BF #7: Jeff Malone

Hey folks.  I was away this weekend taking a much-needed break from the blog grind, so my apologies for the lack of real posting.  I'll be back today with a bang, promise. 

Anyway, here is hotplate's write-up of Jeff Malone, voted last year as the seventh-best Bullet/Wizard of all time.  The entire list can be found here.  We still need writers for Walt Bellamy (#6), Elvin Hayes (#2) and Wes Unseld (#1).  Also, keep suggesting names for the "other" list.  Remember, I'm thinking guys that weren't particularly great players, but are remembered either for being memorable off the court or because they symbolized the franchise in some way.  I'm thinking guys we remember now, but who weren't very good then. -PM

Jeff Malone arrived in Washington the same year I did. He was drafted 10th in fhe first round out of Mississippi State where he had amassed some impressive numbers. He averaged over 26 points there in his senior season. He was picked immediately after Antoine Carr and Dale Ellis and just before Derek Harper and future teammate Darrell Walker. The only player picked after him that had a better career was Clyde Drexler who wasn’t picked until number 14. Malone was a very solid 6’4 shooting guard weighing about 205 lbs. This came in handy because he loved to curl around picks to catch and shoot and as a result was banged around alot. From the statistics on basketball-reference.com, it looks like Malone spent his rookie season coming off of the bench. I believe that Ricky Sobers was the starting shooting guard that year. Anyway Malone had a successful rookie season averaging 12 points a game.

Following that season, the Bullets felt confident enough of his abiilty to include Sobers in a trade to Seattle to obtain Gus Williams.  This started the  “Thunder and Lightning” era of the Bullets. The thunder being the Beef Brothers, Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn and the lightning being Williams. Malone was kind of lost in the shuffle promotion wise.

This kind of defined his career. He never was a flashy player or personalilty and he was always subjet to the “Yeah he’s a good scorer but he can’t ...” criticism. Among those criticisms were “He can’t create his own shot”, partially true. I remember dreading the end of quarters because it was always the same play. Malone dribbling at the top of the key waiting for a screen. It never worked though and quite often led to a dunk at the other end. But Malone could take the ball to the middle for a pull up jumper off of the dribble. It wasn’t his top move but you don’t average 22 points a game with just a jumper.

He was also criticized as a poor defender, but if he were on today’s Wizards he would be viewed as a stopper. Indifferent is probably a more appropriate adjective. When motivated, he was actually quite good. He loved to play against Michael Jordan and usually held his own. I remember a Sports Illustrated article about Jordan in the late ‘80s where they asked him about the 2 teams he had never scored 40 against. One was the Bullets and he cited Malone as the primary reason.  Thanks to the head to head feature on basketball-reference.com, I was able to review the statistics from 18 games between the 2 between 1986 and 1990. In 18 games, Malone averaged a solid 20.3 points a game while Jordan average 30.3. Remember this was when Jordan was averaging upwards of 35 points a game. Jordan’s high game was 36. Of the 18 games, Malone outscored Jordan 7 times. Not bad!

Malone played consistently for the Bullets throughout the ‘80s averaging between 18.9 and 24.3 points per game. He made 2 all star games, one in Moses Malone’s first year with Washington. He was usually at his best when he had another scorer with him such as Moses Malone or Bernard King. His game was shooting. He was excellent up to 20 feet away and could get his jumper even in traffic.  Strangely though, he almost never shot a 3 pointer. He was a career 48% shooter and 87% on free throws. Looking back, considering the types of shots he took, that’s amazing.Contrary to common belief, the ‘80s Bullets weren’t awful. They were mediocre usually winning between 35 and 40 games a year. They made the playoffs each of Malone’s first 5 years and in 1988, Malone really outplayed Thomas and Dumars (for the first 4 games anyway), before losing to the Pistons in 5.

Like I said, Malone was often under appreciated. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy and great shooters are often criticized for the other parts of their game. For some reason, people don’t appreciate shooting. Guess its not athletic enough. After an inspiring season in ‘88-89, the Bullets slipped from 40 wins to 31 mostly due to the injury of John Williams. Williams’ return was doubtful and Malone was viewed as a solid but flawed player. Plus he was seen as the most tradeable of anyone on the roster. So the Bullets felt the need to start over and arranged a 3 way swap with Malone going to Utah and former number 1 pick Pervis Ellison coming to Washington.

I always heard that Malone flopped in Utah, but his averages there were 18.6, 20.2, and 18.1 points a game, so how bad could he have been. He was traded to Philadelphia for Jeff Hornacek in 1994. From there it looks like he was injured a lot before finally retiring. in 1996.

Check out basketball-reference.com. It was a great resource for this.

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