Chicago Bulls

Making A Case For the Worm

Updated 8/12/2011

Well folks, the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee finally got it right this time. This past Friday, 10 inductees  were enshirened in the Basketball Hall of Fame for the Class of 2011, and among those was none other than our favorite “Worm”, Dennis Rodman.

Rodman, who had long been considered a borderline candidate due to his on-court histrionics, and off-the-court antics, can now officially close the door on one of the most entertaining, polarizing, and productive careers in NBA history.

Rodman spent a large portion of his career alienating himself from fellow teammates, fellow players, and the media. However, hear me on this: Dennis Rodman deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame, and anything short of an induction would have been an absolute travesty.

First, lets start with the resume:

  • 5-time NBA Champion (89, 90, 96, 97, 98)
  • 2-time Defensive Player of the Year (90, 91)
  • 7-time Rebounding Champion (92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98)
  • 6-time Offensive Rebounding Leader (91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97)
  • 7-time NBA All-Defensive 1st team (89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 95, 96)
  • 8-time NBA All-Defensive Team (89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96)
  • 2-time All-NBA 3rd Team (92, 95)
  • 2-time All-Star (90, 92)
  • FG% Leader in 1989
  • League leader in Minutes played (1992)
  • NBA Record for Most Consecutive Years Winning the Rebounding Title (7)
  • NBA Record for most Offensive Rebounds in a NBA Finals Game (11)

So let me try and sum this up as best as I can:

1.) Not only was Rodman the best rebounder of his generation, but he was the best rebounder to ever play the game.

You heard me correctly. No one dominated the glass like the Worm. Seven times he averaged at least 15 rebounds per game, and twice, an astonishing 18+ rebounds per game, while winning 7 consecutive rebounding titles, an NBA record.

I know what you are thinking – A better rebounder than Wilt who averaged a NBA record 27.2 rebounds/game in 1961? A better rebounder than Russell who was the master of the defensive boards? A better rebounder than Moses Malone, who ESPN writing legend Bill Simmons describes as an ‘inmate who went after rebounds as if his one next would mean parole’?

Yes, better than all of them. Case in point:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with 1960’s NBA, take some time to watch the film, read the history, and study the stats– the game was very different back then.  The NBA was extremely fast paced, with each team  having more possessions, taking quicker shots, and missing a higher percentage of attempts than the modern day game. In sum, there were far more rebounds to be had.

To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain averaged an NBA record 27.2 rebounds per game in 1961 when the average game consisted of 73.2 total rebounds. Dennis Rodman averaged a career high 18.7 rebounds in 1992 when the average game consisted of only 43.6 totals rebounds. Look, I know that normalizing stats can be a tricky exercise, but there is no doubt in my mind that had 1992 Rodman played in 1961, he would have broken the NBA single season rebounding record.  Wilt Chamberlain had nearly 30 more rebounding opportunities per game than Dennis Rodman did, yet only averaged 8.5 more rebounds. Given that Rodman pulled down  43% of all rebounds per game in 1992, I think that it is  fair to say had Rodman played in 1961, based on normalized statistics adjusting for pace, he would have averaged approximately 31.4 rebounds per game, or more 4 rebounds per game than Chamberlain’s NBA record. Moreover, he would have done so against a cast of big men that were an average of 6’7 in height, as opposed to the 7’0 players that he faced in 1992.  It’s no coincidence that the NBA’s first 33 single season rebounding records happened before 1972 when the game offered nearly double the rebounds as the modern day. Its called statistical inflation. Rodman’s 1992 average of 18.7 comes in right at #34. 

  Wilt (1961) Rodman (1992) B. Russell (1964) M. Malone (1979)
Reb/Game (Career High) 27.2 18.7 24.7 17.6
Pace (Average Rebounds In An NBA Game) 73.2 43.6 65.9 45.2
Reb/Game Adjusted to 1961 Pace 27.2 31.4 27.4 28.5

Rodman simply had an uncanny ability of knowing where the ball was going, where it would carom, and how to get there before his opponent did. He was also blessed with the unique gift of being light on his feet: Rodman could jump, come back down, and then restart his jump faster than anyone else in NBA history. He didn’t need to jump the highest, because he could jump the fastest, and always knew where the ball would bounce.

2.) Not only was Rodman the best defensive power forward of his generation, but he was arguably the best defensive player overall.

7 times, Rodman was first team All-Defense, and twice, the Defensive Player of the year. He was also one of the few players in NBA history who could guard any position on the floor effectively: guard, forward, or center. Rodman played bigger, stronger, and quicker than his 6’8, 235 pound frame, relying on quick lateral speed,  tremendous lower body strength and a high basketball IQ. He was not a particularly adept shot blocker, but compensated by playing great low-post position defense, and never allowed his opponents to get comfortable in the block. Rodman was also never afraid the play the role of enforcer,  giving hard fouls when necessary, and making an opponent think twice before driving into the lane. He also had a knack for getting under his opponents skin and oftentimes served as a major irritant – just ask Frank Brickowski.

3.) Most importantly though, Dennis Rodman was a winner, and impacted the game by doing the little things that his team needed to win.

He was the ultimate Mr. Intangible, sacrificing his body at every juncture. He was the guy who would take a charge when his team needed a momentum swing. He was the guy who would make a defensive stop when his team needed a stand. He was the guy who could get that timely rebound to help fuel a struggling offense – all with a flair for the dramatic.

During the Piston’s championship runs in 1989 and 1990, it was Rodman, not Dumars, who guarded Michael Jordan during critical late game situations.  During the 1996 NBA Finals, it was Rodman  who single handedly willed the Bulls to a Game 2 win with an NBA record 11 offensive rebounds and 20 overall. He then followed that performance up with another 11 offensive rebound performance (19 overall) during a close-out Game 6, making his case for NBA Finals MVP. During the 1997 NBA Finals, it was Rodman who once again left his mark by holding Karl Malone, the League’s MVP (absolute travesty) to 44% FG shooting, nearly 11 percentage points below his average.

Phil Jackson called Rodman the “greatest athlete that I ever coached”, adding about his stamina, “He could probably play the 48th minute stronger than the first minute”. 

Side Note: Evidently, Madonna had that same exact quote but for very different reasons.

Lastly, the Worm was an entertainer, the greatest sports self-promoter since Muhammad Ali. The multi-colored hair, the incessant partying, the wedding dresses, the pro-wrestling, were all harmless antics that made the game fun for us fans. He was the only NBA player who could get me to watch an entire game, despite never scoring a single point. He did the little things that kept us entertained, kept us interested.

With that said, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the drawbacks. In 1987, Rodman called Larry Bird overrated because he was white. In 1993, he was found sleeping in his car with a loaded rifle, admittedly contemplating suicide, and serving as a distraction for his team for the remainder of the season. In 1994, he was suspended for headbutting Stacey King and John Stockton. In 1996, he was suspended for headbutting a referee. In 1997 he was suspended for kicking a camera man in the nuts (Oscar anyone?). And finally, in 1998, he committed perhaps his most egregious crime of all – he threatened to run naked off the hardwood court (no pun intended) the day he played his last game in the NBA.

You know what? It still doesn’t matter. The Worm deserves to get into the Hall of Fame.

I have heard all of the objections:

“Rodman was a malcontent and distraction” – So what? So was Rick Barry who was notoriously despised by teammates throughout his entire NBA/ABA career, and hit rock bottom when he literally quit during Game 7 of the 1976 Western Conference Finals — refusing to take a shot in the second half after his teammates failed to stand up for him during the Ricky Sobers fight. Yet, Rick Barry is still in the Hall of Fame.

“Rodman’s off-court antics tarnished the image of the game” – Hmmm, let me see here. James Worthy was arrested for soliciting 2 prostitutes, David Thompson was a coke addict, and Wilt Chamberlain was a complete liar (sorry, 20,000 women, 2.5 per day, would have meant that his rod would have fallen off somewhere around 1968).

And then there was Magic Johnson. Magic evidently taught us our most valuable lesson of all – that “different woman have different fantasies” (had no idea!), as he rationalized his infidelity to the general public, and admitted to participating in group orgies somewhere in the lower level of the Great Western Forum basement utility closet after games.

Look, I could care less about the above indiscretions. In fact I am pretty positive that I have committed all of them…..

Ok, maybe none of them.

The point is that each of these players represented the NBA poorly at some point in their career, potentially tarnishing the image of the game. Yet all 4 are in the Hall of Fame and deserve to be. So does Dennis Rodman.

Don’t measure the guy based on his off-the-court antics. Measure him for what he accomplished on the court. The greatest rebounder to ever play the game, one of the greatest defenders, and one of the ultimate Mr. Intangibles in NBA history deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  If not, then it would have been me, not Dennis Rodman, running naked through the Halls of Springfield Massachusetts, and trust me, that would have been a sight that NO ONE would have wanted to see.


57 Responses to “Making A Case For the Worm”

  1. Here’s my question though: why did he make the All-star team only twice? Is being great in one area and terrible in everything else enough to make the HOF. Should Dikembe Mutombo make the Hall because he is one of the great shot blockers of all time?

    Posted by Brown Mamba | February 24, 2011, 5:30 pm
    • The Worm deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame for the same reason that James Worthy and Adrian Dantley are in – Because the NBA has a precendence of inducting one-dimensional players. The difference is that Rodman mastered his one-dimension (actually 2-dimensions if you include defense) better than Worthy or Dantley ever mastered theirs.

      Rodman was overlooked as an All-Star most years because his polarizing personality rubbed many the wrong way. Moreover, players, coaches, and the media have always been more attracted to the scoring vs. rebounding and defense.

      And yes, Dikembe Mutumbo, who won 4-Defensive players of the year awards, and was an 8-time All-Star absolutely deserves to be in the Hall.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 24, 2011, 7:14 pm
      • I love Rodman, but I’m not seeing the Worthy comparison. Worthy was a 7-time All star, Finals MVP, averaged 21 ppg in the playoffs, and is considered one of the top 50 players to play the game. It’s also not a fair comparison to compare dominance in rebounds to dominance in points scored.

        Posted by losbullz | February 25, 2011, 10:11 am
        • Thanks for the read lozbulls. I am not sure how familiar you actually are with the career of James Worthy, but no single player made his entire legacy off only 2 games more so than James Worthy. He was named NBA Finals MVP in 1988 despite struggling for the first five 5 games of that series, but just happened to have his 2 biggest games of his career at the right time (games 6 and 7). He certainly deserves credit for his timing, but Magic Johnson should have won the award.

          Moreover, other than Robert Parrish, no NBA legend earned the “Right place at the right time” award more so than Worthy. Worthy was one-dimensional and benefited from playing with the greatest point guard to ever live. Its no coincidence that once Magic left, Worthy’s shooting percentage dropped drastically in which he went from 55% shooter to a 45% over a two year period, despite still being in the prime of his career. He happened to be a very good scorer but interestingly enough, only averaged 17 points/game for his career and averaged more than 20 points only 4 times in his NBA career. This during a mid-80s era where scoring was higher and defense was optional.

          He became an All-Star seven times for the same reason that Richard Hamilton was an All-Star 4 times – because you tend to get far more credit than you deserve when you are on a winning team. Put Worthy on a mediocre team (as we saw in 1992, 1993 when Magic left) and he basically becomes a good scorer on a mediocre team. Rodman on the other hand demonstrated his value for all three different teams that he played with during his prime (Pistons, Spurs, Bulls). Instead of specializing on scoring, he specialized on defense AND rebounding, which basketball nation has only recently begun valuing as important. Case in point: Ben Wallace made the All-Star team 4 times during the 2000 decade. Every team is now looking for that Mr. Intangible, and it all started with Dennis Rodman. It all depends on what your team needs, and Rodman filled the need with tasks other than scoring and mastered his craft. In sum Rodman was a better at his craft (defense and rebounding) than Worthy was at his craft (scoring). That is why he deserves to be in the hall of fame.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | February 25, 2011, 1:35 pm
    • There are plenty of prolific scorers who are in the HOF, and naturally nearly all of them don’t qualify for being the “Best” at scoring (or anything else). Rodman was The Best at rebounding, at least arguably.

      And this isn’t like being the best at 3P% or being the best at low turnover ratios — rebounding is an integral part of the game. How many important games are lost due to a failed box out, missed rebound? Preventing 2nd chances on defense is every bit as important as converting 1st chances on offense.

      He wasn’t one dimensional, if you read the well-written post. He could guard at least 3 different positions effectively. Playing defense isn’t always about steals and blocks, it’s also about deterrence, and Rodman was “great” at that.

      When it comes down to it, the Hall of Fame is reserved for elite players — not just elite scorers, and Rodman was an elite PLAYER.

      Also, you have to be joking if you’re discounting Rodman for only making 2 All-Star appearances. Yao Ming has like 10 appearances, should we usher him into the Hall?

      Posted by Yea | April 1, 2011, 9:16 pm
    • In this case, why should all HOFers be great scorers as most of them are? Dennis was not only the best rebounder and defender, he was a winner, the ultimate role player who would everything a normal superstar would not do: play defense, irritate the opposition best man etc. The All-Stars are usually all big scorers. That is why his two-time selection is even more valuable.

      Posted by Yan | April 4, 2011, 11:41 am
    • The all star comment doesn’t mean de doesn’t warrant selection into the hall of fame. The all star team is half voted by the fans, who love watching out and out scorers. Tracy Mcgrady and Vince Carter are prime examples of why we shouldn’t take into account all star voting. Dennis was also a very annoying player that pissed everybody off, including those he coached, so i don’t think many of them were going to pick him for the bench of the all star game. I remember Ron Artest putting in some terrific seasons and never getting picked. The all star game is also a scoring spectacle and no many people wanted to watch a guy who didn’t take many shots and who focused on defence and rebounding to actually partake in the event.

      Finally, if we don’t induct Rodman into the ‘fame’ i think we’re sending out the wrong message to millions of kids out there playing the game. We constantly hear and tell our kids that play that by sacraficing for good of the team, you will earn respect and acholades. Rodman did exactly that well on the floor that is and he did all the things people didn’t want to do and the things people didn’t notice, you can’t deny that. I know i heard that speech and i’ve given that speech many of times to my students and now we want to sit here and deconsrtuct all his scoring stats to deny him entry… That just aint fair. Simply put he was the best rebounder we have ever seen, even though he was just as tall as MJ. He was the best post/and perimeter defender we have seen and the only guy who comes close in terms of defensive versatility is KG and he didn’t do it night in and night out the way Rodman did. He guarded some of the best ever player to play in both positions, including MJ and was also put up astonshing roubound numbers at even a late age.

      He was on 5 championship teams, he won 7 straight rebodunging titles, mj and scottie despised the guy and still agreed to go out and sign him (we all know how MJ can hold a grudge) and the guy loved the idea of having him…. that alone must mean something.

      Posted by mohamed | August 15, 2011, 10:33 pm
  2. Good points Realist. Rodman was definitely entertaining in his day.

