Both Karl Malone and Charles Barkley are recognized as two of the game’s greatest power forwards during their years in the league. Malone finished his career as the second-highest scorer of all time while Barkley is a top-50 player and one of the most impactful superstars in history.
Barkley was an undersized big who played with power, skill, and aggression. Similarly, Malone perfected the art of the mid-range shot and was a force to handle on the offensive end. Their talent as the best player on their teams led them to the NBA Finals, although they never quite managed to overcome the great Michael Jordan.
By comparing their attributes across the game’s most categories, it is time to debate who was the better player. Does Malone’s scoring records outweigh Barkley’s ability on the boards? Or does Barkley possess more of an overall game?
Inside Scoring – Even
Charles Barkley completely dominated the paint when he played, despite being very undersized as a big man. He was very strong, with a powerful lower body, and used his strength to bully most players around the rim. He made a living off of offensive rebounding and put backs, and excelled at finishing with contact.
Similarly, Malone was built like a brick house and was unstoppable when he had his touch going. While Malone had an unstoppable mid-range game, he did his work mostly from inside the paint during his earlier days. There is a reason why Karl Malone is the second highest leading scorer in NBA history.
While it might be tempting to give this one to Malone for his scoring records, Barkley’s dominance at his absolute peak evens this one up.
Outside Scoring – Karl Malone
Even though Barkley could hit mid-range jumpers, Malone made a living from that area. Karl Malone was truly an unstoppable force on the offensive end and really did not have a weakness besides his lack of a three-point shot. Malone was automatic from mid-range and could nail that shot every single game of the week.
Barkley was a beast in the paint, and he managed to equal Malone in the inside scoring category. But Malone was a better overall scorer, and his outside shooting was a big part of that. This is the first advantage of Karl Malone.
Playmaking – Charles Barkley
Both players could move the ball well, and share the basketball because they were so extraordinary on the offensive end. Barkley and Malone attracted a ton of attention from the defense, which opened up the floor a lot for their teammates.
Barkley averaged 3.9 assists per game while Malone averaged 3.6 assists per game. Clearly, they are both on par with each other and were decent playmakers for their positions. But this one goes to Barkley slightly.
Malone was more of a pure scorer, often relying on his all-time great point guard in John Stockton to feed him the ball in the low post or via the pick n roll. Therefore, Malone wanted to score each and every time. Barkley was similar in his scoring mindset, but he was slightly more adept and willing to move the ball to the open man. While Malone was a better scorer and it made sense for him to take a ton of shots, Barkley still had slightly better court awareness. Charles evens it up here.
Athleticism – Karl Malone
Both players possessed beneficial physical attributes that helped them during their careers. For Barkley, his raw strength and hustle helped him throughout his career. Unfortunately, he never quite took care of himself to the level of other all-time greats and this is very apparent when comparing him to Karl Malone.
Malone was built like a Greek statue, with protruding shoulders and a powerful upper body. Few players in NBA history have Malone’s physique, and this helped him greatly in remaining consistent as a scorer deep into his late 30’s and early 40’s. Malone was also explosive and could slam it down on any defender at any time.
As powerful and surprisingly quick Barkley was in his prime, Malone’s physical ability is on another level. Malone regains the lead here.
Defense – Karl Malone
This is a very interesting one because both players preferred to dominate the offensive end. Barkley preferred to use a stronger approach to the game, using force and determination to make up for any defensive deficiencies in his game. Barkley, when he wanted to, could be tough to score on.
But the edge goes to Malone here. He was more athletic, could move his feet better, and was more consistent on defense. Malone was truly a great player, and his play on both ends was the main reason why. His more muscular frame and the fact that he was 3 inches taller than Charles helps him out as well.
Malone’s consistent defense over his career eclipses Barkley and he gains the advantage here.
Rim Protection – Even
Charles and Malone both averaged 0.8 BPG over their careers and were mainly responsible for bothering opposing bigs and hauling down rebounds. Their teams needed them to score, but also be consistent in protecting the rim.
As a result, this one is even. Malone may have been slightly a better defender, but Charles had this hustle and determination around the rim which led him to haul down so many rebounds. Barkley was able to gather boards because he could be a pest on defense, which evens this one out.
Rebounds – Charles Barkley
Whether you look at numbers or simply the eye test, Barkley was a better rebounder. He averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career compared to 10.1 for Malone. It’s clear, from those numbers, that Barkley was more of a dominant rebounder who made a living off of crashing the boards.
