After a very distinguished career at Mississippi State, Jeff Malone went on to have a 13-year NBA career with four different teams: the Washington Bullets, Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. Known to be deadly from mid-range, Malone was running around the court and off screens before Reggie Miller spawned it into an art form, and much before Richard Hamilton made a living at it. He also had a knack for off-balanced shots, making him even tougher to defend.
Back in March, Gregg Ellis of the NE Mississippi Daily Journal (and his Inside Mississippi State Sports blog) briefly caught up with Malone who is now living in Chandler, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix) and owning his own fuel distribution company. Here’s to remembering the accolades and basketball career of Jeff Malone.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
In his four years as a Bulldog in Starkville, Malone amassed over 2,100 points to go along with his 19.5 career scoring average over 110 games. I never had the privilege of seeing him play at “The Hump” in person, but the accounts of others, his career 51.2% from the field, and career 80.9% from the free-throw line, indicate that Malone was quite the pure shooter.
Unfortunately, his Bulldog teams did not fare so well. During Malone’s four year span from ’79-’83, which included the last two seasons of the Jim Hatfield era and the first two seasons of the Bob Boyd era, the Bulldogs had a cumulative record of 46-64 (23-49 in the SEC). The best year by far for both the Bulldogs and Malone was the ’82-’83 season, Malone’s senior campaign, where he led the team to a 17-12 record (9-9 SEC) with a 26.8 ppg average (2nd in the nation). However, this did not result in post-season play for Mississippi State.
Just imagine the numbers Jeff Malone might have put up had he not been in Bob Boyd’s slowed down offense. In ’81-’82, the Bulldogs averaged 49.5 points per game. With Malone’s 18.6 ppg that season, he was responsible for 37.6% of the Bulldogs scoring load. Team scoring improved in ’82-’83 to the tune of 69 points per game. With his 26.8 ppg that season, Jeff Malone was still responsible for 38.8% of Mississippi State’s scoring.
One of the few winning highlights Jeff Malone experienced prior to his senior year, was a game against the Kentucky Wildcats in Starkville on January 27th, 1982. Combined with a stifling Bulldog zone defense, Malone scored 16 points, along with his teammate, Butch Pierre, who chipped in 15, to upset Kentucky 56-51. This win broke the Bulldogs’ 17-game SEC losing streak, which spanned over two seasons.
The awards Jeff Malone accumulated while at Mississippi State included ’82-’93 All-American (Sporting News 1st team, NABC 3rd team, Basketball Times 5th team); 1st team SEC (AP) once and 2nd team twice (SEC POY in ’82-’83); ’83 SEC all-tournament team; and NABC All-District (two times 1st team, one time 2nd). Malone still holds Bulldog records for most points in a season (777), points in a career (2142), FG made in a season (323), FG in a career (906), most minutes played in a career (3851), and average minutes per game over a career (35.0).
The NBA: Washington Bullets
Jeff Malone’s collegiate credentials led him to being selected 10th overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1983 NBA Draft. According to the wonderful database at Basketball-Reference, Malone was second in his draft class in career scoring average and career minutes per game, right after Clyde Drexler, who went 14th to the Portland Trailblazers, in both categories.
Malone spent his first seven seasons with the Washington Bullets. As a rookie in ’83-’84, he averaged 12.1 points per game on his way to landing on the all-rookie team, joining Thurl Bailey, Ralph Sampson, Byron Scott, Steve Stipanovich, and Darrell Walker (curious that Clyde the Glide wasn’t on the team…playing behind Jim Paxson, who led the Blazers in scoring with 21.3 ppg that season, didn’t allow Drexler much time on the court).
Some say that Malone couldn’t do much aside from score, but one thing he did do well is take care of the ball. He led the NBA with the lowest turnover percentage (an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays) in his second year, and finished in the top 10 of that category in nine of his 13 seasons in the league. Today, Malone still has the 7th best NBA career turnover percentage.
By year three with the Bullets, Jeff Malone was 6th in the NBA in minutes played, 8th in points scored, and 10th in free-throw percentage on his way to being an All-Star in 1986 and in 1987. Malone will always be remembered most as a Washington Bullet. In fact, Wizards/Bullets blog, Bullets Forever, voted him the 7th best Wizard/Bullet of all time. For more on his career in DC, I’d highly suggest reading Bullets Forever #7: Jeff Malone.
The NBA: Utah Jazz
After the ’89-’90 season, Malone was traded to the Utah Jazz, becoming the “other” Malone, in a three-team deal that had Utah sending Bobby Hansen and Eric Leckner along two draft picks to Sacramento. Pervis Ellison was sent from the Kings to the Bullets, who also sent their 2nd round pick in the ’91 draft to the Kings. The Jazz, seeking more offensive firepower to take focus away from John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Thurl Bailey, found a remedy in Jeff Malone. Over the next three seasons, Malone would serve as the Jazz second leading scorer, to Karl Malone, averaging a hair under 19.0 points per game.
