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Posts Tagged ‘power forward’

Malone vs Garnett Feb-17-2003

Lost amid Wednesday night’s homecoming buzz for former Jazzmen Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko was the very real possibility that Brooklyn’s 105-99 victory over the Jazz could have been the final game Kevin Garnett ever plays in Utah.

The first time Kevin Garnett played a regular season game at the Delta Center, he came off the bench behind Sam Mitchell. His head coach at the time, Flip Saunders, boasted a coaching record that stood at 1-4 and not the 638-526 mark it does today. The leading scorers on his team were Tom Gugliotta, J.R. Rider and Sean Rooks.

Sound like nearly two decades ago? It was. Trey Burke was 3 at the time.

On that late December evening in 1995, a 19-year old KG scored 6 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Timberwolves. On Wednesday night, a 37-year old KG scored 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 17 minutes.

While KG’s play and production has marginally decline for the past several seasons in Boston, this season it has fallen off the proverbial cliff to the point the Big Ticket is now obviously running on fumes.

My most fond memories of Kevin Garnett are the fierce battles he had against Karl Malone and the respect he showed for him. On January 19, 2000, KG scored a game-high 31 points in defeating the division-leading Jazz 91-88 at the Delta Center. Following the game, the 23-year old Garnett approached the 36-year old Malone and told the league’s reigning MVP he disagreed with the recently released All-Star voting, feeling that Malone deserved to be a starter and not himself.

The respect KG showed for the league’s greatest power forward continued ten days later in Minneapolis. Karl Malone surpassed the 30,000th point plateau, a milestone that was recognized by the Target Center’s public address announcer. As the T-Wolves fans offered their polite applause, Garnett waved his arms to exhort the crowd and Malone ended up receiving a standing ovation from the Minnesota fans.

Despite the dissimilarities in their styles and KG spending the first 4 years of his career at small forward, in many ways both players redefined the power forward position. Malone became the best to ever play the position by merging his relentless physicality and power with an elite scoring skillset. Garnett brought finesse and athleticism to go with remarkable dexterity and unbridled passion in showing the position could be played post-1980’s at an elite level despite a lack of broad shoulders and powerful frame. He’s arguably the greatest defensive power forward to ever play the game and represents the prototype for the ideal power forward in the new millennium.

The other similarity both Malone and Garnett shared is they played the game the right way – passionately and competitively – giving maximum intensity and effort at both ends of the court all toward one goal that wasn’t self-promotion but rather winning. They were old school with their toughness and their attitude, as KG brought some of the NBA’s 90’s nastiness into the new “hug and kiss” post Artest-melee league. Combined with an ability to score the basketball that few power forwards have ever possessed, when those two faced off they treated fans to battles that only augments the their legendary careers with the passing of time. Their meeting on February 17, 2003 is a perfect example.

A few of things to note:

  • First, their statlines. Garnett scored a game-high 34 points, to go with 10 rebounds, 6 assists 1 steal and 1 block. Malone scored 28 points with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Both were incredibly efficient, with KG shooting 13-22 (59%) from the field and 7-9 from the foul line. Malone shot 10-14 (71%) and 8-9 from the stripe.
  • Second, their effort. It was a 12-point game with a minute to play, and both Malone and Garnett show no hesitation in diving to the floor for a loose-ball. Malone was 39 year old. Garnett had dislocated a finger on his right hand earlier but still wedged his hand in while wrestling for the basketball (in the 3rd-quarter KG walked to the bench, sat down, looked away as the trainer popped it back in and then returned to the game).
  • Third, label this exhibit-Z why Karl Malone was a freak of nature. He was 39 years old and still capable of playing at this level. THIRTY-NINE! For as much as KG’s mind wants to play at a certain level, this season he is calcifying right before our eyes at age 37. Considering Garnett’s in his 19th season and has played over 48,000 minutes, that’s certainly expected but it just illustrates the absurd and unmatched degree to which Karl Malone defied Father Time, even in 2003 during his 18th season at over 52,000 career minutes.
  • Final Note: On Jerry Sloan’s technical, the urgency at which Jazz trainer Gary Briggs and assistant Gordan Chiesa moved to reel him followed by Jerry’s subtle wink and “I’m all right” assurance has a small backstory. This was only Jerry’s second game back since returning from a 7-game suspension for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland. Given that this was his first technical foul since and that it involved Violet Palmer, it’s apparent everyone on the Jazz was relieved the situation was diffused quickly.

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While some may prefer Garnett to call it quits as soon as possible, I have no problem with him playing until the well runs completely dry. Great players who have given so much to the game deserve to leave on their terms, not their fans’ terms.

