NBA / Dec 4, 2009 / 9:31 am

Pound-for-pound crown: Dennis Rodman vs. James Worthy

Dennis Rodman on 'Celebrity Apprentice'

Dennis Rodman on 'Celebrity Apprentice'

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?

James Worthy in '89

James Worthy in '89

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?

Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
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  • Detroit Dave

    Give Me Rodman!

  • karizmatic

    Wow that’s really a tough one. Before reading this article I was leaning toward Rodman, but after looking at the stats I think Worthy might have had the slightly better career. This one is close, both guys had great careers, were very talented, got to play with some of the best players in the game, and have the rings to show for it. I’ll give a slight edge to Worthy though.

    As an aside your boy Charley Rosen over there on foxsports often contends that Rodman acted up on San Antonio because it was he who had no respect for David Robinson’s approach to the game. Given this little bit of info, in addition to the fact that Tim Duncan is so good and the fact that Rodman won rings before and after his stint in San Antonio (not to mention Robinson’s failure to win anything before Tim Duncan) I have to believe that had Rodman stayed on San Antonio they would have been able to win at least one ring.

  • http://www.petsocietyhelp.com Pet Society Help

    Rodman by a landslide, he got with Madonna and Carmen Electra. Plus Rodman made out of a NAIA school, besides him Devan George and George Muresan who else do you know came out of the NAIA and made it to the NBA

  • heartbreaker85

    scorers are a dime a dozen, but a guy who rebounds like hell and plays D on guys bigger than him, that’s gangsta.

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    Lovin’ Rodman, but Big Game James could have had Dominique numbers if he was the man on a team…and Rodman’s tatoos were weird enough when he was with the Pistons–really no one had that many of them at that time–it’s close, but I’d take Worthy…he had skills and was humble enough to become a highly skilled role player with a stacked squad…maybe he could tutor Iverson…

    One-on-one would be ill though…Worm all up in his goggles, and don’t forget Rodman put up close to 30 in college, NAIA or not you can’t hit 30 everyday with a bum shot…

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    I hate to say this as a Carolina fan and a Worthy fan, but give me Rodman 9/10 times. James was a reincarnation of Connie Hawkins on the court and was a monster on the offensive end. May have avg more ppg if he played on weaker teams. His lack of rebounds and avg defense is not impressive though.

    Rodman was a defensive stallworth in the late 80’s/early 90’s. He was Old Dirty… he gave it to you RAW. from pissing off every Bulls fan in the country by frustrating Pippen every playoff game, to fouling Jordan like MJ owed him money. Rodman was Badboy to the core. I hated his guts until he came to Chicago and he became one of my all time favorites. You can’t appreciate him until you see him daily and on a big stage. Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone both had their ways with him in those finals series from 96-98 but Rodman always made the right defensive play when it counted to get the defensive stop. during those years Malone and Kemp where head and shoulders above the rest as the best PF in the league. So it’s not like he wasn’t guarding the best. Rodman also had the task of stopping Prime MJ, young Scottie, Prime Magic, Prime Bird, Prime Domonique, Prime Kevin Mchale, and Prime Charles Barkley. And he succeeded more than anyone else did at either stopping on frustrating those guys. How many other players can say they did that…Maybe Pippen.

    Rodman’s antics outshined his play, but Rodman was a legend of his era.

  • sh!tfaced

    Rodman. Worthy is just another high scoring dude if he didn’t end up with the Lakers.

    Just look at Luol Deng with the Bulls (Who’s the closest current player comparable to Worthy right now). Might be doing okay, but they’ll never be considered a real major impact player for their team…

  • Diego

    Comparing apples and oranges. Ignoring ages: Replace Worthy with Rodman on those Laker teams and good possibility no titles; replace Rodman with Worthy on those Chicago teams, likely no titles; but replace Scottie with Worthy on those Chicago teams, likely titles!

    Rodman had a much more limited role with Detroit–much more simply a bit “role player” with them.

    And by the time Rodman hit S.A., Dallas, etc. he was more-or-less washed up. Players get old and that really hurts guys that rely on athleticism. Compare Ben Wallace and Ray Allen.

  • TJ

    Worthy was a decent scorer who got too much credit because he played for the Lakers. Rodman was our generation’s best rebounder and post defender. I’d pick Rodman because, regardless of all his bullshit, he killed himself to do the little things that won games.

  • Ian

    worthy role player?? gtfoh.

    karizmatic
    sorry but i have to say your post is kinda bad well you mentioned you needed rosen to explain things to you.

    rosen called the admiral one of the most overrated players ever because he couldnt score and couldnt rebound now tell what do you think of that dumb shit? the admiral couldnt win before duncan sure jordan didnt before pippen , shaq didnt before kobe and so on you dont win alone. reverse the roles and give td the 89-95 spurs and see if they win shit. how many times have u seen a rookie take a 20 win team to a 7th game in the second round vs the eventual conf champions? the admiral did it. who takes vinny del negro as his sg to the conf finals? the admiral did it. who won all the awards in the nba in 7 years? the admiral did it. how did hakeem do with a team like the admirals from 87-91?? missed playoffs and first round exits. from 89-95 both in their primes the admiral was first team all nba to hakeems 2. so how can rosen call that shit overrated? now rodman and the admiral, dave wasnt scared of rodman he just didnt give a shit about him he wanted his ass gone. rodman didnt respect hill (i mean who does really?) if anything they overachieved with the worm there a team with one scoring option in the starting five making it that far comon. he didnt act up because of robinson he acted up because his team was blown up.

    i think you need another source of info if we are talking robinson than rosen again listen to the excuses he used to say hes overrated COULDNT REBOUND AND WAS VERY LIMITED SCORING. i wish i could drop 71 and win a scoring title like that. did i mention hes 3rd all time in per?

    rodman vs worthy slight edge to big james both are stars not role players.

