The Last Dance: Is Dennis Rodman the best rebounder in NBA history?

The third episode of "The Last Dance" provides a look into Dennis Rodman's importance to the Chicago Bulls during their second 3-peat.

On a larger scale, Rodman's name is one that surfaces in any conversation about who is the best rebounder in NBA history.

Judging strictly by rebounding totals, he wouldn't sniff that conversation. In fact, Rodman doesn't even rank among the top 10 in career rebounds per game and sits outside the top 20 in total career rebounds!

We don't ever think about whether or not Patrick Ewing is the greatest scorer ever. He ranks 23rd in total points.

We don't ever think about whether or not Muggsy Bogues is the greatest passer ever. He ranks 23rd in total assists.

And yet Rodman is routinely a part of that discussion when it comes to the greatest to ever clean the glass. He ranks 23rd in total rebounds. So what gives?

MORE: Which players today compare to 'The Last Dance' Bulls

Rebounding, in general, is tough to look at in a vacuum because so much of it is driven by different eras. For example, there about 106 available rebounds in a typical NBA game today when looking at total missed shots and free throws (and yeah, it's not an exact science but it's a rough approximate). That's about 40 fewer than in the 1959-60 season and 30 fewer than throughout the entire 1960s.

You can only get as many as are available and it's ultimately all relative to the competition. There's far more that goes into it than simply how many you

So with that in mind, here's a look at one man's opinion on the five best rebounders in NBA history.

5. Andre Drummond

Drummond's value is debateable. On the surface, a two-time All-Star and four-time rebounding champion who racks up steals and blocks should be considered a hot commodity.

And yet all the Pistons could get for him from the Cavaliers - even when factoring his ability to become a free agent this summer - was Brandon Knight, John Henson and a 2023 second-round pick.

Drummond's value says infinitely more about the overall direction of the league itself than it does his own abilities as a rebounder, because there is zero denying of the fact that he's by far the most productive rebounder in today's game.

We can argue how much rebounding matters. We can argue if it's an outdated skill. We can argue other parts of his game. What's incontrovertible is Drummond's ability to dominate the boards, particularly, on the offensive end where he annually ranks among the league leaders in second-chance points. Including this season he's now led the NBA in offensive rebounds seven times which ranks second all-time behind only one player further up on this list.

If Drummond had come along 20 or 30 years earlier, he'd be regarded as one of the best players in the league rather than a fringe All-Star.

4. Moses Malone

The most destructive offensive rebounder in modern NBA history. Why only "modern"? Because offensive rebounds only go as far back as 1973-74.

With that said, consider the following:

  • He has over 2,000 more than anyone else. The gap between him and second is larger than the gap between second and 48th.
  • He led the NBA in offensive rebounding eight times.
  • He holds the NBA record for most in a game with 21.
  • He's the only player to average more than five per game for a career.

In the rough and tumble 70s and 80s, Malone was a vacuum cleaner that simply could not be stopped by anyone. He might be the least sexy three-time MVP but he's still a three-time MVP, powered in part because nobody could hold him back. When he won it in 1981-82, he averaged 6.9 offensive rebounds per game and "just" 11.7 made field goals. Second chance points don't exist, but there's a decent chance that of his 31.1 points per game, nearly half of them came off second-chance opportunities. Throw in a career

In his prime - perhaps more than anyone in NBA history not named Wilt Chamberlain - Moses was the NBA version of the middle schooler who hits his growth spurt before anyone else and just laughably does his thing while hapless defenders look on with endless exasperation.

3. Bill Russell

He had three straight 30-rebound games in the 1959 NBA Finals.

He once had 19 rebounds in a single quarter in the NBA Finals.

He once hauled in 49 rebounds in a single game and did it against Hall of Famer Neil Johnson who held the previous record of 39. Three years later he topped that with 51.

He ranked first or second in rebounds per game in each of his first 10 seasons.

All of that stuff mentioned earlier about how rebounds are inflated by era? Even when accounting for that, Russell is still almost in a league of his own.

There have been over 800 seasons in NBA history in which a player averaged double-digit boards. If you take each of those and divide it by the number of available rebounds in each game for each specific season, Russell's 1963-64 season in which he AVERAGED a career-high 24.7 rebounds a game is the best rebounding season in NBA history.

Going strictly by rebounds per game, Russell is responsible for nine of the top 20 seasons in NBA history. Even when adjusting for era, he holds seven of the top 20.

2. Dennis Rodman

For seven straight seasons, nobody else won a rebounding title.

That's the longest streak of it's kind and it's owned by a 6'7" forward who did it in an era with Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Patrick Ewing.

Even more impressive? The degree to which nobody else came close.

In all of NBA history, there are nine instances in which a player won the rebounding crown by at least four per game. The Worm is responsible for four of them (nobody else has done it more than twice).

Across his seven rebounding titles, Rodman averaged 3.5 more than whoever finished runner-up. Not only is that the largest average "margin of victory" among rebounding champs, but it's also more than double that of the all-time average gap of 1.7.

MORE: The one play that perfectly sums up Rodman's role on the Bulls

When Rodman won the first of his back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1989-90, he averaged 9.7 rebounds per game which ranked outside the top 10. Up until that point in his career, he had never hit double figures. Two seasons later he was up to 18.7. It's almost as if he woke up one day and just made the conscious decision to be better at it than everyone else.

In all of NBA history, there are 46 instances of someone hauling in at least 18 per game.

Only two of them have come in the last 46 years.

Both by Dennis Rodman.

1. Wilt Chamberlain

The 10-time rebounding champ.

The all-time single-game record-holder with 55.

The all-time career per game record holder with 22.9.

The all-time career leader with 23,924 which might be the NBA's most unbreakable career record. Dwight Howard - a five-time rebounding champ in his own right - is the closest among active players and he's over 10,000 away.

Oh and remember that stat we had for Bill Russell about rebounding totals relative to era? Try this one on for size.

Of the top 20 seasons, all of them belong to either Chamberlain, Russell or Rodman. Six of the top seven and nine of the top 14 belong to Chamberlain who was far more than merely a product of his own era.

Nobody will ever come remotely close to his equal when it comes to rebounding.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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