THE BEST MICHAEL JORDAN WHAT IFS…

THE BEST MICHAEL JORDAN WHAT IFS…

WHO WAS MICHAEL JORDAN?S 3RD OR 10TH OR 28TH BEST TEAMMATE ON THE CHICAGO BULLS CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS? Admit it, somewhere deep inside your soul, you?ve always wondered the answer to those very questions. And now, thanks to a months-long quarantine without sports and a 10-part Last Dance documentary on those threepeating Chicago Bulls, we finally have time to find our answer.

Jordan was the best player on the title teams, and obviously Scottie Pippen was second. But who was the third most important Bull, was Dennis Rodman or Horace Grant more valuable, and did the Bulls ever have a 90s center worth playing real NBA minutes?

Someone?s gotta do it, might as well be us: Let?s rank all 32 Chicago Bulls that played at least 25 games on one of those threepeat 90s champs?.

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TIER I ? THE GOAT

1. Michael Jordan

Obviously Mike is #1. Let?s put his playoff excellence in context. We?re looking at just playoff numbers, where performance typically drops against more difficult competition and defenses with more time to prepare.

Box Plus-Minus (BPM) is a helpful Basketball Reference tool that measures a player?s impact both offensively and defensively while on the court, a nice all-in-one metric. Jordan?s BPM during the six championship years just in the playoffs alone is 10.6. That would rank among the top-20 individual regular seasons all time ? and six of the seasons ahead of him are just more MJ years.

Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) takes BPM one step further, factoring in time played to show overall value. Jordan had 16.6 playoff VORP in 126 playoff games during those title runs, a 10.8-VORP pace over an 82-game season. Compare that to the most valuable regular seasons of all time, and Jordan?s playoff VORP is better than all but four ? two of which are MJ. And remember, those regular seasons are full of meaningless games against the Hornets and Kings; Jordan?s doing this against the best the league has to offer.

Jordan?s best individual run of the six titles was his first, in 1991. In those playoffs, MJ averaged 31.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 8.4 assists on 60% true shooting, plus 2.4 steals and 1.4 blocks for good measure. The Bulls had an astonishing 127 offensive rating (ortg) with MJ on the court, plus a 101 defensive rating (drtg). Every four possessions, the Bulls gained a full point on their opponent, and those opponents were Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, the Bad Boy Pistons, and the Showtime Lakers. Jordan?s 14.6 BPM in the 91 playoffs is second highest in playoff history, and the only names even in his stratosphere didn?t make the Finals.

So, yeahhhh?. Michael Jordan is prettay, prettay good.

TIER II ? THE PERFECT SECOND BANANA

2. Scottie Pippen

Only Scottie Pippen was Jordan?s teammate on both threepeats.

That doesn?t mean all three years ? no other Bull from the first threepeat played even one minute of the second threepeat, nor vice versa. The ?93 Bulls featured Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, Scott Williams, and John Paxson. By fall 1995, every one of those names was gone, replaced by Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Ron Harper, and Steve Kerr. Even the bit-role guys were different. The entire championship roster turned over in two years ? except for Scottie.

Pippen averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 5-and-a-half assists over those playoff runs with elite defense. He wasn?t the most efficient scorer (52% true shooting) or shooter (29% threes) but his 5.6 playoff BPM would typically signify a top-5-or-10 player, a borderline MVP candidate.

Scottie, not Mike, was the one who broke down the most at the end of both threepeats. You remember the offseason surgery heading into the 1997?98 season and how much Pippen?s back was hurting him. His 1993 playoffs were even worse, quite dreadful, in fact. He had a paltry 2.0 BPM with by far his worst defense, and the Bulls had a negative point differential with Scottie on the court. Pippen?s best playoffs were in 1996, with his confidence blazing after two years establishing himself without Jordan.

Other than making Scottie a better shooter, there?s not much else you could do to improve upon the perfect second banana. Michael Jordan is still the greatest, but there is no six-time title winner without Scottie Pippen.

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TIER III ? THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIRD WHEELS

3. Toni Kukoc

This is obviously where the rankings get interesting.

Kukoc gets the nod at #3 because he?s the one other player on this list that the Bulls don?t win six titles without, because of how integral he was to that 1998 team. Remember, Pippen played only 44 regular season games that year, so Kukoc?s scoring was vital to help get the team to the playoffs and ensure Jordan wasn?t completely spent once they arrived. Kukoc had taken Rodman?s starting spot by that point, and the Bulls badly needed his shooting (38% on threes) and spacing, especially against Indiana and Utah.

The Bulls offense was far better with Kukoc or Steve Kerr on the court in those playoffs ? not coincidentally, the only guys on the team better than 30% behind the arc. Pretty weird how long it took the league to figure out 3>2.

