Everybody around the NBA knew for years that the Utah Jazz was a shooting guard away from being a well-balanced team.
Not only did the Jazz find another scorer, they may have found another Malone.If Jeff Malone makes an impact as great as the other Malone - some guy named Karl - the Jazz might make some serious noise around the Western Conference come May.
It has taken a while, but Jeff Malone seems headed in that direction. He's giving the Jazz the outside match for Karl Malone's inside muscle.
"He's exactly what the Jazz needs," said Dallas Mavericks guard Rolando Blackman, after Malone scored 30 points against the Mavs last week. "For whatever they had to give up for him, it was a very good move."
Despite the contributions of John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Last summer, Utah shipped guard Bobby Hansen and reserve center Eric Leckner to Sacramento in a three-team deal, and collected Malone from Washington when the Bullets received Pervis Ellison from the Kings.
All signals point to a Utah theft. Malone was a two-time All-Star with the Bullets, who during his seven years there was one of the NBA's most consistent and reliable scoring guards.
Here's proof: With the exception of his rookie year, Malone averaged at least 18.9 points in Washington. In his final five seasons as a Bullet, he averaged 22.
But the Bullets never made much more than a ripple in the playoffs during his reign.
"They were kind of stuck in the middle," Malone said. "To come here and to play in front of a packed house and for a winner, it's exciting."
At first, Jazz fans wondered why they should get excited over Malone. He shot only 42 percent in November and the Jazz flirted with .500 ball.
The reason was no mystery. Utah played its first two games in Tokyo, and then embarked on a road trip through the Eastern United States. All told, the Jazz played through 6,000 miles worth of travel. Utah didn't practice through one 16-day stretch.
And that didn't give Malone enough time to get accustomed to his teammates, and vice-versa.
"I can't lie," Malone said. "It was tough on me."
Malone also has had to alter his game to fit Utah's style.
"I don't handle the ball much here," he said. "I don't do as much off the dribble, because of John Stockton. And we get the ball inside a lot. I spot up a lot, and at first, I had trouble standing so much."
The kinks have slowly been smoothed Malone is shooting better than 50 percent, a rate he never reached over a season in Washington.
He has helped defensively, too, and may be shedding a reputation he feels he never deserved. The Jazz says that Malone limited opposing guards to 41-percent shooting through the first three weeks of the season.
"Jeff has been everything we thought he'd be," Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said.
Perhaps the highest approval has been given by the other Malone.
"What he has done hasn't amazed me," Karl Malone said. "Jeff is Jeff. He's brought a whole new shooting dimension to this team."