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40 at 40: Karl Malone continues to be under rated

How do you call a Hall of Fame player who has two MVP awards, two All-Star Game MVP awards, two Gold Medals, a 14 time All-Star, 14 time All-NBA Team member, a 4 time All-NBA Defensive Team member "under rated"? By looking at the numbers. That's how.

Jerry Markland

I remember years ago when Karl Malone was just announced as someone going to join the Hall of Fame. The list of his Hall of Fame class was released and the voters of an ESPN Sports Nation poll voted that Scottie Pippen was a better player than Malone. It made me mad, because how the heck is a second banana with zero MVP awards somehow better than a first banana who fought through the Western Conference and has more of everything -- except team awards like Championships? It startles me that the #2 All-Time scorer in the history of the game is regarded as the lesser player compared to someone who didn't finish with career averages of 25 and 10, and has a PER of under 20.0.

If championships and riding the coat tails of better players makes you better than a 2 time MVP then Steve Kerr must be better than Steve Nash, by the same illogic. By the way, Dirk Nowitzki, sorry, Robert Horry has more rings than you. He's better.

That's what it felt like when I saw that the vast majority of the world felt like Pippen was better. There's no comparison at all. Pippen was a great defender who didn't accomplish anything as a great individual player. His teams won a lot of games, and he was a part of a franchise that won six Championships. Congrats. You have career averages of 16 ppg, and 5 rpg. Karl Malone was a 25 and 10 guy, like I said. You have a career PER of 18.6, Malone's is 23.9, which is good enough for 15th best ALL-TIME. You have 125.1 total career Win Shares. Karl Malone has 234.6, which is good enough for 3rd best ALL-TIME.

The fact that a second banana, team player is regarded by the general public as superior to Karl Malone means that a) people are stupid, and b) Karl Malone is under-rated. So to combat ignorance let's go over some of Karl's accomplishments as a player. (And really, when you say "player x is better than player y" you are comparing the two players; not how well their teams did.)

Pippen got hurt all the time, but Karl was made of granite -- and the only time he really got hurt was when he was 40 years old. Karl was so good for so long he was part of the US Men's Olympic try outs in 1984, made the team in 1992, made the team in 1996, and was selected for the team again in 2000 (but he declined after his mother had become ill). If you search the net you can find team pics of him with the 2000 squad wearing his #11. How many times did Pippen represent the USA? How many games did Pippen miss to injury? Karl was a superiorly conditioned athlete who had a peak longer than Pippen's entire career. But Pippen is better, according to the majority of the world. I don't want to delve too much into qualitative analysis. It's the quantitative stuff that matters. And Karl's amazing body and dedication to conditioning allowed him to dominate the record books:

Career Totals: Per Game Averages: Advanced Metrics:
Category Value NBA Rank Category Value NBA Rank Category Value NBA Rank
Games Played 1,476 4 MPG 37.2 27 PER 23.9 15
Minutes Played 54,852 2 PPG 25.0 13
RPG 10.1 47 USG% 29.4% 11
Points 36,928 2 SPG 1.4 54 DRB% 23.5% 37
Offensive Rebounds 3,562 14 BPG 0.8 92 TRB% 16.0% 68
Defensive Rebounds 11,406 2
Total Rebounds 14,968 7 FG% 51.6% 62 ORTG 112.8 84
Assists 5,248 51 TS% 57.7% 57 DRTG 101.1 58
Steals 2,085 11 eFG% 51.8% 100 Net RTG 11.7
Blocks 1,145 61
Off. WS 142.2 6
Field Goals Made 13,528 2 Def. WS 92.4 6
Field Goals Attempted 26,210 2 Tot. WS 234.6 3
WS / 48 0.205 18
Free Throws Made 9,787 1
Free Throws Attempted 13,188 1
MVP Award Shares 4.296 8

Yeah, Karl Malone is in the Top 100 All-Time, oh look at that, 32 different categories. He's Top 50 All-Time in 21 categories. And yet his numbers would be even more impressive if the NBA/ABA history books just summed a player's regular season and playoff statistics. I really don't see why they don't do that, do playoff games not matter?

Karl dominated. Not just over the course of his career (which he obviously did, with all his awards and all the times his name is in the history books), but he dominated games. Here are some of the things he did to other teams, put in a handy chart. (Regular season and playoffs combined)


How many 60 point games did Pippen have? It was zero. Pippen does have a game of 47 points though. That's 17 less than Karl's highest scoring game (no overtimes), but whatever . . .

. . . what about just looking at how the defenses were set up? No head coach went into a film session saying "We gotta keep Pippen under 30." Karl Malone was the defensive focus every day, and still managed to have over 300 games where he finished with 30 and 10. Karl used to get double and triple teamed. I've never seen Pippen double teamed. If Pippen was better, why didn't he get double or triple teamed?

Pippen played in a bigger market, won rings, and played for a popular team at their best. People all around the world became basketball fans because of the Chicago Bulls. I get it. But if you are a basketball fan then learn your history, and look at the numbers. The numbers tell the tale that marketing and magazine covers don't. If you think Karl Malone is a worse player than Scottie Pippen on the individual level then that means you are either willfully ignorant about which number is the bigger number, and your opinions continue to validate the theory that a 2 time MVP who is the 2nd All-Time leader scorer in the History of the sport is under rated.

I can understand video game companies under rating Karl. But real hoops fans? That's just sad.