    Posted by Chauncey Gandus | February 24, 2011, 9:17 pm
  3. First, a quick note on 2 other “persons of interest” with respect to the HOF:

    1. Ralph Sampson is a finalist this year. This is so ridiculous that I won’t go into any more detail, as I’ve wasted too much space on this already.
    2. Reggie Miller is not a finalist this year. Say this much about the NY media: Reggie was one of the great NY sports villains of the past 20 years, yet NY basketball writers have been vocal in criticizing his omission.

    Now for Rodman. My biggest problem with his candidacy was that he was a non-factor on offense. Others have made the HOF on the basis on their defense, chiefly Bill Russell and Dave Debusschere. BUT Russell also averaged over 15 ppg for his career, Debusschere averaged over 16 ppg for his career, and they cracked 18 ppg over a season twice each. Rodman? He averaged only 7.3 ppg for his career and cracked double-figures in ppg over a season only once. Tellingly, his scoring averages stayed low even with his prodigious offensive rebounding numbers, suggesting that even the basic put-back was a challenge for him, not to mention his overall lack of any offensive game and bad free-throw shooting.
    In my view, while Rodman was a great defender and rebounder, his offensive weaknesses are too pronounced to allow him entry into the HOF (except as a paying ticket-holder, of course). So no, his exclusion would not be an absolute travesty. Save your outrage for the possibility of Sampson being inducted.

    Posted by E-Dog | February 25, 2011, 3:33 pm
    • E-Dog: The problem with your assessment is that you are falling into the same trap as many – you are valuing scoring far more than defense.

      Your arguement is fair in stating that while Russell and Debusscheree were defensive minded, they were also multi-dimensional, and I agree. However, the HOF has not established a firm precendence in limiting its candidates to only mult-demensional players – James Worthy and Adrian Dantley are in, both poor defenders (Dantley more so than Worthy), and both poor rebounders. They focused on one side of the game and excelled. So did Rodman, except Rodman excelled in BOTH rebounding and defense, or 2 facets of his dimension. Neither Dantley nor Worthy excelled in passing – only scoring.

      It is naive to say that defense is not as important as offense, especially since defense wins championships. If Bill Bradley could get into the Hall averaging 12pts 3reb and 3assist, then so should Dennis Rodman.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 26, 2011, 2:25 pm
  4. Take a look at K.C. Jones numbers. He’s in the Hall of Fame despite only playing for 9 years, starting for 4, averaged 7.4 points per game, couldn’t run an offense (his team ran the offense through Russell when he was on the floor), and he couldn’t shoot even in the run and gun era of the 60’s. If he’s in the Hall of Fame for his defense, and being on a winning team, then so should Rodman.

    Posted by Michael Bartlam | February 26, 2011, 10:00 pm
    • Great point Michael. I completely forgot about K.C. Jones who far and away has my #1 vote for the “Most Overrated Legend of All-Time”. As you mentioned, in addition to only starting for 4 seasons, his career averages were 7pts, 4 reb, 4 assists, 38.7%FG and 64.7% FT. Whaaaa??? Its completely baffling.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | February 26, 2011, 11:15 pm
  5. Rodman, in one perspective, is the definition of a Hall of Famer: His rebounding and defensive ability was unique and separated him from anyone he played against, and perhaps anyone who as played in th NBA since; he was considered one of the best players in the NBA for 10 years straight; he had both the profound ability to influence any game he was in, and steal the attention away from everyone on the floor and in the stands because of his talent and his unique personality; and he is someone who drastically impacted both the game of basketball and the NBA. Ask any great rebounder in the NBA today and I’m sure they will reference Rodman as a influence on how they play the game — though maybe not how they dressed off the court.

    And hate him or love him, he will continue to be a huge part of the league’s history for years and decades to come. For that alone, isn’t he worth remembering? And couldn’t we say that that is why the HoF exists?

    NBA Realist: I agree that Worthy is overrated (though definitely a great player and important part of the LA championship teams), and I would rather have Rodman for his unique talent and hustle. Worthy, though a solid player, his talent and his numbers are replaceable. There aren’t more than a handful of players in NBA history that could rebound like Rodman – and I agree NBA Realist, he could be the best ever. Great column.

    At the same time, I’m a Celtic fan and have to defend your Robert Parish comment above and for introducing him into this discussion as “right place, right time” versus a genuine Hall of Famer:

    1st all-time in games played
    7th all-time in rebounds
    9th all-time in blocked shots
    10th all-time in minutes
    18th all-time in points
    9-time all-star
    2nd team All-NBA (1982)
    3rd team All-NBA (1989)
    50 greatest players of all-time

    Aside from numbers, he punched Laimbeer during a game. For that alone, shouldn’t we show the man some respect? And sure, maybe I’m a bit biased.

    Posted by Green in LA | March 2, 2011, 6:36 pm
    • Green in LA, appreciate the kudos. And yes, Robert Parish definitely gets credit for decking Laimbeer which makes his position all the more confusing.

      Here’s my issue with Parish: The Hall of Fame should be reserved not only for players who are great, but players who would be great no matter where they played. There is absolutely no indication that he would have been anything more than a “good” player at best, had he not been fortunate enough to play with Mchale and Bird. Most people do not realize that prior to getting traded to the Celtics, Parish spent 4 years with the Golden State Warriors and never made an All-Star team despite being 26 years old. Moreover, during his best year, he only averaged 17pts/11 reb and 51% as the primary offensive option for a team that went 24-58 – certainly not HOF worthy. Its no coincidence that once he came to the Celtics, he enjoyed a higher measure of success, and began establishing a legacy that I believe was far more the result of luck than greatness.

      Most of the stats that you point to are longevity stats, and while some value these numbers, I tend to give preference to those players who played at a higher level during the years they played vs a lower level, but simply played for a long-time. I’m sorry, but I think that Robert Parish is as overrated as James Worthy. With that being said, I actually believe that Kevin Mchale is extremely underrated if that is at all possible.

      But the bottom line is this. If Bill Bradley and K.C. Jones can make the Hall of Fame, there is really no reason why we shouldn’t feel comfortable keeping Parish in as well. It all depends on who we are comparing to.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 3, 2011, 4:42 pm
  6. All I have to say is that if Steve Kerr makes the HOF and Rodman doesn’t then I will cause a riot

    Posted by Fear 33-23-91 | March 7, 2011, 4:14 pm
  7. Now, this is what I wanna hear! Dennis Rodman was underrated. Dang! A man who doesn’t wanna be serious but play serious sh*t. Hahaha. I used to be play just like him. Just grab a rebound and only score if wide open. I love it!

    Posted by Tha Pointguard | March 9, 2011, 10:51 pm
  8. I will admit off the bat that I am a life-long Pistons fan and have a particular bias for The Worm; however, I will offer a debate point to support his HOF credentials: Do any of the championship teams he was a part of win The Ring if Rodman were not on those teams? Do the 72-win Bulls set that record without Rodman on the squad? When he signed with Chicago after Jordan’s return, how many basketball analysts conceded the championship to Chicago? Forget the one-dimensional player argument—look at the results of his presence: 5 championships!

    Posted by A. R. Davidson | March 28, 2011, 6:35 pm
    • No need to declare you bias A.R. – I think that your points are completely accurate and very objective in nature. Rodman was a winner who simply figured out ways to impact ball games. In addition to winning, its no mystery that the Pistons, Spurs, and Bulls all became better once Rodman arrived.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 28, 2011, 7:51 pm
  9. Anyone who is not for Dennis Rodman being in the Hall of Fame is clueless.

