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Worming his Way into the Hall…

It’s sort of old news, since intrepid reporter Dennis Rodman broke the story over the weekend, but the Worm has somehow wiggled his way into the basketball Hall of Fame.  Now, I am a big proponent of the idea that the James Naismith HoF is a morass that needs to be abandoned by the NBA, but I must say, I’m psyched that Rodman is now immortalized in Basketball’s museum.  I’m not saying that I think Rodman should be a Hall of Famer, just that I love that he IS a Hall of Famer.  Lets be honest, how many pink haired, wedding dress wearing, nose pierced men are there in the collective Halls of Fame?  Without a list in front of me, I’m going to go out on a limb and say… none?  Just a wild shot in the dark guess.

As for his worthiness, well, outside of his notoriety, he has three things going for him:

  1. He played on 5 championship teams.  Of course so does Steve Kerr and I don’t hear anyone making his case…
  2. He was a seven time all-NBA defensive player and two time Defensive player of the year.
  3. He was, perhaps, the greatest rebounder in NBA history.

Are those three things enough cause to have him enshrined?  Lets take a closer look, shall we?

Right off the top, lets get rid of the cross-dressing, body art, and porn stars (wait?  Do we really want to get rid of the porn stars?).  Does it all add up to make Rodman like Charlie Sheen doused in awesome sauce?  Of course it does.  He was a rock star in a Gladiator’s body.  Most of what he did was hilarious, some of it was mildly harmful, none of it has any bearing on the Hall.  His on court histrionics, technical fouls and suspensions has a little relevance to his hall case, but I find it hard to imagine that it should be more than a passing footnote, so lets pass it…

What made Rodman unique from a basketball perspective was his relentless nose for the ball.  From his first season in the league he was an all-time great rebounder.  That first year he averaged 4.5 borads in only 15 minutes.  Those numbers grew as the Worm writhed, wriggled, and leapt his way to every loose ball.  During his peak seasons from 1991-92 to 1997-98, the pink haired wonder averaged:

  • 18.7
  • 18.3
  • 17.3
  • 16.8
  • 14.9
  • 16.1
  • 15.0

In the past 28 seasons, only two other players have broken 15 boards per game.  Ben Wallace had 15.42 in 2002 and Kevin Love of course has 15.23 this year.  That’s it, that’s the list.  Rodman did it six times and missed a seventh by 0.1.  Here’s a very short, very incomplete list of great rebounders in the last 28 years:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • David Robinson
  • Charles Barkely
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Dikembe Mutombo
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Tim Duncan
  • Dwight Howard

None of those guys ever averaged 15 boards in a season, let alone doing it six, basically seven times.  You actually have to go back to 1974 to find a season in which a player averaged 18 rebounds in a game and it should (although it doesn’t) go without saying that the league was VERY different in ’74.  So, I think you can make a pretty clear case for Rodman as the greatest rebounder in league histroy.  Certainly others will argue Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell, but I think that if you search “rebounding numbers adjusted for era” you will find at least some evidence that the pace (and the Butler-like shooting) of the NBA’s pubescent years meant that there were far more rebounds to be had.

Rodman’s detractors argue that he became so obsessed with grabbing the boards, that he was prone to leaving his defender and jeopardizing defensive assignments.  That’s probably fair, especially late in his career, but at his best, Rodman was also a pesky defender who loved banging with bigger players and irritating stars.  He won two defensive player of the year awards and seven All-NBA defensive team selections.   I feel a bit dirty citing awards, but NBA defensive metrics are, uhmmm… lacking?  So, we know for sure that he was an all time rebounder and there’s good, albeit anecdotal, evidence that he was a great defender, but that brings us to Rodman’s bane: scoring the basketball.

Yes, for all of his tremendous gifts, Rodman wasn’t much of an offensive player.  Of course, that’s an understatement in the same way that saying Elton John isn’t much of a ladies man might be, but the point is that for all of Rodman’s defensive and rebounding talents, his offense was so anemic he could have been playing in Monday night’s NCAA title game.

Does this preclude him from entry into the Hall?  Well, that’s hard to say, I mean there are two parts to the game: scoring and stopping the other team from scoring.  I know that we all proclaim that “Defense Wins Championships”, but… even the best defensive teams still need to score 90+ points to win.  In his top offensive season, Rodman scored 11.  Now, obviously part of his rebounding powers were exhibited on the offensive side of the court; in his prime, he did average between 4.4 and 6.4 offensive boards per game, but… Basically a team full of Rodman’s would struggle to score 50 against a middle aged Rec League team.

Then there’s this: his career was short.  Rodman was 25 when he entered the league and his last full season was at the age of 36.  Sure he had that 23 game debacle with the pre-Zen Master Lakers and he had the 12 game cameo the following year with the Mavs, but by then the persona of Rodman (like Manny being Manny, but on speed) had far outgrown the ability of any normal coach to manage.  So his career ended with only 911 games played.  That’s why, despite his incredible rebounding numbers, he only ranks 22nd all time, behind looming Hall of Famers Charles Oakley (20), Paul Silas (19), and Buck Williams (14).  Now, obviously a star that burns brightest should be elected even if it burns out, rather than fading away, but did Rodman really burn brightest?

All-time ALL-NBA All Defense Team (No offense allowed):

In honor of the Worm, I thought I’d spend a half hour dedicating the old noodle to listing the NBA’s all-time top defensive team that couldn’t have scored on an eight foot basket with a enlarged rim:

PG -Rajon Rondo – Ok, I’m being a bit cheeky, because obviously he’s a great point guard, but did you know he’s shooting 24% from three and 54% from the line this year? He’s a point guard who is barely shooting above 50% from the charity stripe… Yikes.
SG – Tony Allen – What is it about being an all-time great defender that makes guys a bit crazy? I mean, not all of them, but Allen, Rodman, Ron Artest…
SF – Bruce Bowen – I miss watching Bowen irritate the hell out of Kobe.  Those were fun times.
PF – Dennis Rodman – He’s the captain.  You know, because of all his leadership abilities!
C – Dikembe Mutumbo – When I question the validity of “All” NBA or MLB awards, just know that I do so because of things like this: In 1994-95 Mutumbo won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. That same season he was voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive SECOND team. Yeah!

6th Man – Ben Wallace – He actually made Mutumbo look like Olajuwon as a pivot, but man did he anchor those Piston teams.

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