There’s always talk about how players of the past would fit in today’s NBA, and much of the time, it focuses on the all-time greats. Which begs the question, how would Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone’s game translate to the ever-changing basketball landscape of today?
When looking back in NBA history, most people know that Karl Malone isn’t just your average, run-of-the-mill player from the ’90s. Malone is the second all-time leading scorer in the NBA, and along with John Stockton, he’s easily the most decorated player in Utah Jazz history. Known as “The Mailman,” he terrorized defenders in the paint for 19 seasons and helped lead the Jazz to two finals appearances.
Now, the question is, how would Malone’s game translate into today’s NBA? Well, Malone relied on his incredible athleticism, along with superior strength and footwork, to utterly destroy opposing players. Once Malone got the ball down low, it was more or less over. Few, if any, were stronger, or more dominant, than Karl Malone.
Then vs. Now
This leads us to the modern era. Much of today’s game is predicated on ball movement and being able to stretch the floor. Power forwards who can’t shoot the three are slowly being phased out by most teams. Playing “small ball” is a more and more common trend, but that wouldn’t stop Malone from being a dominant player. Malone’s 61-point performance early in his career exhibits the true transcendence of his game.
As you can see, Malone was absolutely incredible in his era. Unfortunately, one of the most significant problems Malone faced was that he played in the same period as prime Michael Jordan. Jordan’s dominant Chicago Bulls teams took six titles in the ’90s and eliminated the Jazz in the finals twice. Had Jordan not been around, one can only assume that the Jazz would have at least one title from the Stockton-Malone era.
When it comes to adapting to the modern NBA, perhaps Malone would have developed a long-range shot, but he was so skilled in other areas that he could have gotten by without one. Odds are, at 6’9″ Malone might play as a small ball center on some teams given his speed and athleticism. That said, despite his lack of range, he easily could take on his traditional power forward role as well; not to mention that Malone could distribute the ball well for a big man while also being a disruptive defender on the other end of the floor.
Speculating about Malone’s exact fit in the modern NBA is ultimately fruitless. Perhaps some people will say otherwise, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Malone would still be an all-time great in this era. In fact, I think that he was enough of a transcendent player that teams would have to alter their game plan in order to stop him.
For example, imagine how dominant he would be alongside the current Jazz roster. Just take a moment and imagine a Rudy Gobert-Karl Malone frontcourt.
Now that you have visions of a Jazz ’18-19 championship team starring Karl Malone, consider this tweet that Ricky Rubio sent out a while back. Who would you take? Rubio-Malone or Stockton-Gobert? Answering this question is probably one of the more difficult things you will do today.
That said, Karl Malone is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in both Jazz and NBA history. A player as skilled as he was will always have a place in basketball, and the fact that he is number three all-time in win shares, and number two in scoring, only speaks to his greatness. His statistics might look different in the modern era, but Karl Malone would still be exactly who he is: Karl Malone.