    As a Bulls fan I HATED HIM because he was so good and beat us so many times.

    As a Bulls fan I later LOVED him for the same crazy things.

    Dennis Rodman was the King of acting the fool, king of defense, and king of getting in people’s heads.

    Dennis makes these Jokers like Terrell Owens look like choir boys!

    Posted by bOB | April 1, 2011, 6:53 pm
    • Thanks for the read Bob. I couldn’t agree with you more. As a fellow Bulls fan, I appreciated him far more once he joined our team vs. when he was the proponent. One of those guys every team would love to have.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 2, 2011, 11:29 am
  10. dennis deserved the hall of fame nomination for the fact that he could dominate a game. there are many ways to dominate game and most basketball fans are attracted to scorers. dominating a game on the glass and on defense is a much rarer skill and less appreciated by the fans.

    Posted by jrock | April 2, 2011, 10:37 am
    • Thanks for the read jrock, and I completely agree. We are only now beginning to realize the importance of defense and role playing, and Dennis revolutioned the perception around the league.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 2, 2011, 11:33 am
  11. The Worm was the Man, and this is coming from a Laker fan. We only got him for one season towards the end of his career, but there was no way to ignore this guy.
    As for the comment about his poor scoring output and inability to hit the tip in, he shot over 52% for his career. He definitely could hit the chippies but his post game was average. Many of his offensive rebounds were of the long variety and he often kicked them back out to help his team control the clock. He wasn’t a put-back, dunking type of offensive rebounder. He was more of a slippery, slimy, “how did he just get that” kind of offensive rebounder. And those kinds of rebounds could just deflate your team after seeing a few of them in a game.

    Posted by mole | April 2, 2011, 11:18 am
    • Hey mole, thanks for the read. Completely agree. Rodman could tip in the rebound when needed, but more often than not, chose allow the offense to reset iteself so that they could execute a clean possession.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 2, 2011, 11:34 am
  12. A lot of people aren’t looking at the whole picture of how productive Rodman was on offense. Only one guy on your team can shoot the ball at a time, and Rodman’s incredible offensive rebounding and willingness to defer his own shots meant that MJ, Scottie, Isiah, etc. got that many more a game. That’s a winning contribution.

    Posted by Matt | April 2, 2011, 12:09 pm
    • Thanks for the read Matt. I completely agree. Rodman understood what his role was on those Bulls and Pistons teams. They didn’t need additional scoring – they needed someone who was willing to do the dirty work, and Rodman was the guy.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 3, 2011, 11:58 am
  13. Does Ben Wallace deserve to be in the hall of fame? Compare his numbers and accomplishments to Rodman…pretty similar.

    Rodman was a one dimensional player…specialist rebounder who could defend. Yes he was on 5 championship teams but was basically a role player on those teams…hardly the main cog.

    Not in my hall of fame…but I guess we are talking about the basketball hall of fame where they basically let anyone in…

    Posted by TRS | April 4, 2011, 12:14 pm
    • Good question TRS -you raise an interesting point:

      In my opinion, had Ben Wallace been able to sustain his high-level of excellence for a longer time, he would have absolutely been a stronger candidate for the HOF. It’s not how one, two, or 3 dimensional a player is, but how they impact the game – and Wallace was an absolute beast with those Pistons teams. However, unlike Rodman who played at a high level of excellence for 10 years, Wallace did so for 6, maybe 7. Nonehtless, in my mind, I would not oppose Wallace’s induction if it actually happened. His level of dominance, and impact for his team was as important as anyone else on the Pistons.

      With regards to your comment on Role players, there are several who made it to the HOF, who do not have nearly the caliber of resume of Dennis Rodman – K.C. Jones, Bill Bradley, James Worthy, Robert Parrish to name a few. So in a sense, you are right – the problem is that the basketball HOF has historically had such low standards for admission. Therefore, is it fair to deny Rodman?

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 4, 2011, 6:43 pm
    • ben wallace doesnt pass well as dennis does.. ben doesnt guard peple like rodman do..

      Posted by chris | August 20, 2011, 10:56 am
  14. Rodman was one of the pioneers of “vicious” defense. The trash man. The guy who dominates a game without scoring. The guy, who at his peak, you could put into most brink teams, and immediately make them a championship team. Imagine the Worm, at his peak, playing for today’s Heat, Thunder, or Mavs? Can you spell Championship? Also, I can’t believe that there are (presumably Laker) fans that underrate defense/rebounding compared to scoring?

    Posted by KingRodzilla | April 4, 2011, 9:54 pm
    • Thanks for the read King. Completely agree with your take on Rodman’s impact as a role player. What is even more interesting is that he actually REVOLUTIONIZED the game for role players today. No way that Joakin Noah gets 12M per year if Dennis Rodman didn’t change the payscale altogether.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 5, 2011, 11:43 am
  15. Rodman’s no fringe Hall of Famer. It’s always a struggle to figure out ways to evaluate how much of what a player does contributes to his team’s ability to win, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Rodman did it better than most Hall of Famers. The only question in my mind is how high among the all-time elites he should rank.

    Benjamin Morris, who’s much smarter than me, made a compelling argument that Rodman is one of the best players of all time. He developed a metric called adjusted win% differential, which effectively compares a team’s results when a player is active versus when he is not. Among all 470 players who qualified since 1986, Rodman tops the list, ahead of such qualifying greats as Kobe, Shaq, Barkley, Kidd, Olajuwon, Wade, Ewing, KJ, Drexler, Pippen and ‘Zo. Notably, Bird, Jordan and Magic Johnson don’t qualify individually, but if you combine their applicable seasons they do manage to beat Rodman. Still, what this sort of data tells me is that there’s at least some very strong evidence that the difference between having Rodman on the court and off of it was enormous-it takes a player the magnitude of Bird, Magic or Johnson to have a bigger impact. What I really like about this data is its completely unconventional results-Doc Rivers comes in as the second most impactful player of the past 25 years (among qualifiers), with the top 5 rounded out by Kobe, Shaq and…Rasual Butler.

    Rodman’s refusal to shoot basically means he takes nothing off the table. His impact per possession used is double that of the next ranked player over the past 25 years. I’ve long railed on guys who I felt weren’t complete players, but I may turn out to be wrong about this. There’s no dearth of scoring in the NBA, but there is certainly a premium on guys who can dominate the boards and on guys who can play shut-down defense. Rodman’s not only the greatest rebounder ever, but he was capable of playing dominant defense at any position on the floor.

    I’m also impressed that this article found a way to quantify intangibles. He came up with a number he called the “X-factor” that shows the difference between what a player’s actual production would be expected to do to his team’s win% and what it actually did. Amazingly, Rodman also came in first among all qualifiers with at least a full season’s worth of data in this metric as well. For whatever reason, teams with Rodman on them consistently outperformed what you’d expect statistically by a fairly large margin-why this is is a matter of speculation, although it was well known that he was a master of psychological warfare and had no qualms about sacrificing his body for the hustle plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet.

    I would have thought this was crazy a few week ago, but I have been convinced that Rodman is easily among the best power forwards ever and could even be the best. If I’m trying to build a championship team and could only draft one PF in his prime, as of today I’d take Rodman ahead of everybody other than Tim Duncan.

    For those interested, the link is as follows:

    Posted by Lochpster | August 14, 2011, 5:33 pm
    • What Rodman forces us to evaluate is the VALUE of defense and rebounding relative to scoring.

