Greatest Players in NBA History: Karl Malone

In this section of the Lab I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week’s player is Karl Malone, one of the greatest iron men that the game has ever seen.  In the 1980s and 90s there was a strong sentiment that Malone was the greatest power forward of all time, with a combination of power and scoring skill that revolutionized the position.  Before Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Mchale, the power forward position was often an enforcer/garbage-man type.  Malone's dominance at the position helped to usher in the time of power forward as a glamour position, leading directly to the ridiculous boom of elite PFs in the 2000s.

Malone was an excellent scorer, a very strong rebounder, and an underrated man-to-man defender.  He was physically intimidating, with a reputation for throwing around elbows and knocking out teeth that kept him from often being challenged in the paint.  He worked the pick-and-roll to perfection with running mate John Stockton for 15 years.  But perhaps the most amazing thing about Malone was that he NEVER got hurt.  In his first 18 years in the NBA, he never missed more than two games in any season.  That was part of how he earned the nickname "The Mailman" matter what, he was going to be there to deliver every day.  This longevity was a key tenet of Malone's greatness and is a big reason why he made this GOAT list.  You can check out Malone's box score stats and accolades on his basketball-reference profile, but here are some facts that stand out to me.

1) Malone is second on the NBA All-time scoring list with 36,928 points, almost 5000 points ahead of Michael Jordan for third place.  Malone is also sixth all-time in rebounds, second in minutes played, and tenth in steals.

2) Malone is one of only 12 players in NBA history to win multiple Most Valuable Player awards, and is seventh all-time in MVP award shares

3)  Malone made the All NBA first team 11 times in his career, the most of any player in NBA history.

4) While Malone is known for his scoring exploits, he also made the NBA All Defensive Team four times in his career, including three first team selections.

The only hole on Malone's resume is the NBA championship that he was never able to win, which is a black mark for a GOAT candidate that played for more than 15 years next to a point guard that many consider one of the best ever at his position.  Nevertheless, Malone was one of the ultra elite players in the league for almost two decades.  He is one of the few people than can claim to have beaten out both Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal for MVP awards.  And he put together a box score resume that can compete with any player that has ever lived.

Where does the Mailman stack up on your list?  Among the very best, or a notch down?


By: Polocash7
On: 2/9/2012 1:44:00 AM
He's the best PF I have seen. He should be mentioned w/the greats
By: The Professor
On: 2/9/2012 3:15:00 PM
Malone's an interesting case. When he was playing I never thought he was even as good as David Robinson or Charles Barkley, let alone Hakeem or Jordan. But as we went back through season-by-season he seemed better than I remembered. Still not Jordan level, but right there just a step behind Dream. Great player, even if I'm not much of a fan of his.
By: nayfel
On: 2/9/2012 4:47:00 PM
I feel like we started to really see Malone as an all-time great when he got to the Finals against the Bulls in consecutive years. That's when I felt like he took that step, as he was deep into his career, well past his prime, yet still playing at an elite level. And those Jazz teams really weren't that great outside of Malone and Stockton.
The year with the Lakers is an unfortunate blemish as even if it turned out differently and he won his title, I doubt he would have felt like a true champion. No? Funny that people don't ever recall that Laker team when discussing all time greats joining together, even though Malone and Payton weren't great players at that stage.

One last item which I don't think you picked up on is the fact that he potentially made Stockton into an all-time great.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 2/10/2012 9:36:00 AM
I saw Malone play a pre season game in Green Bay his rookie year. I was there to watch Sydney and Marques play and scout rook Jerry "Ice" Reynolds from the Bucks. Malone stuck out as someone who you thought was going to be pretty good considering he was the 13th pick. I'd argue that Stockton made him a better player more than he made Stockton a better player. I hope you do an Oscar write up....
By: The Professor
On: 2/13/2012 10:45:00 AM
Nayfel, I agree with you that Malone went up a level with those mid-90s teams. Before that I think it really was legitimately a question whether Stockton was the one pulling the ship...and maybe Stockton really was, earlier in their careers. But by the mid-90s Malone was taking on a much bigger role in initiating the offense, and showing that he could carry the load even when Stockton had started declining. That was big.
By: The Professor
On: 2/13/2012 10:46:00 AM
Zenguerrilla, yeah, was definitely planning on doing an Oscar write-up. It may or may not be this week, but if it is I'll shout you out for suggesting it.
By: nayfel
On: 2/15/2012 6:02:00 AM
I am sure you have not heard this but Bill Simmons had Bob Ryan on his podcast this week and they were discussing McHale and Malone. They were saying that Malone is considered, by former elite players, as one of the most overrated superstars in NBA history. Bob Ryan personally thinks Malone was way overrated and doesn't think much of him at all. They both mentioned that Barkley specifically says that K McHale was the best player he ever played against and doesn't respect Malone at all. Maybe there's a personal element to it but who knows.

Anyway, I thought of this blog when listening so figured I would mention. I don't see a link between Ryan and Malone that would create an overt bias so I thought it was interesting. Ryan is a well experienced columnist and does understand the game. Most interesting however was their comments on how former players don't respect Malone's legacy, and while that's vague, it must come from somewhere.
By: The Professor
On: 2/16/2012 6:52:00 AM
That's interesting, Nayfel. I haven't heard it yet, and in a perfect world I'd go listen to it now but unfortunately I live in a state of "I'm way behind on all of my work, oh crap, let's just push on as hard as I can" that precludes me from scratching my basketball entertainment itch like I'd like to.

That said, without having listened to it, I can definitely see how Malone might not stack up as well against the other top, top talents in history when ex players and sportswriters discuss it. First and foremost, that crowd tends to focus hugely on the ring count, of which Malone has none. Second, all of Malone's individual standout historical accomplishments are due to longevity...he never led the league in points or rebounds in any given year, but he ends up #2 and #6 overall because he played forever. Many feel that his '97 MVP was a lifetime achievement award in a year that Jordan was clearly better, and few respect the lockout MVP because of the lockout and everyone else being either retired or hurt. So really, Malone's best cases for the GOAT list wouldn't necessarily be all that respected by ex players/sportswriters that essentially engage in barber shop-style comparisons for who was the best. And I'll be honest, I personally don't have Malone ranked as high as he finished in our project (#12 overall), but I do try to respect what he was able to accomplish for what it was so I can move onto more interesting cases for future write-ups (grin).

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