Scottie Pippen is one of the 50 greatest basketball players ever, a Hall-of-Famer and a six-time NBA champion. So when he says something about the current crop of NBA players, his words carry weight.
In a recent appearance on ESPN's The Jump, Pippen was discussing Russell Westbrook's MVP campaign with analysts Rachel Nichols, Zach Lowe and former All-Star Tracy McGrady. McGrady and Pippen were in the middle of discussing how James Harden would feel if he lost out on the award to Westbrook, and Pippen made quite the claim:
McGrady: If I'm James Harden and I'm looking at Westbrook, there's no way I can knock if he gets the MVP alone. I can't knock that, because this may be the greatest single season performance we've ever seen.
Pippen: It's the greatest I've ever seen.
Regardless of Pippen's credentials, this is a bold statement, particularly when you consider the man he played alongside for most of his career. Michael Jordan was Pippen's longtime teammate and is considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the sport. Saying Westbrook's season is better than Jordan's best, let alone better than every other player's best, is borderline insane.
This fact was not lost on Twitter, where everyone from casual fans to former NBA players made sure to remind Pippen who he played alongside:
Though Jordan may not have ever come close to averaging a triple-double for a season, he has a legitimate claim on what could be the greatest individual season of all time.
In Pippen's rookie season (1987-88), MJ averaged a cool 35 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game on 53.5 percent shooting, converting his attempts at a rate over 10 percent better than Westbrook is this season, while also shooting at a higher volume. Jordan set the modern record for single-season Player Efficiency Rating with a staggering 31.71, a mark that has yet to be eclipsed by any player other than Wilt Chamberlain way back in the 1960's.
The efficiency gap is vast, but the defensive side of the ball is where ’88 Jordan really separates himself from Westbrook. Jordan averaged 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, and was awarded the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award for his efforts on that end of the court. He became the first-ever player to win the MVP and DPOY awards in the same season, and remains one of just four guys to achieve the feat.
Westbrook has the edge in raw production, and Jordan was never close to the rebounding or assist averages of 2016-17 Westbrook, but Westbrook has nowhere near the overall impact of Jordan at his peak. Part of that is the nature of this year's Thunder team—they shoulder the load on defense, while Westbrook masks their limitations on offense—but Jordan's two-way brilliance is a tough standard to overcome.
Pippen and Jordan have a bit of a weird relationship, so it's hard to tell if this should be taken as shade thrown MJ's way. He asked Jordan to induct him into the Hall of Fame when he was honored in 2010, but undercurrents of a rivalry have persisted in recent years, with Alonzo Mourning once claiming Pippen told him LeBron James, "would've kicked MJ's ass."
Regardless of Pippen's intent, Westbrook's season has put him in the conversation with all-time greats, and rightfully so. Westbrook is on the verge of a signature achievement, and that's undeniable no matter how you rank it historically.