During last night’s Celtics/Spurs game, a random question came to me: How would Dennis Rodman‘s career have panned out if he’d played for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio?
Rodman built his rep as a throttling defender and monster rebounder in Detroit, but he didn’t get all (publicly) weird-acting until he got to San Antonio. Neither of his coaches in two years with the Spurs (John Lucas, Bob Hill) could contain him, and David Robinson always seemed like he was either scared of Rodman — in the same way you’d be scared of the creepy kid on your dorm floor — or he simply thought of Rodman as a lost cause. Pop became Spurs’ GM in Rodman’s last season with the team, he was the one who traded Worm to Chicago, and took over as head coach well after Rodman was gone.
But what would have happened it Popovich hadn’t traded Rodman? Would Rodman have been a different player with a disciplinarian coach like Pop? Would he have been better? Worse? Assuming everything goes the same as far as getting Tim Duncan in ’97, would the Spurs have been able to win a championship with Rodman?
Despite his weirdness, Rodman got the job done wherever he played and has the rings to prove it. And just as Rodman might have been the game’s ultimate defensive role player, James Worthy might have been the ultimate offensive role player. In a Hall of Fame pro career spent solely with the Lakers, “Big Game James” could be a takeover scorer on any given night, play his position and get buckets within the system, and hit clutch shots in high-pressure games. Yes, I know they are two completely different players, but that’s the fun part: Comparing Rodman and Worthy pound-for-pound, who had the overall better career?
Worthy spent 12 years in the NBA, winning three ‘chips with the Lakers and making four other Finals appearances. He averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals, and in 143 playoff games, bumped his numbers to 21.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 1.2 spg. Worthy won Finals MVP in 1988, made seven All-Star Games and two All-NBA teams. He doesn’t rank in the Top 50 in any major stat categories. Worthy won a national championship in college at North Carolina and was named Final Four M.O.P. He was also named one of the NBA’s all-time 50 Greatest Players in ’96, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Rodman played 14 seasons in the League, winning five championships between the Pistons and Bulls and making one other Finals appearance with Detroit. He averaged 7.3 points, 13.1 rebounds and 0.7 steals in the regular season, and in 169 playoff games, posted 6.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 0.5 spg. He made two All-Star Games, eight All-Defensive teams, two All-NBA teams, and won two Defensive Player of the Year trophies. In ’92 he finished 10th in MVP voting. Rodman led the League in rebounding seven times, ranks 10th all-time in rebounds per game and 20th in total rebounds, and ranks 4th all-time in total offensive boards.
Those are the numbers. Throwing in whatever else you feel is relevant, who had a better career?