The duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone are inseparable. For 18 years they brought playoff basketball and pick-and-roll offense to Utah. No two players ran that bread and butter play as well and as often as those two did.
But Malone was much more than the receiver of Stockton’s passes.
He was obviously a sterling scorer who could roll to the basket for forceful layups and strong jams. Or he would roll away from the basket and knock down his highly effective mid-range jumper. Malone was also a great rebounder and finisher on the fastbreak. And somewhat downplayed, but better appreciated as his career wore on, was Malone’s great passing. Karl also trained ridiculously hard and was on the vanguard of insanely muscled NBA athletes. He also applied that training to his free throw shooting which went from an atrocious 48% as a rookie to 60% as a second-year player to 70% in his third season.
Perhaps his best asset though was durability. In a career that spanned 19 seasons, Malone missed a grand total of 50 games out of a possible 1526 games played. And 40 of those missed games came in his final season.
He didn’t just play well, he played all the time.
Well, eventually he played all the time. During his first season, Malone was Utah’s starting power forward but was not their first or main offensive option. That was the monstrous Adrian Dantley who averaged 30 points per game on 56% shooting that year. But Utah saw that their future lay with Malone. So even though he averaged just 15 points his rookie year, the Jazz felt comfortable enough to trade Dantley and hand the offensive keys to Malone.
After a stellar sophomore campaign, Malone truly took off in the 1987-88 season averaging 28 points per game. His improved and All-Star play lifted the Jazz to their first extended playoff run. In the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Mailman delivered four straight 29-point performances against the Lakers displaying the regular service he became known for.
Although Utah lost that series in seven games they’d be perennial contenders in the Western Conference. As players like Dantley, Rickey Green, Blue Edwards, Chris Morris, and Byron Russell came and went, it was Stockton and Malone that were there for the whole ride of success.
They likely would have been great wherever they went, but being together for all of those runs, trials, and joys made their careers greater than they otherwise would have been. Each fed off the other and made each other better. It’s the true mark of great players and great teammates to have such a reciprocal thing happen.
Years Played: 1985 – 2004
2x MVP (1997, 1999)
11x All-NBA 1st Team (1989-’99)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 2000)
All-NBA 3rd Team (2001)
3x All-Defensive 1st Team (1997-’99)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1986)
14x All-Star (1988-’98, 2000-’02)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1989, 1993)
NBA – 1476 Games
25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 51.6% FG, 74.2% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 through 2003-04 season)
1st Points, 6th PPG
1st FGs Made, 14th FG%
1st FTs Made, 26th FT%
1st Rebounds, 10th RPG
5th Steals, 30th SPG
16th Blocks, 34th BPG
16th Assists, 38th APG
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played