Dennis Rodman: is he the greatest basketball player of all time?

Dennis Rodman was the lowest scoring player ever to be inducted in the NBA hall of fame in 2011. At the time of his induction, he had the worst average for points per game compared to all the other hall of famers: just 7.3 points per game scored. (Michael Jordan averages 30.1 points per game.) 

Most NBA aficionados don’t care about Rodman that much. They love action. They love offence whereas Rodman is a defensive player. But when statisticians are asked who would be their number 1 pick in their team, they inadvertently opt for Rodman.

“You get 8 people in a room, all posing as GM’s. We’re allowed to select 5 players each from the entire history of the NBA. Then we’ll have a tournament. I would grab Rodman. And I’m confident that I’d win because he’s on my team.” – NBA statistician Siddy Hall

Another statistician Benjamin Morris wrote a whole book length dossier before Rodman was inducted in the hall of fame – of why he is the greatest player of all – even above Michael Jordan!

Are statisticians mad?

Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan won three championships together for the Chicago Bulls. When they won the first championship, Dennis Rodman was voted as the 7th most important player in their team by all the fans. But statisticians begged to differ. When it came time to get paid, there was no comparison: Jordan’s pay package was miles ahead. But it is doubtful they would have won without Rodman.

Because Rodman was better at rebounding than any of his peers. He averaged 13.1 rebounds per game. Rodman led the NBA in rebounding for a record 7 consecutive years! He was not just a little better than his peers in rebounding – he was a whole 4 to 6 standard deviations better! 

In essence, his rebounding skills gave his team 13 second chances per game to score! In a game where a team scores an average of 80 points, Rodman gives his team an option to score a potential of 26 to 39 more points per game!

That’s why statisticians who understand what make teams win opt for Rodman over Jordan. Because while Michael Jordan’s athleticism is beyond mortals, and he scores 30 points per game, if he were not playing – someone else would have scored 22-24 points too! 

What’s more, when Rodman is on the court, while his own shooting percentage is dismal, the entire team’s overall shooting percentage goes way up. Everyone’s efficiency around him is improved when Rodman is on the court. 

So why do people not recognize Rodman’s prowess?

Because defensive plays always go unnoticed. People love action. Action is easier to observe and measure. People love offensive plays. They love seeing the score move. They love seeing crazy jump shots and glass breaking dunks!

It’s the same reason why when a lot of mediocre tech companies are struggling, they start counting the lines of code that a dev writes. But when the best debuggers – people who don’t write a lot of code but find all the bugs in code – are fired, they start struggling even more.

How can you avoid missing such hidden stars? 

You want to find the person who is not an apparent star but yet everyone wants to be around them when times are hard! Because these are the people who may not be extraordinary themselves, but they raise the standards of everyone around them!

What can you do to improve everyone else’s performance around you?

If you deconstruct Rodman, there are two distinct things he does. 

  1. He snatches the ball on rebounds better than anyone else.
  2. He then passes it to his teammates and improves their scoring efficiency.

How does that translate to your work?

Rebounds: When things go wrong, can you help the team rebound? Can you conduct post mortems and pre mortems and find flaws? Can you help the team with clarity and communication? Can you maintain a positive attitude and be a leader during shit times?

Improve team performance: Can you provide training and support? Can you recognize good work and praise people around you? Provide encouragement? Can you do the mundane work so that they can focus on their core skills? Can you automate tasks?

The balance between offence and defence

The thing to understand is that no team can win if they have two Dennis Rodman’s on their roster. You need offence to take you forward. Rodman needed to be surrounded by good scorers like Michael Jordan.

The worst thing a company can do is focus only on support without focusing on sales. It’s a poor leader who only praises his teammates, never criticising them. You’ve got to find a good balance between offence and defence.

It’s the combination of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman together that got the Chicago Bulls to win three championships on a trot!

Action Summary:

  • Things will go wrong. So work on your rebounding. Fixing flaws and helping folks get up again after a nasty fall.
  • Focus on improving the performance of everyone around you, even if it takes a little bit of your time away from your core activities. Build an environment of encouragement and enablement.