A handful of players whose on-court impact simply can’t be expressed through statistics have made their mark in the NBA. Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green come to mind. Both have been part of dynamic team legacies, the championship Bulls for Rodman and the dynamic Warriors for Green. Both have won Defensive Player of the Year awards, (Rodman won two), and their impact on their respective teams have stretched far deeper than their individual accolades.
Dennis Rodman, labeled as the best rebounding forward ever, was brought up in tough circumstances. Rodman grew up
with two sisters, raised by his mother, as his father left the family when Rodman was young. His 5’6 frame, coupled with his inability ‘to make a layup, left him as a reserve on his high school team, though a sudden growth spurt prompted him to drop his job as a janitor and continue basketball in college. While he experienced on-court success at Cooke County College, averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds, poor academic performances led to his eventual dropout. He soon transferred to Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Rodman met Bryne Rich and he was soon adopted into the Rich family, despite the racial differences between the two. Rodman cited this surrogate family as being the reason he made it through college. Averaging 26 points and 16 rebounds in college, Rodman was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1986 in the second round.
With the Pistons, Rodman had his own highs and lows. Remaining a bench player for most of his first three seasons, he won his first championship with the team in 1989, as well as All-Defensive First Team honors after impressive rebounding performances. When power forward Rick Mahorn left the team via the expansion draft in 1989, Rodman had his first chance to prove himself as a starter. He displayed his tremendous rebounding skills in the following season, winning his first Defensive Player of the Year title, which was shortly followed by his second ring. He won another Defensive Player of the Year award the next year.
He cited a series of personal issues that led to his leaving Detroit. He was found asleep in his car with a loaded rifle in 1993. Years later, he revealed in his autobiography that rather than committing suicide that night, he decided to “kill the person (he) didn’t want to be”. Rodman was soon traded to the Spurs.
His tenure in San Antonio was filled with drama. An incident with Madonna, along with head-butting John Stockton and Stacey King, established his reputation as the league’s bad boy. While his rebounding and defensive success continued, he was unable to achieve playoff success until he joined the Bulls in 1995.
Rodman was instrumental in the Bulls three-peat, in spite of his off-court antics. Unsuccessful short stints with the Lakers and Mavericks ended his career, in which he amassed a total of 5 NBA Titles, 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 7 Defensive First-Teams inclusions and 7 Rebounding Titles.
Since 1986, Rodman has the highest margin of win differential of any NBA player, largely due to the extra possessions which his offensive rebounding provided.
Draymond Green has just completed his fifth year in the league, yet he has already drawn comparisons to Dennis Rodman. Growing up in a tough Saginaw, Michigan neighborhood, Draymond didn’t have it easy.
After enjoying success at Michigan State for four years, Draymond was picked 35th by the Warriors in the 2012 Draft. While he never averaged more than 6.2 points a game in his first two seasons, he saw his breakout year in 2014-15, when he became a starter in place of the injured David Lee. Finishing runner up in both DPOY and Most Improved Player voting, Draymond capped off a fantastic year with his first championship. The following season, he was selected to the All-Defensive Team, though accumulating four flagrant points in the playoffs prevented him from competing in Game Five of the NBA Finals when the Warriors were up 3-1. Many credit his absence to the Warriors’ infamous collapse, as they eventually lost the series 4-3.
Draymond’s success continued the following season, as he claimed his first Defensive Player of the Year Award, as well as his second ring.
While neither Rodman nor Draymond have ever been a franchise player, their impact on the sport is immeasurable. The similarity between the pair extend far deeper than simply being second round draft pick success stories. The drive and spirit with which they play has been instrumental in the success enjoyed by their respective teams. They are known as possessing the ‘dog’ instinct, possibly due to the tough backgrounds in which they grew up in. The pair’s competitiveness and tendency to wear their heart on their sleeves is unmatched in their respective eras.
Both Rodman and Green are listed at 6’7 and are undersized power forwards yet they still remained the best defensive players in the league for a duration of time, as they embodied the phrase ‘heart over height’. An overlooked component of both players’ games is that they understand their position on their respective teams, as they both lined up alongside MVPs in Michael Jordan and Steph Curry. They accepted an inferior role in favor of their team’s success.
Despite obvious similarities, there are many facets which differentiate Rodman and Draymond. While Rodman’s rebounding skills were unmatched, he lacked the technical offensive skills required in the modern NBA. Green, however, possesses a lethal offensive game to complement his defense. He is a proven three-point shooter and can space the floor brilliantly. His game IQ is extremely high as well, and he has shown that he can flourish at the center spot when used in the Warriors small-ball lineup.
Rodman’s style of play may have been successful during his era but in today’s NBA, which requires players of all positions to possess an all-round game, it would cause problems. Defenders would be willing to sag off him on offense, creating double teams for teammates. The role of big men during Rodman’s era, however, didn’t require them to shoot from deep, and thus his weaknesses were hidden by the nature of basketball at the time.
When current Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked about a hypothetical 95-96 Bulls game against the 15-16 Warriors, he mentioned that he’d be particularly intrigued by the “epic Draymond versus Dennis matchup”. Kerr is right. It would be worth the price of admission.
photo via llananba