In this blog, we will take a look at the matchup between Karl Malone and Tim Duncan. These two players are some of the best power forwards to ever play the game, and they have had some great battles over the years. We will see how they match up against each other in several different areas and then see who has the edge.
Karl Malone Vs Tim Duncan
In addition to being 20-and-10 players on a consistent basis, multiple-time MVP winners, and annual First Team All-NBA selections, Tim Duncan and Karl Malone were members of a breed of players that are becoming increasingly rare in the NBA: players who spent their entire careers (or almost all of it) with the same team.
Duncan’s incredible rookie year would be the start of a remarkable run of consistency; over the next eight seasons, he would average at least 20 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game on better than 49% shooting;
During that span, he would also achieve the trifecta of being an All-Star every season (except for the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, when it was not held), as well as being named to First Team All-NBA and First or Second Team All-Defensive each year The pinnacle of his career was winning the Most Valuable Player award in consecutive seasons (2001-2002 and 2002-2003), which made him one of just two MVPs in Spurs history (the other being Robinson).
- During the 2001-2002 season, he averaged a career-high 25.5 points on 50.8% shooting, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
- During the 2002-2003 season, he averaged 23.3 points on 51.3% shooting, a career-high 12.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game.
Duncan would inherit the role of San Antonio’s indisputable franchise cornerstone and leader following Robinson’s retirement at the end of the 2002-2003 season. He would also establish an international triad with the French point guard Tony Parker and the Argentine shooting guard Manu Ginobili.
Duncan’s statistical production began to decrease gradually as he approached the midpoint of his career, but he continued to be a formidable opponent on both ends of the floor. The 2005-2006 season was the statistically worst of his career, with Duncan “only” averaging 18.6 points (on a career-worst 48.4% shooting) with 11.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game; for most players, a selection to the Second Team All-NBA would be a great accomplishment; however, for Duncan, it was the first time in his career that he was not chosen for First Team All-NBA.
Despite this, he would return the next year and finish on the First Team All-NBA for the 2006-2007 season after averaging 20.0 points (on 54.6% shooting), 10.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game.
Duncan’s minutes began to decrease as he entered his 30s, and instead of being an automatic 20-and-10 presence like he was earlier in his career, he gradually dipped to the 15-point, 9-rebound per game range, including a career-low 13.4 points per game in 2010-2011; the 2012-2013 season would be Duncan’s last First Team All-NBA selection on the strength of 17.8 points (50.2% shooting), 9.9 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.
Duncan would make his final appearance in the All-Star Game, as well as be named to the Third Team All-NBA and the Second Team All-Defensive in 2014-2015. He would then quietly retire at the end of the following season at the age of 39, having spent his entire career with the Spurs.
In a similar vein, Malone was a paragon of consistency throughout his long and illustrious career. Beginning with his second season, he would go on to post 17 consecutive seasons in which he scored at least 20 points per game, including 14 consecutive years in which he also averaged at least 9 rebounds per game.
During this time period, the late 1980s and early 1990s were some of Malone’s highest scoring years, as he averaged at least 27 points per game in each of the six consecutive seasons that spanned from 1987 to 1993; of particular note is the fact that he scored at least 30 points in a game on three separate occasions during this stretch:
This was the first of 14 straight All-Star Games for Malone (not held in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season), and it resulted in Second Team All-NBA honors for the first time. In the 1987–1988 season, he averaged 27.7 points (on a shooting percentage of 52%) and a career-high 12.0 rebounds per game.
- In the 1988–1989 season, he averaged 29.1 points on 51.9% shooting and 10.7 rebounds per game, and he was selected for the First Team All-NBA for the first time.
- 1989–1990: career-high 31.0 points per game (on a career-best 56.2% shooting) and 11.1 rebounds per game; this included a career-high 61 points scored against the Milwaukee Bucks on January 27, 1990.
Before reaching his MVP-level dominance in the late 1990s, Karl Malone maintained his status as a 25-and-10 guy for the Jazz during the middle of the 1990s. In the 1996–1997 NBA season, Karl Malone won his first MVP award by edging out Michael Jordan with a performance that saw him average 27.4 points, shooting 55.0% from the field, and pull down 9.9 rebounds a game.