Barkley was simply a beast on the boards using his lower body strength to hold off other bigs and grab rebounds at a high rate. Charles was also an exceptional offensive rebounder, averaging 4.0 offensive boards per game over his career. When people think of Charles Barkley, they think of rebounds.
Malone was no slouch on the boards at all, but Barkley’s presence mainly came from his ability to crash the boards.
Clutch Factor – Karl Malone
Both players possessed the will to win and wanted to dominate the game as much as possible. Both Barkley and Malone were often the leaders of their teams and were required to take and make the big shots.
But when it comes to the clutch factor, this one has to go to the more consistent scorer. Malone was just an offensive machine, and he could be trusted to make big plays on the offensive end. Even though Malone did have his inefficiencies from the free-throw line at times, he was just too automatic from inside the paint and mid-range.
Barkley was clearly a big-time player, preferring to do his damage on the inside. He was a beast on the boards and especially offensive rebounding, but his consistency in scoring the ball is slightly below Karl Malone.
Malone takes this one.
Leadership – Even
Both players played at a high level throughout their careers. Barkley made it to the NBA Finals, is easily one of the top 50 players of all time, and is an iconic figure in NBA history. Karl Malone is also a legend of the game and will forever be known on the Mt. Rushmore of scorers.
As a result, they are both even in their leadership abilities. Barkley was vocal, and led by both his play and his energy. He was extremely dominant in his prime and was always the best player on his team. Karl Malone was also dominant and was a very imposing figure, allowing his teammates to respect him and look up to his efforts.
Basketball I.Q. – Karl Malone
Both players have exceptionally high basketball I.Q., after all, they must have high I.Q. if they are to be recognized as top-50 players.
But Karl Malone was able to remain impactful over a longer period of time, knowing how to be effective as his athleticism wained and also master the art of scoring the basketball. Charles was a beast inside the paint and an amazing rebounder, but Karl Malone was a more consistent scorer who played a whopping 19 seasons in the league. Malone’s scoring ability is only second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he will most likely forever be a top-three scorer of all time.
Charles was clearly no slouch on the offensive end, but Malone is a top-two scorer of all time for a reason. His awareness of scoring the ball gives him the edge.
Scoring – Karl Malone
Malone made a living off of scoring, and as previously mentioned, Barkley falls to Malone in this one. Barkley’s career average of 22.1 PPG is impressive, and he also had a career-high average of 28.3 PPG in 1987-1988.
Malone, on the other hand, averaged 25.0 PPG over his career with a high of 31.0 PPG in 1989-1990. When looking at the resume of both of these great players, it is clear Malone is a better scorer. He averaged more points per game, averaged less than 20 PPG only twice in his 20-year career, and ranks second in all-time points scored.
Barkley was a great scorer, but the conversation usually ends with Malone when it comes to comparing scoring ability.
Impact – Karl Malone
Since both players were dominant in their own eras, this one is very close. Barkley was a legend, and one of the most dominant forwards the game has ever seen. His overall numbers are impressive, putting up 22.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 3.9 APG over 16 seasons. There aren’t many players in NBA history that can match up with what Barkley did at the power forward spot.
But Malone’s averages of 25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 3.6 APG over 20 years eclipse Barkley. Malone was a 14-time All-Star, and a two-time league MVP. Charles made 11 All-Star teams and won one league MVP.
Barkley was a better rebounder, but what ultimately separates them is Malone’s unbelievable scoring record. Malone never averaged less than 20 PPG more than twice, his rookie season, and last year in the league. Clearly, he was a force on the offensive end and this is the reason his impact is higher than that of Barkley.
1 On 1 Game – Karl Malone
Both players were loads to handle in the offensive end. Barkley was strong and explosive around the rim, finishing putbacks and taking contact with the best of them. Barkley was a consistent machine as well, scoring his buckets at a 54.1% clip as draining 73.5% from the line when he got fouled. In a nutshell, you couldn’t defend Barkley one on one.
But Karl Malone was a different animal when it came to one on one player. Malone averaged more PPG and still shot 51.6% from the field. He was also good at the line, making 74.2% of his free throws.
Even though Barkley was a monster down low, he never could even up with Malone’s incredible scoring output. In fact, very few could at all. Malone was a more dominant one on one scorer and he eclipses Barkley with this final category.
Karl Malone vs Charles Barkley 8-2