This is Part 6 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.
For all of the diverse offensive skills (which have been covered extensively here over the past week) Karl Malone possessed that helped make him the second-leading scorer in NBA history, perhaps no play became as synonymous to the Mailman scoring than the pick-and-roll.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Karl Malone running screen-roll without mentioning his Hall-of-Fame pick&roll partner: John Stockton. Together, Stockton&Malone put on nearly a two decade-long clinic of how to run the pick&roll. Any type of defense they faced within the rules, they would counter and execute. It starts with Stockton, who had supreme court vision, the ability to pass accurately and quickly (thanks to his ability to pass off the dribble with one hand rather than two) and was an excellent shooter off the bounce. Malone always set a rock solid screen and combined his mobility, great hands and supreme ability to finish with both power and skill around the basket – was the ultimate finisher. Together, Stockton&Malone were simply unstoppable on the pick&roll.
In traditional side-screen roll, Stockton’s first read is always to go middle behind Malone’s screen – whose own read was to roll to the basket if the weakside help doesn’t come, or “pop” out on the baseline for the jumper if the help-defense rotates to shut off the paint.
Here Malone’s man shows out on Stockton and the weakside help is slow. Malone rolls unimpeded to the rim and skillfully finishes over Kobe who is late in his rotation.
On this play, the Chicago Bulls force the pick&roll baseline (a defensive staple of Phil Jackson coached teams). Utah counters with Malone simply re-screening to allow Stockton to drive baseline. This forces Malone’s man to help on Stockton and allows Karl to turn and roll uncontested to the rim.
Chicago’s weakside help defense is slow to react and Malone has a wide-open lane to drive for the hammer dunk.
Here in the same situation, Chicago’s help-defense reacts to clog the lane. As a result, instead of rolling – Malone simply pulls up from the elbow and drains the open 18-footer.
Here against Houston, Stockton’s man decides to go under on the screen so Stockton knows he’ll have a clean look from the foul line area if the big doesn’t show out.
The Rockets choose to stay with the screener (Malone), so Stockton simply pulls up and hits the open foul-line jumper.
After playing together for 10+ seasons, Stockton&Malone developed a sixth sense for knowing when to slip the screen. Here, they again show their standard side screen-roll.
Instead of setting the screen, Malone slips right to the rim. Because Stockton could pass so well off-the-bounce, his trademark one-hand pass right by his defender’s ear leads Malone perfectly and the Mailman makes an excellent one-handed catch on the move and promptly finishes strong at the rim for a three-point play.
As Doug Collins said, “Whatever you show them, they counter it.” In the 90’s most offenses in the NBA were based more on isolation and post-ups than predominantly screen-roll. Now in 2013, with rule changes virtually every successful team relies on running the pick&roll to some degree of success. Guards are taught the nuances of the play at much earlier ages, and come into the league more skilled in that area. Nevertheless, the pick&roll bar set by Stockton&Malone has yet to be eclipsed. They did it longer, better, and more proficiently than any other duo in NBA history. Everyone knew it was coming, and they still couldn’t stop it.