Malone also dropped over 20.0 ppg in the playoffs during his first two years in Utah, playing especially well in the ’92 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Seattle Sonics with scoring and defense against Ricky Pierce. Jeff Malone averaged 22.4 ppg in the series as Utah went on to win four games to one, the first time in franchise history that the Jazz moved past the second round of the NBA playoffs. Utah would ultimately lose to Portland 4-2 in the conference finals, the Blazers in turn lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the ’92 NBA Finals.
In the ’94-’95 season, numbers started to fall off for a 32-year old Malone in Utah. He averaged 16.2 ppg, a career low aside from his rookie year, before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the middle of the season, along with a conditional 1st round pick, for a 30-year old Jeff Hornacek, Sean Green and a 2nd round pick.
The story goes that Jeff Malone felt under-appreciated, slipped into the doghouse of Utah coach, Jerry Sloan, and that the Jazz simply wanted a shooter with more range. Malone wasn’t exactly known for his distance shooting prowess as he made only 86 three-pointers in his career, an average of 0.1 made per game, with a career 26.8% from deep. In stepped Jeff Hornacek, who also had the ability to fill in for John Stockton at the point when necessary.
Long time Utah Jazz sports announcer, Rod Hundley, wrote about Jeff Malone in his 1998 book, “Hot Rot Hundley: You Gotta Love It Baby,” co-authored with Tom McEachin.
Jeff Malone wasn’t the answer, though. He was a great shooter from 15 feet in but if he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t helping you. He was smart enough to put the ball in Stockton’s hands, however, because if he got open he knew the ball was coming back…….That’s why everybody likes Stockton. If you make that move, the ball is there and at the right time. So Jeff always worked hard on offense when Stockton was on the court with him.
Jeff was always fading when he shot the ball but he had great control of the shot. Great shooters can do that, shoot off-balance, going toward the hoop, falling backwards, falling left, falling right. He practiced that stuff. A 15-footer was just like a layup for him. Anything from the foul line in was a great shot, and he was great along the baseline too. He could even drift behind the plane of the backboard and make that shot. A lot of guys have to be in front of the hoop looking right down the barrel, but Jeff could shoot just as well from the baseline. He didn’t have the shooting depth, however. He couldn’t shoot the 3-pointer.
The one thing about Jeff Malone was that you could expect him to miss some games every year. It was probably in his contract. He just wasn’t going to play 82 games. He just sat out games, saying his back was hurting or something. He was that kind of a guy. He didn’t have that Stockton-Malone attitude about playing, he just floated though games. I don’t think it bothered him whether he played or not.
The NBA: Philadelphia 76ers & Miami Heat
After the mid-season trade to Philly, Malone suited up on February 26, 1994 for his first game on a 76er team with a 20-34 record. The Sixers would only win five more games that season, while Jeff averaged 16.8 points in 33.4 minutes per game. The combination of a rookie Shawn Bradley, Clarence Weatherspoon, Dana Barros, and a 38-year old Moses Malone wasn’t cutting it for Philly.
The following season (’94-’95), the Philadelphia 76ers were even worse, finishing with a 24-58 record. Malone was limited to just 19 games with a foot injury, placed on the IR by late December, and only appeared in once more game that season, scoring 28 points in a March 22nd affair against the Golden State Warriors.
Malone’s final season in the NBA would come in 95-96 as injuries had taken their toll. His minutes with the Sixers dwindled to 16.3, field goals made below 40%, and points per game to 6.2. Malone played five minutes in his last game in Philly in December of 2006. He was acquired by the Miami Heat in February of ’96, and scored 10 points in 26 minutes off the bench in a six point Miami win over the Denver Nuggets. However, Malone would only play six more games for the Heat, and played his final NBA game on February 25, 1996.
Jeff Malone retired from the NBA tallying over 17,000 points (his total currently puts him at 68th most in NBA history), playing in 905 games, while shooting a career 48.4% from the field, and 87.1% from the free-throw line, which is good enough to rank him 18th best over an NBA career.
Post NBA Play
In January of 1997, Malone signed with VAO Thessaloniki of the Greek League for 180 million lire for the rest of the season. This Geocities site had a nice write-up on Jeff Malone’s Greek experience:
When he arrived, VAO was the worse team in the Greek Championship and needed a few wins in order not to fall in the 2nd division. Malone helped more with his presence than with his game. His teammates seemed inspired and the team made more victories on the 2nd half of the season, including a great victory over Olympiakos (who won the European, the Greek Championship and the Greek Cup that year). Malone was not in shape though. At age 36 he was slow and except 1-2 good games, he was shooting a lot but not scoring much. He averaged 14.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1 assist shooting 39% from the field, 29% from the 3-point line and 76% in the free throws, in 12 games played. VAO, who desperately needed a super-scorer, left the division in the end of the year.