Of all the non-MJ-and-Scottie Bulls, Kukoc was the most versatile scorer and the best passer and playmaker. Horace Grant put up bigger numbers but wasn?t necessarily that much better on the boards or in defense, and besides, the Bulls had plenty of those two things in their second title run. The one thing they couldn?t replace was Toni?s playmaking and shooting.

4. Horace Grant

If you?re a fan of win shares, you?ll be quite ? forgive the pun ? bullish on Horace. His .188 win shares per 48 minutes rates ahead of even Pippen?s .158, and he played a workhorse 37.5 minutes per game during that first threepeat.

The Bulls almost always had an elite offense with Horace Grant on the court, with a 128 ortg over those three playoffs barely a step down from the regular season. Grant was a beast on the offensive glass and a better than expected passer ? just ask John Paxson.

Look, if you want to argue that Grant was better than Kukoc and should be #3 on this list, I?ll listen. He certainly played the third biggest role by volume. But Jordan was so dominant in that early threepeat that I?m not sure it mattered too much who else was on the court. The Bulls don?t win in 1998 without Kukoc. Was that ever true for Horace Grant?

(BESIDES 1995? Come on, we all agreed ?95 doesn?t count!)

TIER IV ? THE ELITE ROLE PLAYERS

5. Ron Harper

I know, you?re starting to scroll at this point looking for a particularly colorful player. We?ll get there.

The truth is Ron Harper was almost as valuable as Rodman on defense ? more so, in many advanced metrics ? while not being miserable on offense. It?s easy to forget, but those late Bulls teams were revered for having three, not two, shutdown perimeter defenders. Harper was the de facto ?point guard,? not Kerr, and though the Bulls offense rated far better with Kerr on the court, Harper?s job was to defend a top perimeter player so MJ didn?t have to, allowing Jordan to conserve his energy for offense.

Harper?s 4.0 BPM ranks fourth among Bulls on this list, and his 100 defensive rating is third. His 3.0 Defensive BPM (DBPM) tops all Chicago players, even Mike and Scottie. By VORP, it?s actually Ron Harper that?s Chicago?s third banana on the ?96 and ?97 title teams. If anything, he might be a tier low.

There?s a reason Phil Jackson brought Harper with him to the Lakers for another couple title runs.

6. Dennis Rodman

Finally, we get to the Worm.

Let?s just say the advanced metrics are not particularly kind. We know Dennis was an incredible defender and historically elite rebounder, but for many advanced metrics like BPM and VORP, Rodman is barely a blip on the radar. For metrics that measure team output, Rodman performs better, with a 98 defensive rating or better in all three Bulls championship years. He may not have racked up blocks or steals, but Chicago?s defense was really slimy and really good with Rodman out there.

The problem is Rodman was so bad on offense that Chicago was basically playing four-on-five on that end. His 11.1% usage is lowest on this entire list. He averaged 5.4ppg on 41% shooting, including just 42% on twos and 59% from the line. He didn?t move well, didn?t pass, couldn?t shoot, and basically just got in Mike?s way.

In today?s NBA, Dennis would have been a bigger problem. Defenses would have been free to ignore Rodman entirely and send an extra man at Mike, forcing the Bulls to put the ball in the Worm?s hands (think Draymond Green) and make a decision. And if you know anything about Dennis Rodman and decision making, that?s, uhh? not an ideal outcome.

Some metrics would push Rodman even further down the list, but we watched those games and know he?s really valuable, so we?ll slot him in here. If you want to read about how good Dennis Rodman was, I recommend this incredible treatise.

7. B.J. Armstrong

The second Bulls threepeat featured a much deeper roster, while the first was far more top-heavy, asking more from Jordan.

B.J. Armstrong was fourth best on the early threepeat, though he didn?t take on a major role until ?93. He was the team?s only shooter with significant playing time, even if no one knew that mattered yet. Armstrong probably should?ve been even more valuable, considering he hit 46% of his threes over those playoff runs. Too bad that only meant 29 threes. In today?s league, he?d hit that in one series alone.

8. Steve Kerr

Speaking of threes, Kerr is still the all-time NBA leader in three-point percentage at 45.4%, just a shade ahead of some guy named Steph Curry.

Kerr hit open shots and didn?t turn over the ball, and that was pretty much his job. His 52 playoff threes in the second threepeat led the Bulls by a wide margin, though his 11.7% usage was minuscule, barely ahead of Rodman.

Kerr wasn?t a good defender, but the rest of the Bulls were so nasty on defense it didn?t matter. Chicago had an unbelievable 136 offensive rating from 1996 to 1998 with Kerr on the court, including 141 in the 72?10 season. Those numbers stack up with just about any offense in league history.

9. John Paxson

Paxson was the OG Kerr, right down to the title clincher, another tiny-usage player that took care of the ball and hit open shots when asked to.

You know how Paxson was wide open on that winning three in 1993? You?d think maybe they should?ve guarded him? after all, he made 62.5% of his threes in those playoffs.

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TIER V ? THE SECRETLY GREAT ROLE PLAYERS

10. Jud Buechler

I told you those late 90s teams were super deep. These next two guys barely even got any minutes, but they were pretty productive when they did.

Buechler was a stretch big before we knew what that was. He made 40% of his threes from 1996 to 1998, but that was only 85 threes because he barely played and the Bulls didn?t yet know how valuable big man spacing was.

11. Scott Burrell

Burrell never did much in the league outside of apparently getting dumped on repeatedly by Michael Jordan, but he was another terrific wing defender, particularly by 1998, where he played over 1000 minutes with a 97 drtg and 2.2 DBPM, All-Defense level in a bit role.

He was even better for 261 playoff minutes. He didn?t play much offense, but if you have to take MJ and Scottie off the court for a few minutes a game, you may as well completely stifle the opponent until they?re back.

TIER VI ? THE STARTING CENTERS

12. Luc Longley

We haven?t had any centers yet, and that?s for good reason.

Chicago?s centers stunk. They were there only because it was the 90s and the Bulls needed some seven-foot dudes out there to absorb body blows from Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Baby Shaq. We never saw this team face a truly elite center like prime Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson, and Bulls fans should probably be glad they didn?t.

The job of a Bulls starting center in the 90s was to play 25 minutes of tough D and get out of the way on offense. That?s Longley. His defense was good, his rebounding meh, and his offense nothing short of tragic. Anything more than hey-Luc-I?m-triple-teamed-over-here-and-you?re-wide-open-under-the-basket-and-seven-feet-tall-just-lay-this-in-baby was too much an ask.

Picture a big Bulls moment from any time in the Jordan era. Pick one, any of them. Where is the Bulls center? Which one?s on the court?

The answer is you don?t know, and it?s probably also ?on the bench, where they belong.?

13. Bill Cartwright

I regret to inform you that threepeat Bill Cartwright was kind of terrible.

Cartwright started all three seasons for the first threepeat, I guess by default and because the Bulls traded Jordan?s buddy Charles Oakley for him. He had a negative on/off rating all three seasons ? AS A STARTER WITH PRIME MICHAEL JORDAN ? with -2.6, -3.2, and -4.9 BPMs. Woof.

Cartwright was old and beat up, and to his credit, he stepped up his game in the playoffs from abjectly horrible to just below average. By any real measure, he was easily the worst regular on either Bulls threepeat.

TIER VII ? THE THREE-POINT GOD

14. Craig Hodges

Hodges had a threepeat of his own, winner of three-point shootouts in 1990, 1991, and 1992. Two of those came on Bulls championship teams, so you?d think that makes Hodges pretty valuable, right?

Wrong.

In the ?91 contest, Hodges hit a still-standing-record 19 consecutive threes in a single round in an astonishing shooting display. As fun as that is, that?s also one three fewer than he made the entire threepeat playoffs, unable to find much playing time despite a career 40% shot behind the arc.

Hodges was so forgettable outside of his shooting that the Bulls waived him before the 1993 season, and no one else signed him. Of course, he was the back-to-back-to-back defending three-point champ at that point, so he had to defend his crown. So Hodges competed from retirement, wearing a generic NBA jersey. He lost in the semis and was never heard from again.

TIER VIII ? BISON

15. Brian Williams, aka Bison Dele

Brian Williams (no, not the lying newscaster? crazier actually) scored 15.8 points a game for the Clippers in 1995-96, then sat out all season to a contract dispute. The Bulls signed him with nine games left, and Williams went on to contribute positively to the 1997 title team, playing 336 playoff minutes off the bench and leading the team with a 99 defensive rating.

In 1998, Williams legally changed his name to Bison Dele to honor his African and Cherokee ancestry, and he played two seasons with the Pistons before retiring and purchasing a catamaran to sail the Seven Seas.

In July 2002, Dele, his girlfriend, and a skipper left Tahiti on the Hukuna Matata and were never heard from again. That September, police organized a sting operation to detain Dele?s brother, who forged Bison?s signature to buy $150,000 of gold bars and murdered Dele and his companions and dumped them in the Pacific Ocean.

That really happened.

Bison also dated Madonna at one point, and the 1997 Chicago Bulls had both him and Dennis Rodman on a roster together for three full months.

