Dennis Rodman: Does 4=5?

Dennis Rodman is now securely in the Hall of Fame, ceremonially admitted after an uncomfortably cathartic speech. But this won’t end the controversy that defines his historical placement, and I’m not talking about any of the Worm’s flamboyant antics. No, the Rodman imbroglio is about how much we value Rodman’s on-court contributions. His particular style of play–all rebounding and defense, no offensive input–makes it difficult to know just how good he was. 

For starters, we’re at a loss to tangibly account for any player’s individual defense. Recently, plus-minus arrived to save the reputations of offensively inept stoppers like Ekpe Udoh, but no such stat tracking existed in the 90’s. The Worm’s efforts on that end will slog into history much praised, though uncharted.

But, the main debate point on Rodman is this: Does it matter if you abstain from offense? Clearly, a player who shoots often and misses frequently can have a negative impact on team efficiency. But what about the Worm’s tendency to just watch it all unfold? Does non-participation hurt a squad?

My guess would be that “4 on 5” isn’t as hindering as we might believe. As Henry Abbott once hypothesized, team defense requires more collective effort than team offense:

“Good defense is just about, always about every player on your team doing things well. Good offense, on the other hand, can be about a few players on your team doing things well.”

So it’s possible that Rodman’s wall-flowering did little to stop the scoring efforts of his teammates. I would also hazard that team offense mattered less in the illegal defense era, a quaint time when defenses weren’t allowed to “load up” and shift over to individual scorers. Check out a late 90’s Bulls game, and witness Michael Jordan backing his man down ad-infinitum. Much like Rodman, the opposing defense is resigned to helplessly watching.

Another question: Is it possible that “4 on 5” can help an offense? This is a radical notion, but I wonder if, in certain instances, it helps to know exactly who your scorers are. When a certain role player avoids “doing too much,” his offensively-talented teammates benefit from counting on more usage, assured of large, predictable roles. One small caveat per this theory: It’s all hypothetical and not grounded in a shred of evidence.

For now, Dennis Rodman signifies the gap between Dave Berri and John Hollinger. Berri’s stat (Wins Produced) doesn’t punish Rodman’s wall flowering and Hollinger’s PER does. Most advanced stats tend to reward participatory players. After all, if everyone played like Dennis Rodman, offenses would score 40 points per game.

But very few played like Dennis Rodman in a league so obsessed with scoring and scorers. And very few won like Dennis Rodman, a player who contributed to 55+ win seasons for three different franchises.

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  1. [...] Sherwood Strauss at HoopSpeak has an interesting take on Dennis Rodman and his offense, or lack thereof, basically wondering if it actually mattered that [...]

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