  • Ian

    chicago
    i picked worthy but i have to say good post.

    diego
    rodman was in his prime in san ant.

    shitfaced
    what?? comparing deng to worthy?

  • shitfaced is a clown

    you didnt see worthy play if you are comparing him to deng. take the shit off of your face.

  • dapro

    Chicago you said it, except for the Malone owning Rodman

    Mailman got his numbers but Rodman frustrated the hell out of Malone

    Rodman was a freak of nature, he gaurded smalls and bigs

    If it wasn’t for his antics this wouldn’t be an argument

    He’s like JKidd, can dominate a game w/o scoring a point

  • don

    Rodman had an amazing career but id rather be worthy since id rather be the one to come up clutch in the big stage(instead of michael) and can we not refer to worthy as a role play…id like for any of you guys to name a role player that could drop these lines in a game 7: 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    easily Dennis Rodman.

    when is the NBA going to allow him into the Hall?
    its bogus bullshit that he aint in the Hall of Fame.

    and who on here was quoting charley rosen? come off that bullshit. charley rosen is the WORST when it comes to analyzing the nba or any of its past/present players. i’ve never seen a dude more biased than rosen. he cannot get thru any piece without referring to jordan or phil jackson.

    whoever posting using charley rosen as a reference has completely LOST all credibility on this board.

    you’re banned until 2010…..

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    didnt greg poppovich also trade sean elliott to detroit to get dennis rodman?

    can anyone confirm?

  • Omar

    Worthy all the way, shitfaced you’re a moron. Deng can’t touch Worthy

  • Ekstor

    Despite all the accolades and achievements, Worthy is still vastly undervalued as a player. Anyone who equates Worthy with just another solid offensive player never watched Worthy.

    Are scorers a dime-a-dozen? Yes. Are clutch players a dime-a-dozen? No! Not only was Worthy a scorer, but he was also capable of triple-double nights. Check the finals series where he won MVP and then check the next year when Magic Johnson and Byron Scott went down, Worthy nearly singlehandedly stole one of the games from the Pistons with a 40 point… near triple-double performance.

    In his prime, he was the best finisher in the game… in the open floor, you could put 3 or 4 or 5 players on him and his sweet touch always found the basket. His first step was lightning fast and with his long extension, he could put his shot over anyone at anytime in any situation.

    Some of you say he only got attention b/c he was on a great team… I say the only reason you don’t hear more was because he was a great team player who sacrificed individual stats and provided exactly what the Lakers needed when they needed it.

    Rodman is pound-for-pound the greatest rebounder I’ve ever seen, but aside from his Detroit years, his defense was overrated. You were NOT guaranteed to make a team better by adding Rodman. Both the Spurs and the Lakers won rings after Rodman left (of course, Duncan had something to do with the Spurs) and the Bulls would have been equally tough if Horace Grant had been there for the final three rings (in addition to the first three).

    Worthy, on the other hand, is guaranteed to make your team better and he’s impossible to stop in big games and in clutch situations.

    Worthy… all the way!

  • sh!tfaced

    Shit, man. I just said Deng was the closest player who plays like Worthy. Never said Deng was as good as Worthy. Stop sucking Big Game James’ dick.

  • Sweet English

    Rule number 1: There are no high heels to be worn by men in the hall of fame.

    Hence the exclusion of Dennis.

  • chief youngblood

    DA, DA, DA, WORM

  • K Dizzle

    lol I ain’t got time to read the comments, but I hope somebody was smart enough to notice that Big Game turned his production up when it mattered (the playoffs)while Worm`s numbers dipped. I watched enough Laker tape to know that JW was a beast offensively. You want this shit made simple? Check the numbers when they were matched up. Worthy used to put Dennis in the torture chamber. Postin up, jumpers, up and unders, fingerrolls. Finals MVP on a team with like 4 other hall of famers. This discussion….is over

  • LoBezn0

    Worm all the way!

  • Alaskanballa

    I am a lifelong Laker fan and loved Worthy back in the 80’s…..too quick for the big forwards…to long and strong for the others. He used to own Mchale and Bird when they had to guard him, but he did have the benifit of playing with Jabbar and Magic, which really helped him out. On the break he was as good a finisher as you will ever see….right there with Jordan and Erving.

    The only drawback to Rodman was his attitude and immature behavior at times. Under strong coaches like Daly and Phil he thrived for the most part. Under week ones like Rambis, and Brian Hill…he ran amoke. My heart goes out to him though, he could guard almost any player from Jordan to Ewing to Malone…if you are talking toughness…Rodman is as tough as has EVER played in the NBA. One concern I have in this match up is that Rodman had basically NO offensive game other than a put-back on an offensive board.

    So I have to ask myself a simple question……was the Worms defense and rebounding so overwhelming as to offset his non exsistent contribution in scoring the ball and often destructive team behavior….sorry but I say NO

    Worth was an overall better player