In the 1980s, the NBA was dominated by two prototypical point forwards in Larry Bird and Magic Johnson , both special for their unique mixture of skills and size. The rest of the NBA had a tough time catching up with them. But, the teams which were aiming at winning a championship, strongly considered moving up in that specific direction.
One such team was the Chicago Bulls led by a young superstar by the name of Michael Jordan. In the 1987 NBA draft, he got much-needed help in SF Scottie Pippen and PF Horace Grant. It was Pippen, the long-armed 6’9’’ skinny kid from Central Arkansas who matured in the role of point forward and pushed the Bulls along their 1990s championship path. In episode 3 of ‘The Last Dance’ ex-Bulls center Will Perdue mentions that Scottie Pippen “kind of developed that new position called the point forward.” But where did the Bulls, more particularly GM Jerry Krause, get the forward point idea from?
Most likely, the answer the Bulls Central Division rival – Milwaukee Bucks. It was the 1984-85 Bucks, which experimented by playing SG Paul Pressey in the role of point forward, who eliminated the Bulls led by rookie Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1985 NBA play-off.
Bucks G/F Marques Johnson, who played for the team before just before Pressey did, even claims that he was the one who came up with the original term one year before, during the 1984 NBA play-off. He did it while communicating with head coach Don Nelson, who wanted him to take over the creative role of the injured point guard Nate Archibald.
However, the Bucks assistant coach at the time Del Harris claims that he was the one who originated the term while talking to Nelson about better ways of using Pressey on the court.
Additionally, Harris claims that he was the one who came up with the term back in the days he coached Houston Rockets (1979-83) and that the original concept was invented by his predecessor on the Rockets bench, NBA Coach of the Year in 1976-77 Tom Nissalke.
After Johnson left the Bucks in the 1984 off-season, it was Pressey who took over and had much more success playing the position. After the 1985-86 season, Pressey was voted to NBA All-Defensive 1st team, while finishing at the seventh place among league’s leaders in assists and steals.
The 6’5’’ guard became the Eastern Conference’s version of the L.A. Lakers superstar Magic Johnson, leading the Bucks in assists per game each year from 1984-85 since 1988-89. It was during that period that pro team from Wisconsin appeared in each NBA postseason, reaching their height in three EC semifinals and one EC finals clash (in 1987 vs. the Boston Celtics).
Pippen, who was taller and had longer arms than both Pressey and Johnson, took it to the next level. He became the much-needed point forward for the raging 1990s Chicago Bulls dynasty. Already during the Bulls 1990-91 campaign, versatile Pippen reached the next level by averaging 17.8ppg, 7.3rpg, 6.2apg, 2.4spg, and 1.1bpg, while shooting 52.0% from the field.
His overall progress in the new role became the most evident in the 1991 NBA finals when he directed the Bulls offense and single-handedly stopped the 1990 NBA MVP Magic Johnson. Over the five-game series, ‘Pip’ averaged 20.8ppg, 7.4rpg, 6.6apg, 2.4spg, and 1.0bpg.
Today, Pippen is considered as one of the best points forwards in NBA history, alongside LeBron James, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.