Personally, I’ve always felt more closure when a great athlete retires well past his prime rather than during it. This was true as Malone limped to the finish line in the 2004 playoffs with LA and when Michael Jordan finished out his career in DC. They may not have been as good as they once were, but every once in a while they would come close and those games just felt magical – as if you were granted the gift to travel back in time to witness one final great performance as the curtain was lowering for good.

The end may be near for KG’s career, but that will in no way tarnish the brilliance of his illustrious career. And when Garnett is rightfully inducted into Springfield, it would be fitting if Karl Malone was the one to present him.

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Karl Malone - The Ultimate Power Forward

This is Part 4 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 changing ends of the court to breakdown Karl Malone’s outstanding defense, let’s examine how the Mailman changed ends of the court by running the floor harder, faster and more consistently than any big man in the history of the NBA.
(Recommendation: As you watch this video, don’t “ball-watch.” Instead focus on Malone and note how hard he runs and how many opposing players he glides passed en route to the basket)

Most bigs will run hard only when they begin a possession with a positional advantage against their opponents’ transition defense. Karl Malone ran hard regardless of his starting point – and as a result ran himself to easy baskets simply by blowing past multiple defenders (and teammates) on his 94-foot sprint to the rim.

Karl Malone running the floor #1a

1. Here, Malone is further away from Utah’s basket than all 9 other players on the court when Utah gains possession.

Karl Malone running the floor #1b

2. Nevertheless, Malone gets a step on Scott Pollard and then blows past Chris Webber and two other Kings en route to a layup and 3-point play opportunity as Pollard arrives just in time to foul Malone but not prevent the basket.

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Karl Malone not only ran hard, but he ran wide – which is becoming a lost art in today’s game. The Jazz’s inability to covert 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 fastbreaks was maddening at times last season, and while most fans automatically blame the ball-handler for the failures, the players filling the lanes are often just as much at fault if not more so.

Similar to running an option or bubble-screen to both the boundary side and field sides in college football (wider hashes compared to the pro game), running lanes wide in basketball stretches the defense laterally by forcing them to cover all the entire width of the field. Not only does it create better passing lanes, it can also creates room for the point guard to attack 1-on-1 in transition when the defense expands outward.

Karl malone running wide #1a

1. Here, Utah takes possession with Malone in the center of the court. Rather than take the easy route and plod directly down the middle (the shortest path between two points is a straight line, right?) Malone re-directs toward the sideline.

Karl malone running wide #1b

2. Malone runs the boundary, creating as much separation from the ball (which should ideally always stay in the middle of the floor on a break) as possible.

Karl malone running wide #1c

3. This forces the lone defender back (Avery Johnson – circled) to guard virtually 40-feet with two Jazz players filling the lanes wide. Stockton hits Malone on the wing for an easy layup.

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One more example of “running wide” to help the passer and put extreme pressure on the defense.

Karl malone running wide #2a

1. Utah gets the rebound and rather than running a direct path to the Jazz basket, Malone veers out wide (about an extra 15-20 feet) to run parallel to the sideline.

Karl malone running wide #2b

2. This puts the lone defender back (Damon Stoudamire – circled) in a virtually impossible 2-on-1 situation, with a 25-30 foot lateral gap between the ball and Malone.

Karl malone running wide #2c

3. Because of Utah’s excellent floor-spacing on the break, Stoudamire is unable to play both the ball and the pass and Stockton has a clear passing window to hit Malone for the layup.

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With Karl Malone back tutoring Utah’s bigs on a part-time basis, I look forward to seeing how Utah’s big guys fill the lane in the upcoming season – especially since it appears to be a point of emphasis that Karl made clear in his radio interview the day he and Greg Miller announced the Mailman’s new role.

Karl Malone teaching Derrick Favors

(courtesy of Jazzfanatical)

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As the late Larry H. Miller often pointed out, Karl Malone not only ran hard to get easy baskets, he ran hard to set the tempo and punish his opponent.

Real observers of Karl will know that the real way he punishes an opponent is to get out on a fastbreak that they have no intenion of passing the ball to him, but his opponent doesn’t know that – so Karl will sprint down the court two or three times in succession – which to Karl is not that difficult but to most opponents – they can’t handle it …and they get to where it often renders them neutral on a couple of plays until they can [regain] their breath.” -Larry H. Miller, A First Class Life

Karl Malone was the best running big man in NBA history because he was not only relentless – but consistently faster, in better condition, and more aware of how to fill open lanes than his opponents. A lot of that is because Malone was a phenomenal athlete, but some of that can be learned and it would be awesome if a Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter can develop a similar understanding and mentality to punish their opponent not only with physicality, but with speed and cardiovascular endurance.

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