      Often, players are lauded when they score upwards of 20 points a game; in fact, the NBA has a long history of score only players (Gilbert Arenas, Micheal Adams, Reggie Theus, Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, Ricky Pierce, Ray Allen and on and on) Every NBA team scores X points per game and bad teams will very very often have one player that consumes more shot opportunities due to the overall lack of talent on that team, this leads to that player scoring more and being among the leaders, but it does NOT help his team win.

      Making the CHOICE to be a defensive specialist requires a player to subjugate his scoring to others and focus on the inglorious task of REDUCING the OPPONENT’S scoring. This choice is extremely valuable as it is the DIFFERENCE of the teams scoring that gets the wins. To put more simply, you can score 100 points per game, but if you give up 105, you will lose.

      True, that it can be easily argued that Rodman’s choice to play superior defense was an easy one in light of his mediocre to poor offensive skills, we have to understand that players that can score in the NBA are a dime a dozen. Players who willingly make the choice to commit to defense are far far fewer; thus they become inherently more valuable due to their scarcity.

      It would not be egregious to place Rodman in the top 50 players of all time despite his really poor offense.

      One of the great criticisms I have with Shag was his generally laziness towards defense. Shaq had the physical make-up to become another Wilt. Had Shaq had a little more Rodman in him, he certainly gets more than one MVP award.

      Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 15, 2011, 11:53 am
      • Lochpster,

        Given that when you are picking a all time team, you will absolutely need a player or two that is not interested in gettin’ theirs on offense.

        To have a player willing to get your scorers more opportunities and to simultaneously assume the role of stopper on the other teams top scorer is a huge benefit for your team.

        You would be right in selecting Rodman on that team.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 15, 2011, 11:56 am
      • Concur 100% Paulie. Thanks for the read.

        It would be great if the NBA came up with a means to accurately measure the number of times an individual prevents or takes away 2 points from the opponent.

        Posted by The NBA Realist | August 16, 2011, 9:57 pm
    • Wow Lochpster, high praise for the worm.

      As a Bulls fan, I have long been beating the drum of ‘specialists’ in NBA, particularly because it was such an essential part of the makeup of their dynasty and became an essential part of championship teams ever since the Pistons championship years. No longer can teams sports lineups such as the 80s Lakers that consist of mostly-offense/very little defense – they now have to ensure that they employ guys who can do the dirty work. Not that those guys didn’t exist prior to 1990, but in my mind they are even more essential now.

      There is no doubt that Rodman impacting winning and it is interesting to read about some of the observations from the article that you linked. However, I need to strongly disagree with you that I would take Rodman #2, unless I had a #1 and #2 guy already in place. Rodman was the best of the #3 glue guys.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | August 16, 2011, 9:54 pm
      • Realist,

        One guy that I admired for his transformation to a defense first was Ron Harper. After his injury and getting a chance for a ring, Harper clearly sacrificed his scoring for WINNING! Harper could have easily scored 17+ a game, but with Jordan, Pippen, Kukoch, they didn’t need his scoring, they needed him to D up.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 16, 2011, 10:26 pm
      • I’m not a fan of calling Rodman a specialist. He excelled at 2 areas of the game-defense and rebounding. Many perennial All-Stars and Hall of Famers excel only at one area-offense, and many of them are really just volume shooters at that. Furthermore, I’m not sure what being a “#3 glue guy” means. Are we talking scoring options here, in which case he’s not even a #3, or are we talking about just being the best player on a team? Rodman had no true peer among modern players in the areas in which he excelled, and he was perhaps the best of modern times at areas of the game not directly related to scoring. He could easily have been the most important piece of a title team.

        Rodman’s the greatest rebounder ever, a top 10 all-time defender, and a top all-time intangibles guy and among the great “winners” of all time as well. You’ve said all that needs to be said about Rodman’s rebounding in your article. In today’s NBA, the average possession is worth 1.05 points, so if you can snag a few boards that would have gone to the other team, that’s a HUGE difference.

        As far as defense, it’s certainly hard to quantify exactly how good a player is, but Rodman could get under the skin of just about anybody and could guard all 5 positions on the floor. He covered Shaq, Hakeem, Payton, Malone, Barkley, McHale, and even Jordan with a high degree of success relative to his peers. He was a 2 time DPOY and a 7 time first team all defense selection. Many would argue he’s the most versatile defender in NBA history, and by any measure he’s among the all-time great defenders.

        Furthermore, as an unabashed stats guy, I am excited that we have data that having Rodman on vs. off the court creates a bigger differential than with any other qualifying player since 1986, which would provide some good evidence support the assertion that he is a “winner,” a term that is usually thrown about lazily but in this case I believe carries some real weight. We have actual statistical evidence that Rodman’s “intangibles” are the best of any player during that time period who qualified as well. Real data for being a winner and for intangibles? I didn’t know such a thing was possible, but the data and process looks pretty darn good, so I’ll stick with it until something better comes along.

        Among power forwards not named Duncan, Rodman’s got data supporting his being the best intangibles guy, rebounder, and winner, and he’s probably the best overall defender of the bunch as well. He’s the worst offensive player by a long shot, but he doesn’t hurt his team there because he doesn’t shoot-he just defers the scoring to his other teammates.

        Rodman’s defense, rebounding, and intangibles are matched by probably only one player in NBA history-Bill Russell. There’s really only one complete, dominant PF in NBA history, and that’s Duncan. After that, there’s some serious gray, but Rodman gives you the hardest to replace production and skillset, so I think there’s a very strong argument that he should be your guy.

        Posted by Lochpster | August 17, 2011, 3:16 pm
        • there was always a reason Phil wanted guys like Ron Harper, Rodman, Kerr, Artest on his roster. A championship team needs a Kobe or a Shaq, but it also needs the role players too.

          Anyone thinks it’s a coincidence that the Spurs have not won since Bowen’s retirement?

          Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 17, 2011, 4:48 pm
        • Let me clarify my comments. I do not believe that a team can win a championship with Rodman being the best or second best player on a team. Granted, those Pistons teams were somewhat of an exception and one could argue that Rodman was the second best player just as easily as they could argue he was the 5th best. However, to me, a player can only be considered #2 if they can demonstrate the following:

          1.) The ability to serve as the Alpha Dog on a playoff team. They do not have to be a championship team, but just a playoff team.
          2.) The Lochpster Definition – The ability to carry a team in the absence of a #1 with success and in short doses 😉

          In my opinion, both of these criteria are important and as a result, I would not consider Rodman better than many of the #2 players who have played the game. For example, I would not select Dennis Rodman as my #2 over players such Kevin Mchale, Pau Gasol, Scottie Pippen, Julius Erving, and post glory/pre-carcass Kareem etc.. The reason? Because I believe that the Top 2 players typically need to demonstrate more balance on offense/defense in order to be successful. They can neither be one dimensional in scoring nor rebounding. In fact, in the history of the NBA, outside of those rare insteances in which a team won without a #2 (i.e. 94 Rockets, 03 Spurs, 75 Warriors, 04 Pistons, 2011 Mavs) I believe that there has really only been one exception to the rule in which a one dimensional player served as a #2 on a championship team: James Worthy in 1988. However, it is typically the blueprint for success more often than not.

          Because of this, I place Rodman at the top of the list of the #3 glue guys – the specialists – the guys who may or may not be as balanced both on offense and defense but nonetheless impact the game.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | August 17, 2011, 11:17 pm
          • Rodman was not the second or even third best player on the 1988-1990 Pisotns. The best players were Isiah, Dumars and Lambier.

