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Sunday Syncopation #38

Sorry this is late, this isn’t my day job. My day job is apparently "guy who drives to stores".


Karl Malone was born today, back in 1963. The 48 year old man probably is within ±15 pounds of his playing weight, and already knows the offense and how to pass and finish with contact. By these measures, he’s already ahead of a few guys on our team’s bigman depth chart – if we needed to bring him back. The Hall of Famer is, without a doubt, my favorite player ever. He was big. He was mean. He rebounded the ball with more violence than I’ve ever seen. No one worked on his body as much. And no one in the NBA was his size and that fast.

To be truly great you have to be part of the basketball continuum. Before Bob Cousy guards did not have a lot of dribble skills – after him all the guards learned how to dribble better. Before Wilt Chamberlain the dunk wasn’t widely used, now it is. Magic was a taller guy who could pass. Larry was a bigger guy who could shoot. Dr. J brought the aerial attack. Jordan brought great finishing (turn around jumper, dunk, midrange off dribble, etc). Each great brought something new to the table that young kids learned from and incorporated. I think Malone is great for a variety of reasons. He fulfills the criterion for ‘adding something to the cumulative game of basketball’ by being the quantum leap in body development. Look at Kevin McHale’s body, and look at Karl Malone’s body. They roughly played in the same era. They both played power forward. McHale was one inch taller, but weighed 46 pounds less. Since Malone we’ve had more and more teams try to build tanks on the court: guys who could finish with contact and be physically dominating. Blake Griffin looks to be the next true PF tank, but Malone’s legacy is more than just building bigger forwards, but bigger everyone. Because of Malone we have ‘bigger’ guys playing at all spots, even the 3 (LeBron James), 2 (Tyreke Evans), and 1 (Will Bynum). There are more examples of this but before Malone not every ball player was lifting weights during the season (off-season for sure). Because of Karl each team has a strength and development coach.

I could really go on and on and write a long love letter to Karl Malone, one that goes over his history, his misunderstanding of the Days of ’47 parade in Utah, and his on the court accomplishments – but there is no need. He averaged 25.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg over a 19 NBA season career. That’s a lot of games. That’s a lot of consistency (more than Barkley for sure . . . ). He has a career points per shot value of 1.41 (1.39 if you include the playoffs, where apparently he was such a choker). For a point of reference, Michael Jordan’s PPS is 1.32 (1.32 including playoffs). Malone choked so hard he was still way more efficient at scoring than The "Goat". More than his accomplishments, I think his greatest legacy was his will to improve. He was far from a finished product when he was drafted. Part of the Jazz’ inability to actually develop draft picks could be Malone’s fault. He worked so hard on his own that the Jazz never learned how to do it.


Stats Class:

There’s no greater example of Malone’s dedication towards improving his game than his dedication towards improving his free throw shooting. Malone wasn’t a great free throw shooter. Very few bigmen from his era were. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Chris Bosh, and Amar’e Stoudemire all came after Karl, and came into a league populated by bigmen who could hit free throws. How bad did Malone shoot free throws as a rookie? Karl shot only 47.1 ft% in his first season in the NBA. Karl did improve, he made a +12.7% jump from year one to two, and +10.2% jump from year two to three. How does that stack up against some of his contemporaries?

Too small? Click here for the full-size version.

Out of a group of dominant bigs like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Dwight Howard – Karl was dead last as a rookie. But when all was said and done, Karl would end up with the highest average free throw percentage of the group. Furthermore, no one else improved their free throw percentage by +10.0% over their career – Hakeem was the closest with improving by +9.9% from his rookie year. Karl improved by +27.1%. Part of that was how horribly Karl shot as a rookie – but another, bigger, part was that it was Karl’s desire to get better. Shaq and Dwight both got worse; Shaq’s career ft% is -6.5% from his rookie year, Dwight’s career ft% is -7.3% from his rookie year.

Karl’s 74.2 career ft% is followed closely by Ewing’s 74.0 ft%, Robinson’s 73.6 ft%, and Barkley’s 73.5 ft%. The thing in their collective cases is that Ewing’s rookie year ft% was 73.9%, the other two guys were at 73.2% and 73.3% respectively. Each of those three guys played in the NBA for 14 or more seasons, but their free throw percentage did not appreciably increase at all. I guess they were too busy doing commercials unlike Karl. He was in the gym.

At the end of a long career free throws add up. About 5 minutes of Shaq’s retirement press conference talked about his lament that he never got serious about free throws. Shaq missed a lot of free throws because he did not improve. Karl is evidence that you CAN improve. Dwight better hope he follows Karl’s footsteps soon instead of Shaq’s when it comes to free throws. Dwight gets to the line over 10 times a game the last 4 years – but doesn’t even shoot 60%. Karl was almost shooting 80% after the same number of years in the league. No wonder Dwight’s never averaged 23.0 ppg in a season. He should have improved by now.

