This is Part 5 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.
Karl Malone not only made himself into a versatile scorer, he made himself into one of the best passing bigs in the game.
Despite the fact that much of Utah’s offense ran directly through Karl Malone (in both the high-post and low-post), the Jazz were still able to move the ball beautifully and keep everyone involved. That is a testament to Utah’s system which utilized Malone’s offensive presence to create a deadly combination that coupled constant off-ball movement with the Mailman’s deft passing ability.
1. After feeding Malone in the post, Utah’s perimeter players stayed in motion. Here Utah runs their split-action with #34 Chris Morris feeding the post, then setting an off-ball screen for Howard Eisley (circled). This forces the opponent to switch, with Kobe Bryant (red arrows) showing out on Howard Eisley. Morris sets the screen then slips to the basket.
2. Because Morris is coming ‘up’ to set the screen, he already has a positional advantage on the switch so all Malone has to do is lead him to the rim.
Karl Malone makes a perfect pass to Morris for a layup. Because teams now had to pay attention to Utah’s off-ball action, this in turn slowed down double-teaming and gave Malone more room to operate in the post.
Another staple of Utah’s low-post offense was the hard baseline cut by the post-feeder.
Here, Chris Morris enters the ball to Malone, then makes a hard V-cut along the baseline.
Morris’ man gets caught top-side which gives Malone and Morris an uncontested dribble-handoff.
As a result, Morris is the recipient of a wide-open layup.
As with virtually everything in basketball, the defense will react and it is up to the offense to counter – and Malone and the Jazz did just that.
Here, the post defender (#40 Kurt Thomas) sags back to take away the hard baseline cut. This causes Thomas to lose contact with Malone in the post and provides plenty of airspace for Malone to pivot and hit his patented turn-around jumpshot. This is a great example of how the passing ability of a low-post scorer actually creates a shot opportunity instead of the other way around.
Karl Malone averaged over 4 assists per game seven times during his illustrious career, and his ability to pass the basketball not only made his teammates better – it created even more offensive opportunities for himself.