            Rodman was certainly a valuable player, but only slightly (if at all) more than Salley, Edwards, VJ, Aguirre/Dantley or Mahorn. A quick check of the minutes can tell us this.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 18, 2011, 10:25 am
          • Tricky, using my own words against me like that :) I would presume a player who could meet one of those 2 criteria could probably meet the other-if you can carry a title team for short bursts you can probably be the man on a weaker playoff team, and vice versa. More to the point, I feel strongly that history has shown that a Rodman-type player can be at least the second best player on a title team.

            I disagree with the idea that you need balanced players to be successful-it’s not about contributing on both ends, it’s about how much you contribute overall to the final score. It is certainly ideal to have players who are excellent offensive and defensive players, but this is frequently not the case, even among past champions. There is generally a skew toward offense with role players picking up the slack on D-the past 3 titles have featured a defensively marginal big in the #1 or #2 role. Further back, greats like Magic, Bird and Rick Barry were awesome offensive forces and mediocre-to-adequate defenders. Guys like these scored or set up teammates to score in droves and then tried to avoid getting burned on D while other teammates played the role of stopper-I wouldn’t call a single one of them balanced. Yet all were clearly championship caliber players.

            There are fewer examples of players who swing the other way, championship caliber players whose primary contribution is as dominant defenders who contribute in non-scoring ways, guys who do a lot to help their team win yet depend on others for scoring, but they do exist. Their contribution is in making it miserable for the other team to score and creating shots for their teammates with rebounds and turnovers. They don’t hurt their team on offense because they don’t shoot much, and therefore avoid bad shots-not all that different from a guy like Bird, Magic, Barry or Nowitzki lighting it up then trying not to get burned at the other end. I think that the following players do a reasonable job of filling the roles you outlined above without needing to score in droves.

            Dikembe Mutombo is a guy I consider similar to but less talented than Rodman. Mutombo was the alpha on a 1994 Nuggets team that made the playoffs and made some serious noise, and he was then the #2 on a 76ers team that made the NBA Finals led by a very poor #1, Iverson, and a bunch of role players. I think Mutombo he does a reasonable job of fulfilling the aforementioned criteria (alpha dog on a playoff team, #2 on a team that almost won a title and capable of keeping it afloat with the leader out) without needing to score a ton of points.

            Wes Unseld paired with Elvin Hayes to form a dynamic duo that played in multiple championships and won one in the 70s. Unseld was a Hall of Fame rebounder and defender-he had some talent as a passer but definitely was not a dynamic offensive presence. Yet he was the lynchpin of those teams and it’s second best player. Did the team fall apart without Hayes-I never watched them play, but they had a number of capable scorers so I doubt it. And I think based on just about any criteria, Unseld was a worse player than Rodman.

            Lastly, most similar to Rodman statistically and most relevant to the discussion, there’s Russell. Not a talented offensive player, he was the undisputed alpha on those Celtics teams. You could argue that he provided some offense based on his career 15 PPG average, but his shooting efficiency was in the toilet and even in his best season, 1961-1962, he was 8th on the Celtics in points per minute. If you normalize his offensive numbers for today’s game they’d look like Mutombo’s. He was certainly not a guy you wanted carrying your offense for any stretch. By your offense/defense criteria he cannot be a #1 or #2, yet I doubt that most of us would dispute that he was the #1 pretty much his whole career, and at worst the #2 right at the end of his career. If we make an exception for Russell, we’d have to do the same for Rodman, who excelled in all the ways Russ did. That is, unless there’s a major reason I’m missing that Russ is a #1 caliber guy and Rodman is not a #2 caliber guy.

            I’ll quit belaboring the point, but I can’t pass up the chance for some good debate with a smart observer and fellow worm lover.

            Posted by Lochpster | August 18, 2011, 12:28 pm
          • Lochpster,

            I think we both fundamentally disagree on the offense/defense balance argument and overall, I disagree with nearly all of your examples. I do believe that the #2 guys needs to contribute on both ends. Granted, their contributions do not need to be 50/50 – however, they need to be able to exhibit some measure of offensive and defensive productivity or balance, and far more than Rodman, who could best be categorized as 90% defense and 10% offense.

            Pau Gasol: In my opinion, Pau Gasol gets criticized far more than deserved. He is not an All-NBA defender by any means, and has had his share of defensive lapses. However, given his size and shot blocking ability (1.7 career average, 2.1 at his peak, ) he is certainly better than “marginal” in my opinion. For each of the Lakers’ past 2 championship runs, their secret sauce rested in their ‘size’ on defense, and given Bynum’s injuries, that size started and ended with Pau Gasol.

            Magic/Bird/Barry: Moreover, Magic, Bird, and Barry may not have been the best defenders, but were certainly far better on defense than Rodman was on offense – which is the crux of my “balance” argument. In fact, during the early part of his career, Bird made 3 consecutive NBA-All Defense teams while Magic enjoyed tremendous success (league leader in steals in 81 and 82) in those Laker zones that the Lakers employed frequently. Regardless, as mentioned, the #2 is rarely ever entirely balanced toward one end of the scale like Rodman was. They usually exhibit some measure of skill on both ends. Put another way, I can depend upon Gasol, Magic, Bird, and Dirk to make a defensive stop in a key situation, far more than I can depend on Rodman to hit a key basket.

            Mutombo: I also believe that your Mutombo example is flawed for the following reason – Dikembe was pretty good offensively during the 1994 and 2001 playoff runs. Rodman may have been more talented than Mutombo, but Mutombo was a better fit as a #2 because he was far better offensively and thereby exhibited more balance. During the 94 playoffs that you referenced, Mutumobo averaged 13.3 points and 12 rebounds. During the 01 playoffs, he averaged 14 points, and 14 rebounds and in the 2001 Finals, 16.8 points and 12.2 rebounds. By comparison, Rodman never once cracked double figures on points during any playoff run during his career.

            Unseld: I also disagree with your Unseld argument. During the Bullets’ first Finals appearance in 1971, Unseld as the #2 averaged 14 points and 4 assists per game. However, during their next 2 Finals appearances in 78 and 79, I think that it was highly, highly debatable that a 32 and 33 year old Unseld was ever the #2. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Bobby Dandridge was the #2 on both of those teams.

            Russell: Your Russell argument is most compelling to me, but then again, trying to evaluate a players whose stats belies his contributions makes Russell’s legacy the most difficult for me to evaluate as a whole. Regardless, Russell too was nonetheless a better offensive player than Rodman, utilizing his passing skills as his primary contribution and as you mentioned, averaging 15 points per game for his career. Moreover, even from an efficiency perspective, Russell’s FG% was far more the reflection of his era and the pace of the game – Russell shot a career 44% during an era when the average FG% was around 43%, or slightly above average. Not stellar, but certainly not putrid either. If we were to normalize Russell’s 1962 season, his numbers would look something like this: 49.2% FG, 55.4% TS, 15.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4 assists – again, far better than Rodman offensively.

            As always, I appreciate the debate. However, I simply think that Rodman’s game was skewed far too much toward the defensive end to be a true #2. Moreover, I believe that each of the aforementioned players made offensive/defensive contirbutions that made them a more ideal fit as a #2.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | August 21, 2011, 11:48 am
          • We clearly do have a fundamental difference here. In your rebuttal of Mutombo below, you state that “Rodman may have been more talented than Mutombo, but Mutombo was a better fit as a #2 because he was far better offensively and thereby exhibited more balance.” It seems to me that to your argument that one should sacrifice talent for balance is awfully hard to support given that we haven’t figured out a way to measure balance nor have we successfully shown that balance is important (I vote that it is not even remotely important).