Karl’s improvement was so necessary as he got to the line a lot – he got there more often than Dwight. All of these guys did. Tim Duncan’s career is still going on, and he has so far shot 7161 free throws (that’s already 26th most all-time). Ewing shot 7289 free throws (24th most all-time). Hakeem shot 7621 free throws (21st most all time). David Robinson shot 8201 free throws (14th most all-time). Barkley shot 8643 free throws (10th most all-time). Shaq shot 11252 free throws (4th most all-time). Karl, though, is 2nd all time in points. A big part of that is because he’s 1st all-time in Free Throw attempts (13188). He wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for his +27.1% free throw percentage improvement.


Karl Malone was real

Did you watch any of the NBA playoffs this year? Were you also one of the crazy connected fans who was following it online, and following twitter, and watching the post-game press conferences as well? Back in the day we did not have all of that. Instead, we got very little, and we had to live with it. Here’s Karl Malone being interviewed by Peter Vecsey right after the Jazz lost the 1997 NBA Finals.

One huge difference exists between this interview and that of what we get today. Yes, today we have more access. But today the players are all pussies. All of them. Whenever we got a chance to ask LeBron James questions he was there 30-40 mins after he had showered, and he was always with his bff Dwyane Wade. I guess they need all of that time to have their cry, change their tampon, and listen to their relaxation therapy CD. This Malone interview was super raw. And look at how he takes it. No crying. No "I can’t man" where he walks off. Karl, for all his faults, is a man. The NBA (when they get their own problems solved) needs to hire Karl during rookie orientation to teach a few classes on personal responsibility and being a man.


Video of the Week:

Speaking of Bulls-Jazz, here’s their December 2nd, 1987 game at the Old Salt Palace. This is a great video, it’s only 2 hours long. It’s the entire game, and seems to be uploaded in a somewhat sneaky way. It’s not the TV station OUT feed, it seems like the direct feed – so there are no commercials and you get to hear all the crazy banter during time outs and halftime between Hot Rod and the guys around him. It’s very high on the unintentional comedy scale. Especially after the game where the guys with head phones on admit to personally feeling differently than the ‘roles’ they are supposed to play when the cameras are on. Ah, such honesty.

This is a game where, spoilers, the Jazz lose 105-101. It’s a very exciting and fun game still. Chicago is led by a young Michael Jordan, on a team with Charles Oakley, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Artis Gilmore and John Paxson. Utah brings John Stockton, Karl Malone, Thurl Bailey, Mark Eaton, Marc Iavaroni, Dinner Bell Melvin Turpin and Darrell Griffith to the table. Jordan gets 40+. Malone gets 30+. We get a vintage treat.

Thanks again to ZeppNick03 for uploading this and 148 other videos.


Hope you didn’t miss . . . .

Net Income, from NetsDaily (the S*B Nation Nets blog) recounts an interesting exchange on twitter between former Jazz point guard Deron Williams and MarShon Brooks (erstwhile object of my affection). Ah, messing with rookies has already started – even though there is a lockout. Funny funny stuff.

Matt Moore and Ken Berger do the point/counter point argument for NBA team contraction. Always a fun read for small-market fans . . . check it out.

Kenny Natt, former Jazz player and assistant coach (and former NBA head coach), is the head coach of India’s national team. As a Jazz fan, and Indian dude, this is relevant to my interests. Natt would be a good guy to add to the Jazz bench if we ever decide that we could fill our void there. (Or David Blatt, but he has no reason to come over, especially if we don’t bring Andrei Kirilenko back) Here’s a short video on the CNN/India website that interviews him. It’s also partially about Indian basketball, and hilarious because the video footage they use for the team shows that the program manager doesn’t know what’s a good play and what’s a bad play in basketball.

No doubt you heard about entitled LA Lakers center Andrew Bynum’s latest public gaffe. If you don’t, well, you can read all about him being caught parking in a handicapped spot while getting groceries here. It’s just so dumb. He’s done a lot of good things and a number of dumb things so far in his career. He is young and big though, and will always find a team that wants him.

…even if some Lakers reporters clearly want him off the team. Bill Plaschke of the LA Times goes into way more details here. He says, among other things, that Bynum suffers "from a disability of maturity." I guess you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Andrew had to look up to a cake throwing Kwame Brown, remember?


Did you know . . . ?:

That Karl Malone has a better three point shooting percentage than Charles Barkley? Karl is also a better free throw shooter, and better shooter overall. Next time some kid tries to give "Barkley’s range" or something about his shooting ability as a reason for Barkley being better you can remind them of this. You can tell them to look it up. Or you can just tell them to visit SLCDUNK.