We have seen many great players in NBA history, who thrive on the defensive end. In the NBA today, center Rudy Gobert and powerful guard Marcus Smart are capable of shutting down the opposing positions with relative ease, utilizing physical gifts and defensive awareness to their advantage.
Even Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are respected defensive players whose defensive gifts are key reasons why they both stand as NBA champions. Still, there has never been a defensive player quite like the Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. As good as Leonard, Green, Smart, or Gobert are on the defensive end, Rodman is the only player who can guard all five positions.
Even greats like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen could not defend bigger players with the ease of Rodman, and that is why Dennis is the only player who could truly guard all five positions including the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal.
PG: Magic Johnson
Rodman was a larger man, but he was very adept at guarding point guards. Magic Johnson is probably the greatest point guard of all time, but Rodman could probably slow him down. Magic was actually 2 inches taller than Rodman, and was simply unguardable at his best. If there is a player who can slow him down, it might be Dennis Rodman. He stood 6’7″, and would be able to run with Magic all game long and hustle for every possession.
As evidenced by this clip, Rodman clearly bothered Magic Johnson in the 1988 Finals. He did not stop hounding the ball and slowed down the extremely fast Lakers team that was predicted on the fast break. Rodman held down Magic to only 1 FG made when he guarded him, clearly indicating how the eccentric forward is possibly the most versatile defender the game has ever seen.
SG: Michael Jordan
MJ is arguably the best scorer ever. He won 10 scoring titles, 6 NBA titles, and simply could not be stopped by one defender. He was more athletic than anyone who played and mastered every fundamental in the book. But Dennis Rodman might do just enough to bother him. As evidenced by a very impressive Game 3 performance by Rodman, who made the night particularly difficult for the Chicago Bulls superstar.
He played harder than everyone on defense that night and did not let you a single moment.
Still, MJ bested him by hitting the game-winner but there haven’t really been any players to bother Michael Jordan like the way Dennis Rodman did. Even in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, Rodman did an admirable job sticking with Michael and making him work for every shot.
I bet the entire Chicago Bulls franchise feel very fortunate to have snagged Rodman to help them win championships themselves.
SF: Larry Bird
Larry Bird was a nightmare to defend because he simply had more skill and will than almost every player in the league. Bird nightmare did everything well on the court but was especially lethal on the offensive end with the ball in his hands. He could pass, shoot perfectly from anywhere on the floor, and had the toughness to attack the rim without fear of contact. In many ways, that makes him one of the toughest players to guard in NBA history. Not to mention, Bird had a killer instinct and will to rip your heart out at any moment of the game.
But Rodman could be the one player who could do a better job than anyone else. Rodman had tremendous success guarding Larry Bird, and his defense throughout the NBA playoffs in 1988 Eastern Conference Finals stands out especially.
Dennis Rodman, a player who is two inches shorter than Bird, had the most success guarding the dominant forward. While by no means Rodman shut down Bird, he clearly put up an extremely valiant effort to slow him down as shown here. Rodman is a supremely gifted defender and plays harder with more energy than almost everyone in history. His battles with Bird were an utter joy to watch.
PF: Karl Malone
Karl Malone is possibly the best offensive power forward ever. He is third on the scoring charts and one of the most consistent scorers in history, using a mix of post moves and an automatic mid-range jumper. Karl Malone was part of an unstoppable duo with John Stockton, and there have been few players who have been able to slow him down.
Once again, Dennis Rodman defended Karl Malone as good as anyone could have. Rodman was a natural power forward, so he often found it less challenging to guard his own position. Rodman was known to perform at his peak in big moments, and this was entirely evident during the 1998 NBA Finals. Rodman held Malone to 5-16 shooting in Game 2 and shut him down when Malone started the game 6-6 in Game 3.
Clearly, Rodman is a very special defensive player.
C: Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq was an absolute monster in his prime. He could not be stopped by a single defender, and he was known to foul out his opponents on a consistent basis. O’Neal was too big and too strong for anyone, but Dennis Rodman simply knew how to bother Shaq enough.
In fact, he did an admirable job of minimizing Shaq’s impact on the court as much as possible more than any other player. Dennis stood at 6’8″, which is a decent height to guard bigger centers. Rodman was also quick on his feet, had long arms, and knew how to bother Shaq on post shots and prevent him from catching alley-oops.
When the Bulls played Shaq, Rodman would prevent him from getting any good looks at the rim and constantly was a pest anytime O’Neal touched the ball. This video shows just what a nightmare Rodman was to a prime Shaq.