Jeff Malone’s coaching career began in 1998 as an assistant with the Yakima Sun Kings of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). The next season, he went on to be an assistant for the San Diego Stingrays of the International Basketball League (IBL), and was promoted to head coach during the season. In the following year, Malone went on to become head coach of the Trenton Stars, also of the IBL.
In 2001, Malone was afforded an opportunity with the newly created National Basketball Development League (NBDL) as head coach of the Columbus Riverdragons. During four seasons at the helm, Malone amassed a record of 102-98, winning the D-League regular season crown in ’04-’05, but losing to the Asheville Altitude in the finals.
After that season, the Riverdragons moved to Austin, Texas and became the Toros. Malone headed to Fort Myers to become head coach of the NBDL’s Florida Flame. Unfortunately, during the ’06-’07 season, the team had to suspend operations due to issues with their home arena and has not been an active member of the NBDL since. I assume this is about the time that Malone and his family packed up and moved to Arizona.
Jeff Malone Tid-Bits
- At the 2002 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, Jeff Malone represented Mississippi State as an SEC Legend.
- Jeff Malone was named to the 1981-1990 all-decade SEC basketball first team, along with Chris Jackson, Charles Barkley, Sam Bowie, and Dominique Wilkins.
- A 1984 buzzer-beater that Malone hit against the Pistons when he was a rookie with the Bullets made it onto a NBA.com/History Channel list of the 10 greatest shots in NBA history. You can see the shot here on YouTube, it’s part of a longer clip and comes in about the 3:04 mark.
- A 1999 Sports Illustrated series on the top 50 greatest sports figures from each state lists Jeff Malone as #43 from the state of Georgia.
- A 1998 Sports Illustrated article, Paternity Ward, about athletes and out-of-wedlock kids cited Jeff Malone as being falsely accused of having a child with a former college lover. An excerpt from the article:
- Certainly there have been false charges made against athletes. Former NBA All-Star Jeff Malone was the victim of a baseless paternity suit filed by a former college lover. Although genetic tests had proved he was not the father of the child, Malone says that on four or five occasions he saw the woman at his games, telling the child to wave at him. Eventually he submitted to a second round of tests to further disprove paternity and says he enlisted NBA security to prevent the woman from harassing him. “When she came up with the story, there was a big article, but when word got back that it wasn’t my child, there was a tiny article,” says Malone. “Mostly I felt bad for the kid.”
- World B. Free once praised Malone by saying, “He reminds me of a young me.”
- Jeff Malone has listed Darrell Walker, Delaney Rudd, and Felton Spencer as his favorite players he played with.
- Michael Jordan & Jeff Malone – From Sports Illustrated in 1989: “If there’s a pattern in some of the teams that stop me,” says Jordan, “it’s that they make me play defense against a big, physical guard who runs off picks. Washington has Jeff Malone. Dallas has Rolando Blackman. Seattle has Dale Ellis. I can’t post these guys up that easily because they’re as big and strong as I am. I know Malone ‘s not supposed to be a good defensive player, but he comes after me.”
- Jeff Malone is listed on page 103 in One Last Shot: The Story of Michael Jordan’s Comeback by Mitchell Krugel as a ‘Jordan Stopper’ along with Rolando Blackman, Kevin Johnson, and John Starks.
- Former Bullet Darrell Walker once said, “Everybody has somebody they can not guard. Michael Jordan just couldn’t guard Jeff Malone. I was a point guard playing alongside Malone, and Jeff just killed Jordan. Jordan even wrote about it in his book.”
- More evidence of the Michael Jordan-Jeff Malone battles, a quote from Hang Time: Days and dreams with Michael Jordan by Bob Greene in reference to a February 1992 triple-overtime game between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. Malone only had 13 points that night, but the ball was in his hands at the end of the game and he led the Jazz to a 126-123 win:
- But on the basketball court he’d [Michael Jordan] had a rare angry confrontation with a referee that had resulted in his being ejected from a game. It had taken place in Salt Lake City, near the end of a terrific triple-overtime contest against the Utah Jazz. As the clock was running down, Utah’s Jeff Malone drove for the basket and a foul was called on Jordan. Jordan exploded at referee Tommie Wood – he knew that Malone’s ensuing foul shot would win the game – and when Wood walked away from him, Jordan followed, arguing heatedly with Wood and, according to Wood, bumping into him. A technical foul was called on Jordan, he was thrown out and sent to the locker room, the Jazz did indeed win……..