pippen at #28.  Just this month, ESPN pulled together a list of the top 100.  They have Pippen at 21.

21?!?!  That’s insane.  Even 28 is pushing it.

Each of those rankings puts Pippen ahead of Dwyane Wade. (Simmons had Wade at 53 when he published his book in 2009, and Wade’s not one of the guys Simmons bumped ahead of Pippen as of April 2020. ESPN puts Wade at 26.) ESPN has Isiah at 31, and Barkley at 23.

The fundamental mistake these rankings make is that they overvalue rings achieved as the second-best player on a team, and they undervalue the immense achievement of making a bad team competitive, or of leading a team to a title even just one time.  In the ’02-03 season, Miami was 25-57. Then they drafted Wade, and they made the playoffs in 10 of the next 12 seasons, including 3 championships. Some people pretend there’s a question about who was the best player on their ’06 championship team between Wade and Shaq, but Wade averaged 27 points in 38 Minutes Per Game that season, while Shaq averaged 20 points in 30 Minutes Per Game. There’s no question – Wade was the top player on that team.

Isiah’s even better.  In the 1980-81 season, the Pistons were 21-61. Then they drafted Isiah, and made the playoffs every year from 1984 – 1992, including two championships and one additional Finals appearance.

Pippen never joined a bad team and made them good.  He can’t be blamed for that; it’s not his fault that he joined a team that already had MJ.  But, it’s not like he played his entire career on MJ’s team.  In 1994, he was the best player on a Bulls team that lost in the second round.  In 1995, he was the best player on a Bulls team that was 34-31 when Jordan announced he was coming out of retirement.  Pippen then spent 5 more years in the league (disregarding his ceremonial final season on the Bulls), and never made The Finals. His best team achievement without MJ was making the Conference Finals once, and his best statistical season without MJ was 93-94, when he averaged 22 points, 6 assists, and 9 rebounds.

Pippen was a phenomenal player, no question about it.  If I really took the time to rank everyone, I’d probably put him between 30 and 35. But to rank as Top 25 of all time, shouldn’t you have a track record of making a bad team good, or at least of being the best player on a Finals team if not on a championship team? A whole bunch of phenomenal players achieved at least one of those things, and I don’t see how Pippen’s achievements jump him ahead of those players.

There’s much more to say about this, but I doubt any of the three of you are still reading.  Stay safe, hoopservers.

1 Comment:

  • Joshua Sipkin

    Pippen is underrated because his name and game will forever be automatically associated with Jordan. It is fair to say that’s an unfair disadvantage to him when discussing his individual talents and accomplishments. Pippen was great. GREAT. No, he didn’t win without the best ever on his team but, the best ever didn’t win any titles without Pippen on his team.

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We frequently hear that basketball is evolving to a position-less game.  We hear about “combo guards,” “stretch 4’s,” and “modern centers.”  Well, I’m here to tell you that the game isn’t changing as much as popular opinion would have you believe.  Yup, me, the guy with three readers and no credentials, here to tell you that those folks with credentials and large audiences are wrong.

To examine whether the positions are changing, we should start by defining what the positions have historically been.  We often take for granted the idea that a starting 5 includes a PG, SG, SF, PF, and C, but it’s harder to define each of those positions than many would think.  I, the guy with three readers and no credentials, will try…

Traditionally, point guards did more passing than scoring.  They were asked to control the tempo of the game, and maximize the talents of their teammates, more than they were asked to score.  At the other end of the spectrum, centers had most of their impact near the basket – on offense, scoring from the low post, and on defense leading their teams in blocked shots and rebounds.  Some of them could shoot capably from the perimeter, but they only very rarely ventured far away from the rim.

In between, the roles were less clear.  As I’ve blogged previously, I’ve been watching hoops for many years, and I have no idea why anyone acts as if there’s a major distinction between a shooting guard and a small forward. I also don’t see a major distinction between a power forward and a center.  To the extent I can explain it, the best power forwards are generally more versatile than the best centers, but the best centers are more dominant.  Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Dirk Nowitzki were all excellent players, whom nobody thought of as centers. (Apologies, Dirk, for referring to you in the past tense, but anyone who’s seen you try to run up and down the court recently knows that it’s appropriate.) Shaq, David Robinson, Hakeem, and Ewing were also excellent players, whom nobody thought of as PFs. The guys who are both versatile and dominant are sometimes thought of as PFs and sometimes as Cs (Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis).

Even accepting that the lines between some positions are not always clear, I think most basketball fans would stipulate that the following players fit the mold of their respective positions, and played those positions at a high level:

Point Guard: Isiah Thomas (the one from the ’80s), John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker.  (I’d include Magic Johnson, but he fits into no molds for anything.)

Shooting Guard: Reggie Miller, Joe Dumars, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili

Small Forward: Scottie Pippen, Dominique Wilkins, Paul Pierce

Power Forward: Pau Gasol, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber

Center: Shaq, Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo

I haven’t classified LeBron (I guess he’s a 3?), MJ (a 2?), or Tim Duncan (a 4?), which starts to lead me to believe that if you reach a certain level of performance you don’t have a position.

Get to the point, Kraver.

Ok, will do…

The point is that traditional positions aren’t gone at all.

Mike Conley, Chris Paul, Goran Dragic, and Kyle Lowry are traditional point guards.  Patrick Beverly, Lonzo Ball, and Ben Simmons – all starters on teams currently heading for the playoffs – might not be traditional point guards, but they sure ain’t shooting guards.

Klay Thompson, JJ Redick, Khris Middleton, CJ McCollum, and Danny Green are among the shootingest shooting guards we’ve ever seen – all heading for the playoffs.

Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Tyson Chandler, and Clint Capela are all traditional centers on teams heading for the playoffs.  Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic are centers playing meaningful minutes on arguably the most surprising team in the league. Marc Gasol is holding down the middle for a surprisingly competitive Memphis team.  And, there’s Joel Embiid, who shoots more 3’s than we’re used to seeing centers shoot, but is grabbing 13 boards and blocking 2 shots per game, while shooting 48% from the field.  He’s a center.

I still can’t articulate how small forwards are different from shooting guards, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Kawhi, Giannis, Paul George, Danilo Galinari, and Jayson Tatum fit the mold of traditional small forwards – to the extent there ever was a mold.

Certainly, there has been some evolution.  We have centers who shoot 3’s, and we have guards like Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry, who not only average double-digit assists, but who do it while taking 20+ shots per game.  But, that’s what it is – an evolution, not a revolution.  The best teams still balance their lineups, with a guy who creates for others, a guy who protects the paint, a guy who attacks the rim, a guy whose primary skill is outside shooting, and a guy who… uh… specializes in whatever it is that power forwards specialized in.

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