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Karl Malone - The Ultimate Power Forward

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.

Karl Malone strips Tim Duncan

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Karl Malone - The Ultimate Power Forward

This is Part 2 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.
In Part 1, we looked at Malone’s low-post game which made him virtually unguardable for opposing power forwards. As a result, teams began to defend Malone with their center (in an era where most starting centers in the NBA were atleast 7-feet tall). As was the case in the lowpost, the Mailman developed a counter to deliver against teams that tried to defend him with size. That counter was a perimeter face-up game that made Malone one of the most versatile bigmen to ever play.

On the left block, Karl utilized phenomenal footwork to go with a lethal jumpshot that wreaked havoc on even the NBA’s premier defending 5’s. Malone utilized the reverse pivot to perfection – which allowed him to square up to the basket from about 12-15 feet on the baseline and leave bigger defenders at his mercy. If they backed off Karl would sink the jumper in their grill (and because he could fade backward on his J, he could make shots that were perfectly contested with a hand in his face). When defenders closed out and played him tighter, that set them up for the blow-by on Malone’s hard baseline drives.

On the right block, Malone squared-up to the rim utilizing the “Jack Sikma move” – an inside reverse pivot and jumper – to perfection.

By the end of his career Malone had made himself into a deadly mid-range jumpshooter from virtually any spot on the court inside of 20-feet, but one spot he particularly loved was the high right elbow. In Utah’s UCLA set, the Jazz would send Stockton through on a shuffle-cut. Sometimes Stock would set a down-screen on Malone’s man but even when he cut though – because he cut hard it forced Malone’s man to sag down to take away an easy layup. As a result, Malone was able to catch the ball stepping back from 17-feet, swing the ball through and deliver the jumper. Again when teams closed out that set up Malone’s hard drive to the rim. If the jumper wasn’t there, Malone became a high-post passer with Utah executing their precision off-ball action (example: the PG running through, setting a backscreen for the 3, then springing free on the weakside off a curl).

Malone not only developed his jumpshot, he developed a myriad of ways to get it off. He could pumpfake to keep the defender off-balance and then go straight up into his shot, jabstep then step-back and shoot, and even became an effective shooter off the dribble (how many 260-pound all-stars could make 16-footers after putting the ball on the floor?). On occasion Malone even displayed a respectable 3-point shot. His 85 threes made over his final 15 seasons in Utah don’t amount to much (about 6 makes per season) until you consider Carlos Boozer has made 1 three-pointer in 12 seasons, Al Jefferson 3 in 9 seasons, and even Paul Millsap (whose 3pt shot has received much attention) has averaged a shade under 10 3pt makes in his last three seasons.

The NBA has had a lot of power forwards with great low-post games, and they’ve had a lot of power forward’s with great mid-range games – but there’s never been a power forward who had as potent a combination of interior scoring and mid-range jump shooting as Karl Malone.

Malone jumper

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Karl Malone - The Ultimate Power Forward

This is Part 1 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. Today we’ll take a look at Karl Malone’s complete low-post repertoire.

Before looking at that and other components over the next several days (including face-up game/perimeter shooting, running the floor, defense, passing and pick&roll ability), a few of Malone’s basic yet elite abilities must be noted. Above all, Malone’s rare blend of size, agility, strength, explosiveness, and speed – combined with a competitive drive and superior work ethic are what really set him apart. I fully believe Malone could have remained the raw and relatively unskilled young player who entered the league and still averaged close to 20&10 simply from his relentlessness and raw physical gifts.

Looking past many of the baskets Malone scored at point-blank range due to establishing deep post position (partially due to his superior strength and partially due to Utah’s great cross-screen action as well as phenomenal post-entry/lob passing), here are the skill components of Karl Malone’s offensive arsenal in the low-post.

(Note: This encompasses much of what was listed in a previous post, but now includes custom video highlights to fully encapsulate Malone’s complete low-post repertoire.)

Left-block repertoire: Sweeping hook shot going middle, could roll into lane for over-hand baby-hook, roll into lane for under-hand scoop shot, pseudo-left-shoulder jump hook in which he kept both hands on the ball until it was above his shoulders, dribble-pound fade-away jumper off left-shoulder (middle) and right-shoulder (baseline), no-dribble half-turn fade-away.

Right-block repertoire: Pseudo-jump hook keeping both hands on ball and kissing it off the glass, right-shoulder fall-away off both left leg and right leg, and a very reliable and oft-used Jack Sikma face-up fall-away jumper.

The brilliance to all of these moves/shots are the way they complement each other. Malone liked to move into the lane for that little hook shot, but when defenders kept their arms high to challenge that – Malone developed an incredibly difficult scoop-shot to slip in beneath the defender’s outstretched arms. Malone shot a left-block fallaway going to the middle, but when you over-played that or brought help from the top, he would spin and shoot the baseline fallaway. When teams would aggressively dig down on the block as soon as Malone put the ball on the floor, Malone developed a quick half-turn fade-away he could shoot before the defense could react.

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The more you look at a player like Dwight Howard who has struggled to develop much of an offensive repertoire beyond jump hooks (for awhile Dwight had a nice right-hand hook rolling into the lane), the more you appreciate Karl Malone’s skillset and work ethic to add one low-post move after another until he had a complete arsenal of moves that when combined with his superior physicality – made him virtually unguardable for opposing power forwards in the post.

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Karl Malone - The Mailman Turns 50

In 7 days on July 24th, Karl Malone will turn 50 and is apparently planning on celebrating his birthday back in Utah.

Mailman 50th Birthday Party at Karl Malone Toyota #1

Mailman 50th Birthday Party at Karl Malone Toyota #2

While ESPN certainly won’t be going overboard in the same manner they gushed on Michael Jordan when MJ turned 50 back in February, I fully intend to!

Therefore, over the next 7 days there will be a HUGE amount of Karl Malone content posted here at the Jazzbasketball Blog as well as on Youtube. Each morning, there will be a new “Ultimate Power Forward” post (with an accompanying video) that breaks down a key aspect of Karl Malone’s game that made him the greatest power forward ever. Each evening, there will be another new video (with a corresponding blog post) of a classic Karl Malone moment – ranging from vintage 40-point performances to throwback Malone interviews that can’t be found anywhere else on the web. Finally, next week in honor of the Mailman’s 50th birthday, I will be giving away 50 Karl Malone basketball cards.

Jazzbasketball Celebrates The Mailman Turning 50:

  • July 17-23 AM: The Ultimate Power Forward
  • July 17-24 PM: Classic Karl Malone videos
  • July 24: Giveaway – 50 Karl Malone cards (3 winners broken into 15, 15 & 20 card lots

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While names such as Stockton, Sloan, Layden, and Miller are certainly revered, on a global basis no singular name is associated with the “Utah Jazz” as much as “Karl Malone.” 28 years ago Karl Malone arrived in Salt Lake City and rode on a Jazz float during the city’s Pioneer Day parade where he initially thought the celebration was in honor of his birthday. Next Wednesday many Utahans will once again celebrate Pioneer Day – but it won’t be the only Utah celebration that day.

Karl Malone Pioneer Day 1985

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