SALT LAKE CITY -- Jeff Malone is sitting at his locker, waiting to go see his friend Darrell Walker in the Washington Bullets' locker room, when Mark Eaton comes ambling over. Eaton is a huge mass of basketball player, 7 feet 4 and 300 pounds easy. He talks, you listen.

"One of the greatest rebounding guards in the history of the NBA," Eaton says of his new teammate. "And one of the best defensive guards ever."

"Underrated," Malone chimes in.

"We always had to double-team {Dallas's} Rolando Blackman," Eaton continues. "He can handle him alone. One of the greatest, greatest players."

Laughter all around. And no one is laughing harder than Jeff Malone. Especially these days. He knows he wasn't traded to the Utah Jazz because he's a great rebounder -- which he isn't -- or a great defensive player, though he's not nearly as bad as people seem to think.

He was brought in to shoot those off-balance jumpers, get on those scoring rolls he had for seven seasons with the Bullets, for whom he scored 11,083 regular season points.

He was brought in to make the Jazz more than the two-pronged attack of John Stockton and Karl Malone, with a helping of Thurl Bailey thrown in, that it's been for the past couple of years.

"I'm a little happier," Jeff Malone said before dropping 28 points on his former mates Monday night in a 135-101 Jazz romp. "From the standpoint of when I come out, we have 14 or 15 thousand {people in the Salt Palace}. It's fun playing in that type of atmosphere. When we make strong runs, the whole arena's up and loud. I didn't get that a whole lot in Washington. From that standpoint, I think it's going to get better."

His start has been a little slow, though as he points out he's still second on the team in scoring at 16.5 per game. His shots have come down from 21 a game last season to just more than 14, but there are reasons for that.

Karl Malone always is the first option on offense, and since Karl Malone in the lane is as good as two points, that's a reasonable thing. When Karl Malone doesn't have the ball, it's in Stockton's hands. No multiple passing game here.

"I accused our scout of just copying last year's scouting report," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said.

But the question remains: Why would you get a player of Jeff Malone's offensive skill and have him do little more than, say, Bobby Hansen, one of two players Utah traded to get him? In the fourth quarter of Utah's loss Sunday in Portland, one play was called for Jeff Malone.

"It's a real predictable offense," Malone acknowledged. "We're going to do certain things. I'm not going to get shots like I normally do. The type of shots I want to take, I'm not able to take. But that's an adjustment I've got to make. I'm not coming in here trying to disrupt the program. . . .

"I would go through eight-minute stretches where I wouldn't take shots. It kind of bothered me. But I talked to myself. I said, 'Jeff, you can't let that worry you. Just go out and play.' And I started doing better."

Just last week, the Jazz put in a play for him, a baseline jumper off a pick. Part of the reason they have not been able to incorporate the new man more, they say, is a harsh early season schedule that included a trip to Japan to open the season and five of the first seven stateside games on the road.

Now, Utah has a favorable stretch of home games, and the Jazz has crept close to the lead in the Midwest Division.

"That guy over there is truly a piece of work," