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Kawhi Leonard and Scottie Pippen. Both of these players are known as some of the best two-way players ever. Fantastic defenders who can score the ball efficiently as well. They never got to play against each other, but had the chance, who would win in a battle?
Let's start off by looking at these two players individually.
Kawhi Leonard: 6'7", 230 lbs, drafted out of San Diego State with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Kawhi started off as a good pickup by the Spurs. He played decent role minutes and played a part in leading the Spurs to two Finals appearances. However, these appearances were mostly due to the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. His second Final appearance, he stepped up BIG. He showed that he could score the ball, he was able to lock down LeBron James, and in the end he was awarded with the Finals MVP and a ring.
After that season, the Kawhi-era of the Spurs began. Kawhi quickly became the go-to option for Pop and eventually earning himself two All Star appearances, two All-NBA First team selections, four All-NBA Defensive team selections, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. Kawhi has also been one of the top players for MVP considerations and noted as one of the top five players in the league.
Kawhi's defense is fantastic and he is known as one of the best defenders in history. He is able to lock down some of the best such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The man has the largest hands that I have ever seen, and that gives him an incredible advantage. I've seen him swipe the ball away from the best ball-handlers and be able to swat shots away from the tallest centers. Kawhi Leonard is the definition of a lock down perimeter defender.
However, critics say that Kawhi is not a leader. Gregg Popovich stated that, “Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything… Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Manu and Patty filled that role last year, and LaMarcus (Aldridge) came a long way in that regard also.”
When Kawhi first came to the Spurs, it was obvious that Tim Duncan was the leader, and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker took over that role when Tim retired. Kawhi was not the leader for the Spurs, despite being arguably their best player. Now he's on the Raptors and while he is fantastic, Kyle Lowry is still their leader.
Kawhi also caused lots of drama this last season in the Spurs locker room, but that doesn't affect his game so I'm not gonna address the issue.
Scottie Pippen: One of the greatest to step on the court. A lot of times, Scottie's accomplishments are overlooked because he played next to Michael Jordan. But think about it. An eight time All Star, seven All-NBA selections, and 10 All-Defensive team selections. That, plus his six rings. Michael Jordan, although the GOAT, didn't do it alone.
Scottie was a fantastic defender. Great at staying in front of his opponents, and with his reach he is one of the best stealers in history. Scottie was also freakishly athletic and able to pace himself around the court with ease. I think Scottie's defense is sometimes overlooked too because of Michael Jordan. Mike won MVP and DPOY, meaning he was the greatest defensive threat in the league, but that doesn't mean Scottie wasn't great. People argue that Scottie was the better defensive player out of the two. I don't believe that, it's just that Jordan's scoring outshined his defense so people didn't realize how great his defense was, BUT Pippen was still one of the best defenders ever. In our day, Scottie would definitely earn himself some DPOY awards. The only reason he didn't was because of players like Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Gary Payton, who were also so great defensively.
Scottie wasn't as much of a scorer as Kawhi is, but is still a great slasher and can attack the rim with ease. His shooting wasn't the greatest, but it got better and his post game was effective as well.
Another point is that I think Scottie was a better floor general than Kawhi is. While Jordan was obviously the leader of the team, Scottie knew how to direct traffic. His court vision and IQ were higher, and he knew how to get his teammates involved, shown partially by his higher assist ratio.
Kawhi: 25.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 52.2/44.3/88.0%
Scottie: 22.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.9 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 52.0/37.4/81.8%
Kawhi: 16.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 RPG, 49.5/38.6/84.6%
Scottie: 16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 47.3/32.6/70.4%
As you can see, Kawhi is a higher scorer than Scottie Pippen, with better percentages in all his shooting. Outside of that, their statistics are almost identical—except for assists, which helps my point of Scottie being a better floor general. But remember that stats do not tell everything, especially on the defensive end. Tipped passes, lockdowns, forced turnovers, shot pressure, these things are generally not numerically recorded, but they make the greatest defenders. Both Scottie and Kawhi are exceptionable at these things, so in the end, I'd say these players are almost identical. While Kawhi does have scoring over Scottie, Pip takes the floor general factor over the Klaw.
Who's the better player?
This is tough. These players are so identical, but in the end, it depends on the situation. One on one? I'd take Kawhi Leonard. Both are the top defenders of their generation, but Kawhi is a better scorer than Scottie. Kawhi can create shots and shoot deep, while that is a weakness for Scottie. However, that doesn't mean Kawhi wins easy. If it were a game to 11, it would go down to the wire. These two are just too good for it to be heavily one-sided.
One on one, I go with Kawhi, BUT in team basketball, I pick Scottie Pippen. Remember that scoring isn't everything, and having five players on the court gives you lots of scoring options, and being a better floor general—I'd say—gives you the advantage. Scottie Pippen was always seen as Jordan's sidekick, but remember what happened when Jordan retired. Scottie led the Bulls to a 55-27 record and to the second round of the playoffs. That's impressive for a "sidekick." Scottie proved that he can be a leader, while we've seen that Kawhi isn't, and in the end, that hurts him.
All in all, individual-wise, Kawhi wins, but team value goes to Scottie Pippen for me. With due respect, both are some of the best defensive talent we have ever seen and will both go down in history.