Many younger basketball fans were introduced to the name Toni Kukoc after watching The Last Dance, but few know the true impact he had in the Bulls’ second three-peat.
Whether intentional or not, the omission of Kukoc in the lore of the Bulls’ dynasty has greatly impacted the way he is viewed historically, as well as the way we view the Jordan-led Bulls.
While the “Big 3” of MJ, Rodman and Scottie Pippen had rightfully cemented their places as some of the greatest players in the history of the sport, the Bulls still needed a consistent 3rd scoring option to take some of the weight off of their aging stars shoulders.
Rodman could score on occasion, but his game was much more focused on rebounding and defense.
Kukoc filled the sharpshooter/scorer role perfectly, averaging just over 14 points per game on 46% from the field and 33% from three during his 7 year tenure in Chicago.
He also had an incredible ability to come through in the clutch. Even though the Bulls lost game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Kukoc played incredible, scoring 30 points and missing only 2 shots the entire game.
Head coach Phil Jackson admits that he drew up the final play of that game for Kukoc, but Jordan ended up taking the shot instead and airballed it.
When actually given the chance, Kukoc drained multiple buzzer beaters throughout the mid-90s to help propel the Bulls past long-time playoff foes such as the Knicks and the Pacers.
On a team full of stars, one of the best coaches of all time trusted a role player to take the final shot time and time again, demonstrating the raw talent Kukoc had.
Bulls GM Jerry Krause saw something in the Croatian star, and it became apparent that what he saw was one of the more underrated players in league history.
Without Kukoc, the Bulls’ 2nd three-peat may not have been possible.
Photo Credit: USA Today