The Last Dance

The Last Dance: Which player was better for the Chicago Bulls - Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman?

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played Batman and Robin for six title teams with the Chicago Bulls.

But they didn't do it alone.

Horace Grant started at power forward for the Bulls during the first 3-peat spanning 1991 to 1993 while Dennis Rodman held down the same position during the second 3-peat from 1996 to 1998.

Though both had very different games, they unequivocally came next after Jordan and Pippen on their respective team hierarchies.

If you had to pick just one - Grant from the first 3-peat or Rodman from the second 3-peat - who would you take?

Alex Novick (@Anov_SN): Don't be blinded by Dennis Rodman's flash, a prime Horace Grant would've torched the aging version of him we saw in Chicago.

One thing often overlooked is that Rodman wasn't exactly a picture of consistency during his three-year Bulls tenure. He only played 64 games in his first season with the team followed by just 55 games in 1997. His production also dropped off considerably when playoff time rolled around each year.

The Worm averaged 15.3 rebounds per game over his three regular season campaigns with the Bulls. In the playoffs, that figure sank to 11.3 per game, with the majority of his other production dropping alongside it. Consider the '97 playoffs, when Rodman's rebounding dipped almost in half, from a leage-leading 16.1 per game to just 8.4 over 19 postseason games.

You can't attribute this to the slight dip in minutes played. Put simply - as you'd expect from a guy in his mid-30s who thrives on motor and energy - Rodman wasn't the same impactful force in April, May, and June when the Bulls needed him most.

On the flipside, Grant only missed nine total games between 1990-91 and 1992-93. He consistently put up strong all-around numbers, highlighted by the double-double he averaged in 1991-92, and unlike Rodman, was a legitimate factor on offence.

And if you want to talk about defence, The General averaged 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals over those three title runs, compared to 0.4 blocks and 0.7 steals for Rodman. Stats don't tell nearly the whole story, but also keep in mind that Grant's signature career moment came on D, when he blocked Kevin Johnson from behind to seal the 1993 title as time expired.

Grant's career is vastly underappreciated and if you want to get a true sense of his value consider what happened after he left Chicago. His stabilizing addition to the lineup pushed Shaq and Penny's Magic to the '95 Finals, and he started all 16 playoff games for a 2001 Lakers team that lost just once during their historically dominant postseason run.

Rodman is clearly the brighter star and a name that transcends basketball. But Grant was more valuable to his trio of titles with Chicago.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): During the Bull's first 3-peat, Grant ranked ninth in the NBA in win shares - ahead of Scottie Pippen - and his toughness down low allowed for the Bulls to overcome the physicality of the Pistons and Knicks. All things considered, Grant was probably a better overall player throughout that first 3-peat than Rodman was during the second 3-peat. His box score numbers don't jump off the page, but Grant's just one of those players whose value can't be fully gleaned from a stat sheet. He's one of the most underrated players of the 90s and someone you just had to watch to fully appreciate.

On the surface, the easy answer is Grant. And yet the easy answer is also the wrong answer.

It's Dennis Rodman.

A first-team All-NBA defender in 1995-96, Rodman still had some serious chops as a physical disruptor which proved vital given the Bulls faced off against Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone during those Finals series. Though certainly on his last legs, Rodman played a pivotal role in slowing down Malone in both years, particularly in Games 1-4 in 1998 when the Jazz very easily could have taken out Chicago. In those first four games, Malone averaged 20.0 points per game, a far cry from his average of 26.9 over the first three rounds of the playoffs.

MORE: Is Rodman the greatest rebounder of all-time?

More importantly than his work in any one series, Rodman's identity as a defensive-minded rebounding workhorse that could punch up a weight class fit Chicago's identity perfectly. Those Bulls teams thrived playing positionless small ball in part because of Rodman's willingness to do the dirty work. Similar to how Draymond Green unlocked Golden State's Death Lineups, Rodman had a similar impact in Chicago. In games started with Rodman at the five alongside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc, the Bulls went 31-4 including the regular season and playoffs.

That's the equivalent of going 72-10 over an 82-game season, something Bulls fans know a thing or two about.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): If we're talking career, the right answer is Dennis Rodman. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason - the best rebounder we've ever seen and one of the best defensive players in league history.

But we're not talking about full careers here, we're talking about time with the Bulls. And let's face it Rodman wasn't in his prime with the Bulls, an effective player but no where near his peak.

That's why it's Horace Grant. Grant, as Micah eloquently said, is one of the most underappreciated players of the 90s. He's also the most underappreciated player in Bulls' history.

We're talking about a guy who was at an All-Defence level and only didn't make first-team because prime Rodman was locking the world down. We're talking about a guy who consistently stepped up when Jordan needed one of the 'Jordanaires' to produce. Grant finished second in playoff win shares in both the '92 and '93 and third in '91. No one would've said it at the time but new information is out, without Grant maybe the Bulls' don't three-peat.

Rodman, on the other hand, could've easily taken games off with the Bulls and they might have still rolled along. In '96 the year they won 72 games, Rodman appeared in just 64 games and the Bulls managed a 15-3 record without him. In the playoffs, though he proved his worth and was so good in the Finals that he even received some Finals MVP votes. But that's where it ends for his peak.

The following season the Bulls cruised to 69 wins, Rodman missed 27 games, the team chugged along with a 21-6 record in his absence. In the playoffs, he finished eighth(!) on his team in win shares - one spot behind Bison Dele.

In the last dance season he stepped up without Scottie Pippen in the lineup, but the minute he came back Rodman became as focused on his rock star persona as he was his on-court production. The playoffs that year, he was tied for fourth on the team in win shares with Ron Harper.

Rodman's career as a whole was better than Grant's, but let's not paint the narrative that the Bulls version of Rodman eclipsed what Grant had done in the first three-peat. Bigger star, no question. Better production heck no.

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

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