The following year, Malone finished in second place, behind Jordan, despite having another outstanding year in which he averaged 27.0 points, shot 53.0% from the field, and 10.3 rebounds per game. Even though statistically, it was not one of his best years by his own high standards, Malone won his second MVP award in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season after Jordan announced his second retirement from the NBA. Malone averaged 23.8 points, shot 49.3% from the field, and pulled down 9.4 rebounds per game in the 50 games he played.
Malone’s averages started to drop off as the new millennium approached, but he still managed to put up 20 points and 8–9 rebounds per game in his years after winning the MVP award. After his longtime teammate John Stockton announced his retirement at the end of the 2002–2003 NBA season, Karl Malone became a free agent and decided to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers with the hopes of winning a championship.
However, despite having posted good stats, he only played in 42 games before retiring at the end of the 2003–2004 season at the age of 40. He finished second in the history of the NBA in terms of career points scored, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who finished with 36,928 points.
Although their careers and statistical profiles are somewhat different, both Duncan and Malone participated in the NBA for a total of 19 seasons. Malone had a stronger scoring average (25.0 vs. 19.0 points), was a more accurate shooter (51.6% to 50.6% in field goals, 74.2% to 69.6% in free throws), and was a slightly better passer (3.6 to 3.0 assists), but Duncan had a better rebounding average (10.8 to 10.1 rebounds) and blocked more shots (2.2 vs. 0.8 blocks).
In terms of how this translated to career accomplishments, both Malone and Duncan won the Most Valuable Player award twice, but Duncan has a slight edge in both All-Star Games and All-NBA selections (15 to 14 in both cases). The biggest difference comes on the defensive end, where Duncan was also named 15 times to the All-Defensive team, whereas Malone was only named to the team four times.
When considering advanced numbers, Duncan also holds a slight edge in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), but Malone has accumulated more career Win-Shares than Duncan has (as he continued to have heavy usage later in his career). Both Malone and Duncan are sure bets to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, given their status as two of the most dominant power forwards in NBA history; Malone was admitted in his first year of eligibility (2010), while Duncan followed suit in 2020.
Regular Season Statistics
|Tim Duncan||Player||Karl Malone|
|19 (1997-2016)||Seasons||19 (1985-2004)|
|50.6%||Field Goal %||51.6%|
|69.6%||Free Throw %||74.2%|
|3x||NBA Finals MVP||–|
|15x All-Defensive, ROY, All-Rookie||Other Awards||4x All-Defensive, All-Rookie|
|2020||Hall of Fame Induction||2010|
Both Tim Duncan and Karl Malone are credited with guiding their respective teams to the postseason in each and every one of the seasons of their respective careers (though Duncan missed the 2000 postseason due to a meniscus injury suffered shortly before the end of the regular season).
It is interesting to note that Duncan’s playoff numbers are actually slightly better than his regular season averages, whereas Malone’s are generally worse; in particular, and probably most glaringly, the Mailman’s shooting percentage plummeting from 51%+ to under 47% is the dip that stands out the most. This helps explain one of the most significant distinctions between their careers: whereas Malone, like many other great players from the Jordan era, was never able to win an NBA championship, Tim Duncan won the title of NBA champion five times.
Duncan not only won five NBA titles but he was also named Most Valuable Player of the Finals three times:
- 1999: 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game for the Spurs in their 4-1 victory over the New York Knicks. 2003: 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, and an incredible 5.3 blocks per game for the Spurs in their 4-2 victory over the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets.
- 2005: During a grueling seven-game victory over the Detroit Pistons, he averaged 20.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game.
Duncan played a supporting role in the Spurs’ 2007 Finals victory over a youthful version of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, he did average a double-double and led the team in rebounding while being overshadowed by MVP Tony Parker. Despite a strong series for Duncan, who played increased minutes beyond his regular-season workload and led the team in both scoring and rebounding,
The Heat prevailed in seven games, highlighted by Ray Allen’s game-tying three-pointer in Game 6 of the NBA Finals; the only time he came up short in the NBA Finals was in 2013 when the Spurs lost to an older James and the Miami Heat; despite a strong series for Duncan, who played increased minutes beyond his regular-season workload and led the team (which the Heat eventually won).
