Whenever you think about Jazz legends John Stockton and Karl Malone, the term “perfect pick & roll” comes to mind. The duo had perfected the play so much that they’ve made the Utah Jazz perennial contenders across the 1990s. And both of them made it to the very top of the all-time record lists.
With the ’90s NBA teams adapting their defenses and rotating more, Stockton & Malone adapted their favorite play and used it on a full scale in the ’97 and ’98 NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls.
The Jazz made it to consecutive finals eliminating such powerhouses as L.A. Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Houston Rockets led by Charles Barkley. It turns that both of those superstars were on the very top of the list of players who actually hated to guard Malone in the ‘pick & roll’.
“The ‘pick & roll’ is designed to put the pressure on people who didn’t want to play it. Yeah, I am naming names right here. Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley were the absolute worst big men who ever played the ‘pick & roll’! And we loved it, coming down the stretch, then you threw them in the ‘pick & roll’ because they didn’t want to play it.”Karl Malone, via NBA TV
Soon to be 57-year old Malone revealed the hidden secrets of playing the ‘pick & roll successfully.’ First of all, the dynamic Jazz duet started the play in the area close to the free-throw line because Stockton was particularly successful as a shooter from that area. From there, they also had an excellent overview of the situation and various potential subsequent plays.
The vital prerequisites for setting up the play were the ball handler’s patience and Malone holding position in the duel with the opposing big man. With all in place, Malone walked over to set the pick.
“The fact of the matter is that you have to play, you have to pick what defense gives you. Same as coaching – just take what the defense gives you.”Karl Malone, via NBA TV
If the power forward didn’t put the pressure on the Mailman, he just slipped and scored. Malone revealed one tiny but immensely significant moment in successfully making the play – he often didn’t catch the ball but instead kept the dribble alive.
“I never really tried to catch the ball all the time, I just want to knock it down. So, it don’t matter how fast it comes, you throw me the ball, I just knock it down.”Karl Malone, via NBA TV
While he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sam Mitchell, who faced the Jazz countless times, explained that whenever his team played the Jazz, he felt much more comfortable if they were letting Malone post-up his man. With Malone in the low-post and Stockton passing him the ball, the team used Stockon’s defender to double down on the Mailman before cutting through the lane.
“I never had to worry where my help is coming from. So, wherever you cut that’s from where the defender was gonna come back and trap in the middle of baseline.”Sam Mitchell, via NBA TV
While appearing together in an unbelievable total of 1,412 games across 18 seasons, the dynamic Jazz duo made the record books. Stockton became NBA’s all-time leader in assists (15,806) and steals (3,265). Malone set the Utah Jazz franchise records in points (36,374) and rebounds (14,601).
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