Scottie Pippen was the defensive anchor and the primary ball-handler/distributor/coach on the floor of a legit NBA dynasty. He was the good cop to Jordan’s bad cop…he patted his teammates on the back when Jordan was being a demanding A-hole, kept them involved in the offense, and made sure they were up and ready when Jordan would pass to them when he’s being doubled. He was able to grab big rebounds, go coast to coast in the open court like Dr. J or Lebron, and wreck havoc on an opponent’s offense with his defense. Jordan was the ultimate competitor and all-time clutch “hero-ball” player in the fourth quarter…but he needed his team’s pressure defense and the confidence of his teammates to set up his heroics. And no one was better at setting that up than Scottie Pippen.
The down-side of Pippen’s career/overall game is that he was not a good go-to guy in the clutch and was never comfortable being “The Franchise Player”. Scottie was a pretty streaky scorer and was not a knock down shooter in the fourth quarter. And he was jealous of the public’s adoration of Jordan and Kukoc getting a better contract. These were sources of numerous insecure public tantrums throughout his career (sitting on the bench while Kukoc hit the game winning shot in the ’94 playoffs and the multiple times he demanded a trade through the press).
Kahwi Leonard is the player that Larry Bird hoped Ron Artest would have become when he was running the Pacers…a franchise player who’s a very good scorer who can lock down the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer. Kawhi was the number one option and the Spurs’ lockdown perimeter defender while winning the 2014 Finals MVP when he was just 22 years old. His leadership, scoring skills, and defensive mastery has continued to improve every season since then. He’s a knock-down mid range and 3-point shooter with a much improved post game…his wingspan makes it hard for opposing defenders to disrupt his shot. He’s poised, mature and mentally tough enough to handle the responsibility of carrying a team through crunch time in the regular season and playoffs.
Kawhi is neither the playmaker nor the team defender that Scottie was in his prime. And Kawhi was in a more nurturing/forgiving environment to start his career with Duncan in San Antonio than what Scottie had to deal with when starting his career alongside Jordan in Chicago. So all in all…I would rather have Kawhi as “The Franchise Player” if I was starting a ballclub. But I would also prefer Scottie as the guy who’s running a dynasty with the greatest and most ruthless competitor the league has ever seen.