The previously unseen footage that was revealed in episode 3 of ‘The Last Dance’ tells the story – Rodman wasn’t scoring just around the basket – he had already developed an offensive repertoire consisting of a jump-hook, mid-range jumper. He was very effective in running down the court!
The 6’8’’ tall Rodman had the best offensive season of his 14-year long NBA journey back in 1987-88, his second season with the Pistons. He averaged a career-high 11.6 ppg on 56.1% shooting while playing an average of 26.2 minutes per game, which equals 16.0 ppg over a hypothetical 36 minutes per game.
“I looked to score some that year – it was my career-high 11.6 points per game – but there were still times when I’d get an offensive rebound and dribble all the way out beyond the three-point line and give the damn thing to Isiah.”Dennis Rodman, Bad As I Wanna Be
Actually, in the middle of that season, the Pistons’ starting small forward Adrian Dantley injured his ankle and the Pistons’ head coach Chuck Daly inserted Rodman in the starting line-up.
And the results were impressive! Over the next 29 games, Rodman played 31.0 minutes per game and responded with averages of 14.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.0 spg, and 0.7 bpg, while shooting 57.5% from the field and 62.5% from beyond the three-point arc (5-8)! More importantly, during that span, the Pistons won a total of 20 out of 24 games they played!
But rebounding and locking down opposing big-name players were already his known and recognized assets. Hence, The Worm decided to further specialize in those intending to stay in the league as long as possible. The critical decision he made significantly helped him find and define his specific niche in the NBA and thus significantly prolong his pro basketball career.
“I figured I made it to the league the hard way, so why not stay in it the hard way too? The hard way in the NBA is through defense and rebounding – the two things guys would rather not do. There’s not a guy in the league, besides me, who doesn’t want to score. That’s why nobody can believe me: I DON’T WANT TO SCORE.”Dennis Rodman, Bad As I Wanna Be
With Dantley gone from Motown to Dallas midway through the 1988-89 season, and newcomer Mark Aguirre providing an instant scoring spark from the bench, Rodman jumped in and became the irreplaceable Pistons starter at the small forward position over the next five years.
All of a sudden, Rodman became a new-generation strategic defensive weapon for the surging Detroit Pistons, the team on a mission to win the NBA championship titles in 1989 and 1990.
Daly embraced the blue-collar forward and made him the Pistons’ designated defensive stopper over the upcoming years. Whichever team was next on the Pistons’ schedule, it had to think hard about their leading player’s upcoming match-up with Rodman, a player who could defend all five positions. The Worm successfully defended all of the League’s major stars, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley – you name it.
The 1989-90 and 1991-92 NBA Defensive Player of the Year also appeared in the 1990 and 1992 NBA All-Star games. In the 1992 game in Orlando, he played 25 minutes while contributing 13 boards and 4 points.
The 1991-92 season was also the one in which Rodman opened his 7-year long reign of the NBA in the statistical category of average boards per game. But, interestingly enough, in 1991-92, the player who dominated the boards with an 18.7 rpg average also managed to hit 32 triples on 31.7% clip that season! It’s hard not to imagine Rodman stretching the floor in the modern NBA.
As the 1991-92 season progressed, Rodman, always lurking around for an offensive rebound, showed a tendency to shoot more and more triples, with his most productive months being February of 1992 (9-26 3pts made on 34.6% shooting) and April of 1992 (8-19 3pts made on 42.1% shooting)! That season, the most he hit were two triples in a single game, but he did it six times! And, interestingly enough, three of those six games were against the Pistons’ EC nemesis – the Chicago Bulls!
In the mid-1990s, lockdown defense and rebounding were still his trademark craft, making him a desirable commodity for the eventual title contenders in the form of the Spurs and the Bulls. But both teams knew that he could also fit into their given offensive systems, schemes, and make plays. So, he wasn’t there just because of his D!
Every once in a while, even in the game’s decisive moments, The Worm would surprise with his level of basketball IQ, making a great play in the right moment – scoring the game-winning basket, blocking an opponent’s game-winner, making a great pass to an open teammate for an easy deuce. He could do it all!