            Our argument seems to jump around quite a bit but I believe the argument which I most support and with which you most disagree is that having Rodman as one of your 2 most talented players gives you a great chance to win a championship. My understanding of your position is that Rodman’s lack of any semblance of an offensive game makes it very hard to win a title with him as one of your top 2 guys-you need more balanced players leading your team if you want to win a title. If I misrepresent your point, it is out of ignorance.

            I should define “talent” as well, just to be clear. A more talented player would be one who creates a greater net effect on the score and his team’s chances of winning. I always want that guy, and I don’t care whether he’s a “specialist” or a jack of all trades. If I can’t count on him to hit a key shot or key stop, so be it.

            What matters is not who plays which role but who’s going to help you win the game. Since 1986 only the trio of Magic, Bird and Jordan have managed to create a larger differential than Rodman in terms of impacting point spread and percentage of games won. Call him a #1, #2, or #3 on those teams, but that’s impressive company. Knowing that, knowing how scarce great defense and rebounding are, and knowing how great Rodman is at the aforementioned skills, would you really take Dandridge, Gasol or Mutombo over Rodman if you’re trying to build a championship team just because they fit the mold of “true #2” better?

            I say no, and I don’t see a single bit of statistical evidence to the contrary. I see plenty of evidence that Rodman is one of the least balanced players ever, but no real evidence as to why this should affect his team’s ability to win games with him as a focal point. And while I would agree that most historical top guys on championship teams had more balance than Rodman, we have failed to come up with a single adequate comparison for Rodman as a player, so I don’t think that these comparisons invalidate him in any way.

            I’m a bit confused by your strong stance on this topic. Usually you seem like a guy who believes in the power of statistics to inform, yet in this case you’re very resistant to the argument they support. If you don’t buy my statistical argument, I’m curious why not. If there’s data I don’t know about, I’m open to it. But you can’t argue against solid objective data with subjective arguments effectively. It’s no different than me arguing that Kobe’s Mr. Clutch-my opinion would always lose to your informed statistical analysis.

            Great debate, and much respect.

            Posted by Lochpster | August 22, 2011, 3:00 pm
          • Lochpster,

            Interesting points. Here are my thoughts:

            The reason that I have often embraced conventional stats is because they bring us closer to the truth and offer a form of factual evidence. However, factual evidence is not necessarily limited to conventional statistics. In other words, I am not ignoring the factual evidence that you have brought to the table in the form of +/- statistics. Instead, I am choosing to place greater value on alternative factual evidence which I believe to be even more compelling: In the 60+ years of NBA history, a player such as Rodman (dominant in defense and rebounding, yet exhibiting a poor offensive game) has never proven to serve as the #2 on a championship team, and I do not believe that players such as Russell, Mutombo, Gasol, Dandridge, etc.. are similar to Rodman on both sides of the ball. Russell, Mutumbo, Gasol, Dandridge, exhibited more offensive production, and were more balanced on the offense/defense scale. And I do believe that offense is an extremely important requirement from the second best player on the team. In fact, with the exception of perhaps Russell and Dumars (off the top of my head) I do not think that it is a coincidence that the second best player on the majority of championship teams also happened to be the second best offensive player as well. As such, while players such as Gasol, Russell, Mutombo, Dandridge may not have excelled on one side of the ball to the same degree as Rodman, I believe that they were a better fit in serving as the second best player on a championship team because of their offense/defense balance, and I consider history to be my form of evidence, whether we want to categorize it as statistical or factual.

            Now, can I definitively prove that Dennis Rodman as a #2 would have never won a Championship? No, not definitively. In fact, part of the challenge may be that with the exception of 94 and 95 seasons with Spurs, Rodman was never more than the 3rd best player on ANY team, least less those 5 championship teams. However, I do believe that there is less pressure and focus in being the 3rd best player on a team vs. 2nd best player, just as there is less pressure and focus in being the second best player vs. best player. This is why I believe that his +/- is so high – Rodman was ideally suited to provide maximum impact as the 3rd best player on a championship caliber team. It is where he fit best. In fact, I am highly skeptical that his +/- would have been as high had he been the second best player for most of his career. Was he an incredible impact player? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean he is a #2.

            I also want to respond to your definition of talent – “A more talented player would be one who creates a greater net effect on the score and his team’s chances of winning”. This is a very ambiguous definition and I would argue that it is very circumstantial, regardless of how you define talent. For example, Larry Bird was arguably the more talented player and as a Celtic, impacted winning more than Scottie Pippen would have in the same role. However, I strongly believe that as a Bull, Scottie was a better fit, and complimented Jordan far better than Bird could have. In essence, he played the necessary role on the Bulls better than Bird would have. Having the right pieces is most important, and I believe that Rodman fit better as the #3 than he ever would have as the #2.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | August 22, 2011, 7:18 pm
          • I see one major fly in the balance ointment, and his name is Bill Russell. You state “a player such as Rodman (dominant in defense and rebounding, yet exhibiting a poor offensive game) has never proven to serve as the #2 on a championship team.” To use Russell as an example of a player with balance, and to deny Rodman the same, is not a fair historical representation.

            In 1964-1965, Russell put together what was a fairly standard season for him. His line-14.1 PPG, 24.1 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 44.4 MPG. His points per 36 minutes (11.4) was well below the league average of 16.6. His TS% of .472 was near the league average of .474, but if you consider his position and low scoring rate, he was actually below average in terms of efficiency as well. His only discernible above-average offensive skill was passing, which admittedly he was pretty good at. Yet even including that, he had 2.4 offensive win shares and 14.4 DWS, which suggests that he was neither particularly good at offense nor even remotely balanced. Yet he was much more than just a #2, he was a dominant defender, rebounder, and an MVP at or near the peak of his powers.

            In his 1968-69 season, Russell’s game and role had significantly diminished. He averaged 9.9 PPG, 19.3 RPG and 4.9 APG. His points per 36 minutes were less than the league average by half (8.3 vs 16.8) and his TS% of .467 was well below the league average of .486, which is quite poor given his position and scoring rate. Even if you account for his assists, he was a bad offensive player and was incredibly unbalanced (1.0 OWS, 9.9 DWS). Yet he was still good enough to be a top 2 player on a championship team based, again, on his rebounding and defense.

            Rodman, in his best offensive season, 1987-88, averaged 11.6 points with a TS% of .571 in 26.2 MPG. His per 36 minute scoring was average higher than any Russell ever achieved despite playing in a lower scoring era. His TS% was also higher than any Russell ever achieved and well above the average for his era, which Russell’s never was. The next year, in 26.9 MPG, he led the league in FG% while averaging 9 PPG (12 per 36), 9.4 RPG and 1.3 APG with an even more impressive .613 TS% on a team that won the title. He had 15 win shares over this 2 season period, split almost identically between offense and defense.

            In his best overall season, 1991-1992, Rodman averaged 9.8 PPG (8.7/36 min), 18.7 RPG and 2.3 APG with a TS% of .574. He was a highly efficient, low volume scorer. He had 5.6 OWS and 7.0 DWS, which would suggest he was both balanced and very good. He also led his team in minutes per game, PER, TS%, DWS, and WS/48. He was second on the team in OWS by 0.1 win share, to Dumars. It’s hard to even muster an argument that he wasn’t the best player on this Pistons team, and by a fairly wide margin at that.

            It’s also interesting to note that Russell never acheived 5 OWS in a season, and his career average for offensive win shares was actually less than Rodman’s.

