This is Part 3 of “The Ultimate Power Forward” series, detailing several of the key components that made Karl Malone the greatest power forward to ever play the game.
After revisiting the Mailman’s offensive repertoire, let’s switch ends of the floor and look back at Karl Malone’s outstanding defense – which earned him 1st-team All-Defensive honors three times (tied for most ever in franchise history) as well as a one 2nd-team honor.
At 6-foot-9, Karl Malone was never an above-the-rim shot-blocker. Instead, Karl played phenomenal fundamental and physical defense that forced turnovers and frustrated his opponents. Malone’s superior strength not only allowed him to defend elite centers, it made it extremely difficult for opponents to back him down in the post. Karl utilized this to his advantage, mastering the “pull-the-chair” technique. Malone would hold his position defensively and then suddenly give ground, causing the offensive player to lose his balance and travel.
The hallmark of Karl Malone’s defensive ability was his quick hands. He was notorious for stripping offensive players of the ball as they went up into their shot, and developed an uncanny ability to gauge an offensive player’s shot-pocket and meet the ball on the way up to force the tie-up. He was also an active pick&roll defender who depending upon Utah’s defensive strategy, could aggressively show-out off screens. For a player of his size and strength, Malone also moved his feet well laterally – as he was adept at sliding in front of his man to draw a abnormal number of charges off low-post plays.
Karl Malone not only delivered the mail at the offensive end, he also brought it at the defensive end as well – with defensive intensity, aggression, and double-digit rebounding. His technique and crafty maneuvers remain a prime example that just because a big man may not possess superior size or length, it is still possible to be an outstanding defender simply from hard work, intelligence, technique and effort.