CHICAGO — There were other more prominent players here at the NBA Draft Combine. Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren are all top-of-the-lottery talents who didn’t need to take part in the drills.
But the biggest NAME in this town belongs to a 6-1 guard from Vanderbilt who will have to do a lot of work to hear his name called at all on June 23rd. Scotty Pippen Jr. carries the gold card anytime he blows into the Windy City, the product of his father’s six championships with the Bulls.
And, yes, they are Scotty and Scottie, respectively.
“Both my dad and I on our birth certificates are ‘y’ (at the end), but my dad had later changed it to ‘ie’ because he liked signing signatures with it,” said Scotty, as to why the ‘y.’ He added that he wished he switched to Scottie, “because it wouldn’t cause so much confusion.”
Rather than fight his father’s shadow, Pippen the younger embraces it.
“It’s a dream come true being here throughout the draft process,” he said. “It’s surreal to me, just the city of Chicago showing so much love to my family and my dad, and as a kid always going to Bulls games and stuff. Just being back in the city where it all started, it feels good.”
Scotty, however, began in Portland, born there while his father was playing for the Trail Blazers. He went to high school in Florida and California before moving on to play for ex-pro Jerry Stackhouse at Vanderbilt, where he teamed for a year with future Celtic Aaron Nesmith.
“But I consider (Chicago) home,” he said. “All my family’s here, so whenever I get a break from school in summer, I’m out here.”
And while he knows he’ll always be “son of” in these parts, Scotty is comfortable in his own skin. As he said:
I’ve always had the name. It always was a pressure to perform, even being a little kid growing up in Chicago. Like, we would go play kids and everyone would go at me. Parents would say, ‘Oh, that Scottie Pippen’s son. Go at him.’ But you know, I’m just used to it. I’m my own person. At the end of the day, I go out there and I compete. You know, my dad’s not out there with me. So I think that at the end of the day, it’s my own legacy, it’s my own name.
I think the name, it’s a blessing and a curse. You know, people would doubt me because of it, and they expect me to be something and they put certain pressure on me. They think of my dad when they look at me, so I think it is what it is. I’m used to it, but I’m my own person. I’m creating my own legacy here and that’s what I came here to do.
Pippen also came here to alter the perception of him from three years of college ball. He noted that he led the SEC in scoring this season (20.2 points), “so everyone knows I can score the basketball, but it’s doing the little things that teams don’t always get to see.”
Recalling ‘Not Shy’ Impression of Celtics’ Grant Williams
As Grant Williams’ star has ascended during these playoffs, his time in the 2019 draft process was recalled by a number of the front office people from around the league here this week. It’s fair to say the Celtic who went No. 19 overall that year made quite an impression during interviews with teams.
“We all talked about it,” said one general manager, “but that kid wasn’t shy at all. From what I can tell, every team that interviewed him, he told them what was wrong with their team and what they needed to do better.
“Some people liked that he was that prepared, and some others were really put off by this kid pretty much telling them where they went wrong. It was funny to hear the different opinions of him — not of his game, though there was some of that, but more of just how he came across.”
Some of the people here nodded and laughed when told of Williams and Celtic coach Ime Udoka’s April Fools prank where they faked at argument in front of the team and moved toward a confrontation.
Said Udoka then, “I was expecting a player or somebody to get in between us, but nobody stepped up.”
“I heard later three or four players said they wanted to see Grant get his ass kicked,” the coach cracked.
Back here at the Combine, one person who wanted his team to pick Williams before the Celts got the chance said, “You have to love how he’s worked on his game, how he’s carved out a big role on a really good team. Yeah, he was a star at Tennessee, but some people had trouble projecting how he’d do in this league. And he’s had his setbacks, but he’s kept working. Look at him in the playoffs, guarding Giannis and hitting big 3s. A lot of the kids here could learn from his example.”
Lofty (Dieting) Goals
Among the players helping themselves at the Combine was Kenneth Lofton Jr., a banger from Louisiana Tech. At a hefty 6-7, he’s projected as a 4 (or maybe a small-ball 5), but, listed at 275 pounds, conditioning will be a key to his NBA future.
Said one scout, “It’s the old line: He’s 25 pounds away from being 25 pounds away — but he’s on the right track.”