The next year, however, the Spurs exacted their vengeance on the Heat by claiming a 4-1 victory over them, with Duncan once again averaging a double-double and leading the Spurs in rebounds.
Malone has the unfortunate distinction of having the most career postseason defeats, which stands in stark contrast to Duncan’s success in the playoffs (95). In the 1987–1988 season, he led the Jazz in scoring with 29.7 points per game, averaged 11.8 rebounds per game, and played a superhuman 45 minutes each game.
Despite this, the Jazz was eliminated by Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Due in large part to Karl Malone’s 29.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, the Utah Jazz advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the 1991–1992 season.
However, they were ultimately eliminated by the Portland Trail Blazers in the best-of-seven series. Back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals were the closest Utah got to winning an NBA championship in the 1990s, a decade that was dominated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
- Malone averaged 23.8 points on only 44.3% shooting and 10.3 rebounds per game, but he underperformed in key crucial situations, which culminated in the team’s loss to the Bulls in 1997 in a best-of-seven series.
- 1998: once again lost to the Bulls in six games, with Jordan’s game-winning shot over Byron Russell in Game 6 serving as the decisive moment; Malone was better the second time around, averaging 25.0 points (shooting 50.4% from the field) and 10.5 rebounds per game;
Finally, in his final season with the Lakers Los Angeles would lose in five games to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals; by that point, Malone was a reserve player and averaged only 5.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the series. This was Malone’s last season with the Lakers.
In addition, throughout their respective careers, Duncan and Malone were both indispensable members of the United States national basketball team. Duncan missed the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney owing to the injury that was described before, but he was a member of the team that competed in the 2004 tournament that finished in third place in Athens.
Duncan had previously won gold medals at the 1993 and 1997 FIBA Americas Championships (and led to the formation of the Redeem Team for the 2008 Games in Beijing). Malone actually enjoyed greater success on the international scene when he was a member of the teams that won the gold medal in 1992 in Barcelona and again in 1996 in Atlanta.
Every athlete goes through a natural career lifecycle, beginning as a rookie and progressing to peak years of performance before eventually retiring due to a combination of age and/or injury; despite their long and sustained excellence, Duncan and Malone would eventually decline owing to Father Time.
I prefer to look at a concept I term a “decade of domination” for Hall of Fame-worthy athletes across sports. The reasoning behind this is that for most Hall of Fame-type careers, there are generally 10 excellent seasons that characterize a player (this idea is mirrored in some ways by the NFL’s All-Decade teams), but they may not be 10 consecutive years owing to injury or other causes.
NBA Championships and Seasons
|Tim Duncan||Karl Malone|
Honors and Awards
|Tim Duncan||Karl Malone|
|All-NBA First Team||10||11|
|All-Defensive 1st Team||8||3|
|Rookie of The Year||1|
Who is better Tim Duncan or Dirk?
Dirk Nowitzki was a better offensive player who was one of the greatest shooters ever, but Duncan did more to impact the game over his career. Tim Duncan’s leadership on defense and his all-around game was the reason he captured 5 NBA rings over his career, which makes him the greatest power forward in NBA history.
- Read more: Tim Duncan Vs Dirk Nowitzki
Bird has three regular-season MVPs while Duncan has two, yet Duncan has three Finals MVPs while Bird has two. Duncan has four championship rings, and Bird has three. In the regular season, Bird was the slightly better player, but in the postseason, Duncan was the slightly better player.
Who is better Karl Malone vs Tim Duncan?
While Malone was the better scorer (25.0 vs. 19.0 points), more accurate shooter (51.6% to 50.6% in field goals, 74.2% to 69.6% in free throws), and slightly better passer (3.6 to 3.0 assists), Duncan was the superior rebounder (10.8 to 10.1 rebounds) and shot-blocker (2.2 vs. 0.8 blocks).
Karl Malone and Tim Duncan are two of the greatest power forwards in NBA history. They both had long, successful careers and were dominant forces on both ends of the court. It’s hard to compare the two players because they played in different eras, but based on their individual accomplishments, it’s clear that they are both all-time greats.