Your move, 30 for 30.

TIER IX ? MINUTES-EATING BIG MEN

16. Scott Williams

The other Williams was kind of not terrible, and that?s about all you need to do to stand out as a rotation center for these teams. He was on the first threepeat, his first three seasons in the league, and by 1993 he was playing 20 minutes a night. That was the single highest win-share season of anyone not in the top-13, so sure, let?s call that something.

17. Jason Caffey

Listen, the Bulls had terrible big men and that means they needed depth to eat up significant minutes too, and that makes these guys matter. Caffey was on the second threepeat, though he barely played in 1996 and got traded midway through the ?98 season. But the Bulls were +8.9 with him on the court in 1997!

18. Will Perdue

Perdue was actually pretty good in 1994?95, but the Bulls didn?t win the championship that season. In the seasons that matter, Perdue was terrible, with a sub-negative-four BPM in all three playoffs. Actually, should that make us move Luc Longley up the list?

19. Bill Wennington

Wennington may have been more identifiably ?90s? than any other player on the roster, so at least there?s that.

20. Stacey King

Was Stacey King the worst of these five bigs? No, probably not. But he does annoyingly say ?Drive home safely, BEEP BEEP!!? at the end of every Bulls broadcast, so I am contractually obligated to rank him last in his tier.

I don?t make the rules.

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TIER IX ? POSITIVE BUT MINIMAL CONTRIBUTIONS

21. Trent Tucker

I have no recollection of Trent Tucker, but he joined the Bulls for 13 quality minutes a game in 1993, won a ring, and rode off into retirement. Shouts to one of the OG ring chasers.

22. Cliff Levingston

On the one hand, Levingston played 1000 decent minutes with the first two Bulls championship teams. On the other hand, his contributions mattered so little that Chicago let him leave ? for Greece pro ball ? after 1992.

TIER X ? RESPECT

23.

(Left blank, in his honor.)

24. Robert Parish

In his final NBA season, after nine All-Star campaigns, three championships, and over 45,000 minutes played, The Chief joined the Bulls for a cup of coffee in 1996. And sure, he only played 18 playoff minutes, but he also recorded four rebounds and three blocks at age 43, and you can?t even get out of bed in the morning without grunting in pain.

TIER XI ? EVERYBODY ELSE

25. Randy Brown

I remember Randy Brown as a pesky guard defender on the second threepeat and he was, with a 99 drtg and an outstanding 3.0 DBPM. Unfortunately, he was also horrendous on offense with a 50s-throwback 44% true shooting.

26. Dickie Simpkins

Dickie played 685 minutes for the 72?10 Chicago Bulls, and no one can ever take that away from him.

27. John Salley

Salley won four NBA championships and was cruelly nicknamed ?Spider,? since he had acute arachnophobia. He got more screen time on I?m a Celebrity? Get Me Outta Here than he did during his Bulls run, and there were a lot more spiders involved too.

28. Darrell Walker

Despite his 43 ortg with the Pistons the first half of the season, the Bulls signed Chicago native Darrell Walker to close out their first threepeat and even gave him playoff minutes and a ring to send him to retirement. #mytown

29. Dennis Hopson

The Bulls traded three picks for Hopson in 1990, fresh off 15.8ppg for the New Jersey Nets. He was terrible, tallying 18 garbage-time minutes in five playoff games before Chicago traded him two games into the 1991?92 season. One of the picks the Bulls traded for Hopson became P.J. Brown. Too bad.

30. Bob Hansen

Hansen was the guy Chicago got for Hopson, and he was equally terrible backing up MJ. I have Hansons on both sides of the family, including several Roberts. What I?m saying is, this dude has to be related to me.

31. Rodney McCray

The Bulls brought in McCray in 1993 to give Scottie Pippen a blow, and McCray certainly blew. The fact that Rodney McCray played 1000 minutes and started five games for the 1993 Bulls is the only argument you need for them as the worst of the six title teams. He won a ring and headed to retirement, and he might have been the reason Mike retired, too.

32. James Edwards

Edwards began his career with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in 1978 and finished it with the Bulls two decades later. He played 21 seasons and had a negative BPM in all but two of them, culminating in his impossibly tragic -12.1 BPM at age 40 for the 72?10 Bulls. How do you have an 84 ortg for the greatest team to ever play the game? I genuinely don?t understand.

Edwards played in 111 playoff games and won three NBA championships. He scored almost 15,000 career points and had a heckuva Fu Manchu.

He was the single worst player on the Bulls threepeat title teams. ?

Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, television, humor, and culture. Visit the rest of Brandon?s writing archives here.

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