            What does this mean to me? First, Russell’s 1968-69 disproves your thesis that a bad offensive #2 has never won a title with pure defense/rebounding. Secondly, Rodman achieved both a higher scoring rate and higher level of scoring efficiency than Russell ever did whether you adjust for era or not. He also averaged a higher number of offensive win shares than Russell, so it’s hard to buy the argument that Russell was capable of balanced offense and Rodman was not. Third, Russell won an MVP on a title team as a below average scorer both in terms of volume and efficiency and with a meager 2.4 OWS in what was far from his worst offensive season. If a player with that type of offensive game can win a title and an MVP as a dominant #1, it’s very hard to suggest that a player with Rodman’s arguably better peak offensive arsenal is precluded from such at a much lower functioning #2 role one the basis of his offense. Fourth, contrary to what you stated in your last post, Rodman has shown himself capable of being the best player on a playoff team, which should qualify him as capable of being a #2 on a title team based on our prior definition.

            If the one player who doesn’t fit your model about a player being unable to win championships in a #1/#2 role is Russell, your debate is fatally flawed. We may both agree that Russell is historically overrated, but it is still impossible to argue that he can’t be a #1/#2 type guy on a title team, and the argument that his offense is significantly better than Rodman’s is, likewise, underwhelming.

            I will also happily admit that my definition of talent is flawed and circumstantial, but so is any definition of player ability. It’s impossible to say for sure what happens if you swap two players. If Bird were on the Bulls, it’s possible he winds up a less effective version of Pip, but it’s also possible that Bird and Jordan optimize their roles as co-#1s or that they fail to co-exist like this year’s Heat team ultimately did. How do you know? Given their near unmatched desire to win, I find the #2 option by far the most likely-greatness is greatness after all, and usually it will shine through.

            Posted by Lochpster | August 26, 2011, 11:51 am
          • You make a very compelling argument, and after further reflection, need to concede that you are right…..but for something that perhaps both of us overlooked.

            Before I begin, I just want to express how challenging it is to assess Russel’s career particularly because his stats belie his success. Everything about how he won was unconventional compared to the superstars that followed, and as such, it is incredibly difficult to truly pin point his impact since it is very difficult to measure intangibles – and Russell’s intangibles were through the roof. With that said, I assure you that I am not trying to sidestep the points within your argument, but thought I would add my two cents.

            Now to respond. Let me start with Bill Russell and the 1968-1969 season. In sum, I do not believe that Russell, who was 35 years old, battled injuries, and was in his final season of his career, was the Celtic’s #2 that year. In fact, I think it is debatable as to whether he was even the #3. As you mentioned, he only averaged only 9.3 points and 19.3 rebounds (8.8 points and 14.5 reb if normalized for today’s game), and to me, the contributions from the 3 other HOF players on his team (Hondo, Sam Jones, Baily Howell) were more impactful that year, especially in the playoffs. Russell may have been the emotional and spiritual leader and player/coach of that team, but in my mind, was not the second best player on the floor. This assessment of Russell is not limited to 1969 either. I have long argued that it is highly debatable as to whether Russell was the #2 on the Celtics from 1967-1969 and his stats + the contributions Sam Jones and Hondo strongly support this stance, as does the fact that Russell never won a MVP after 1965. It is no coincidence that age caught up to Russell; he simply had an incredible supporting cast and legendary coach to help offset the decline.

            With that said, I do agree that Russell was the Alpha Dog on the 1965 championship team. However, I am not sure why you consider his performance that season to be subpar? His 14.1/24.1/5.3 assists although below league averages, are nonetheless indicative of scoring and passing contributions as a #2. More importantly, I would ask you to look beyond the regular season since Russell was known to pick his spots, and his stats rose to 16.5-25.2-6.3 on 54%TS during the playoffs when it counted the most. To me, this remains consistent with my definition of a #2, except Russell was the #1.

            Also, I want to clarify that I never stated that it was set in stone that the second best player on a team needed to be the second best scorer ( I simply made mention that this has typically been the trend on championship teams throughout history). I did however argue that the second best player on a championship team needs to offer more offensive contributions than Rodman did during his career, and given Russell’s contributions in 1965, I believe that he met with that criteria.

            On a side note, I know that you continually reference offensive and defensive win shares, and perhaps it is my ignorance, but I have never bought into this stat as a valid metric. How can one assess a players contributions on the offensive end and completely disregard passing as part of their calculations? Moreover, with regards to Defensive Win Shares, I am skeptical with any metric that tells me that Robert Parrish influenced winning on the defensive end more than Dikembe Mutumbo or Ben Wallace. Therefore, I simply do not buy into the notion that Russell was not a solid offensive contributor during the 1965 season just because his offensive/defensive win shares say otherwise.

            Ok, now for the dark horse admission. Upon further reflection, here is where there exists a crack in my argument: not Bill Russell…. but Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace was arguably the first or second best player on that 2004 Pistons team despite being a poor offensive contributor, and was the only Piston to garner MVP votes. I know that the Pistons were a complete anomaly and benefitted from a horrendous Eastern Conference, but facts are facts, and Wallace shows that it is entirely possible (if not probable) for someone such as Rodman to serve as the second best player on a championship team.

            As a result, I need to concede. Is it possble for a player such as Rodman, if surrounded with the right teammates, and favorable circumstances to serve as the second best player on a championship team? The answer is yes.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | August 28, 2011, 5:57 pm
          • You always bring good points to the table. I did think of Wallace, but I wasn’t even convinced myself that he was the #1/#2 on that weird Pistons team. Although I agree with you that he probably was, I doubt I could have argued so convincingly. I actually felt Russell for the 1969 Celts was much more of a slam dunk as a #2 given the parallel declines of Bailey Howell and Sam Jones and that team’s lack of another quality rebounder/post defender. I guess it just goes to show how hard it is to define exactly who plays which role.

            As far as win shares, they are an incredibly complex formula, and I don’t think anybody’s really outlined it anywhere except in Dean Oliver’s book. The best explanation online is here:
            Assists are not ignored as part of the formula. Win shares are also a cumulative statistic. Ben Wallace has the highest single season defensive win share total of any player since the early 1970s and 7 better single season totals than Parish ever had. Mutombo has 4 single season totals higher than Parish ever had, as well. Parish beats them both in defensive win shares for the same reason Karl Malone has more points than Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain-longevity.

            I personally think DWS is the best stat for measuring defensive excellence out there, given the dearth of quality alternatives. When your top 10 career-wise are Russell, Kareem, Hakeem, Wilt, Malone, Duncan, Elvin Hayes, Ewing, Robinson and Garnett, you’re clearly doing a pretty good job, even if there are some warts. And while there are plenty of good statistics for offense, I do think OWS, win shares, and WS/48 are superior stats to most other cumulative stats, such as PER and offensive/defensive rating.

            I respect the heck out of someone who is willing to concede a debate. I wonder if maybe it isn’t just more important to have guys who fill each role (scorer, rebounder, defender) extremely well than it is to have guys who fill the roles of #1, #2, etc. I think I may retire these numbering terms from my lexicon entirely for the near future.

            Thanks for the extremely enjoyable discussion.

            Posted by Lochpster | August 29, 2011, 6:10 pm
  16. Lochpster’s point is that in terms of +/-, Rodman is on par with Magic, Bird, etc.

    By his virtue of eliminating points from players and reducing scoring opportunities, Rodman was in effect, scoring more for his team in terms of the point differential.

    That is what puts Jordan in the class by himself is that he was not only the best scorer, but also the best defender whenever he was on the floor.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 18, 2011, 7:16 pm
  17. I loved Rodman, but I think he was only productive with the Bulls because he respected Jordan as the GOAT. I’m not sure he could have played anywhere else and been successful. His time with the Spurs was very frustrating for the team. Jordan led him to greatness.

    Posted by lover | March 14, 2012, 10:44 pm


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