Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #13
In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).
Vinny Ginardi: Moses Malone is the best rebounder ever.
From 1979-1985, Malone averaged 14.8 rebounds per game, leading the league in five of those six seasons. In the 1978-79 season, Moses averaged a ridiculous 17.6 rebounds per game. The most impressive part of Malone’s game was his ability to grab boards on the offensive glass. He finished with a career average of 5.1 offensive rebounds per game, and three times he averaged 6.9 offensive rebounds or more for an entire season. Just for reference, DeMarcus Cousins led the league in offensive rebounds per game in 2012 with 4.1.
Moses was no slouch offensively either. He averaged 20 points or more per game 11 times, including the 1982 season where he averaged 31.1. Malone earned three MVP awards in his career (1979, 82, and 83), was named to eight All-NBA teams (four first) and won an NBA Finals MVP award (1983).
Moses loses points for playing for seven different NBA teams. If he was so good, why did he bounce around so much? Also, while Moses was an above-average defender (two All-Defensive teams), he wasn’t as good defensively as any of the players we have listed ahead of him.
Greg Kaplan: Understand that when we say Moses Malone was the best rebounder ever, we know that he doesn’t have the best averages in the history of the game. Obviously, those belong to the likes of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, the level of competition Malone had to grab rebounds against is far and away more difficult than that of those three. Keep that in mind.
Though he didn’t win a championship in 1980-81, maybe nobody had a better post-season than Malone did in. He played the most games (21), most minutes (955, or 45.5 a night), most points (562, or 26.8 a night), most rebounds (305, 14.5 a night), most free throws (148 made, 208 attempted) and a bunch of others.
As Vinny has mentioned, his rebounding was incredible. However, he was clearly a dominant inside presence on the offensive end as well, or else we wouldn’t have him ranked this high. He was a career 49.5% shooter from the field. He averaged a career-high 31.1 points per game in 1981-82, then averaged 22+ points per game in eight other seasons.
In arguably his breakout season, Malone shot a remarkable 54.0% from the field, while leading the league in minutes per game (41.3 in 82 games), and averaged 24.8 points and 17.6 rebounds (also a league-high mark). Malone also averaged a league-high 42.0 minutes per game in 1981-82, the year he scored 31.1 points per game and didn’t lead the league in scoring.
To answer part of Vinny’s post as to why Malone played for so many teams in his career, it may have been because he was one of the hardest stars to ever make marketable. Malone had to work his way through a very difficult speech impediment throughout the course of his career, which made him a hard player for reporters to interview. Since the media determined who was a star and who wasn’t during this era, it worked against what Malone could offer the team off the court. Which, you know, should trump anything special he does on the court. Because that makes sense.
Impediment or not, Moses Malone was a one of a kind rebounder, and backed up his play on the offensive end. Any team Malone played on, he instantly made better. He’s without question the 13th best player the NBA has ever seen.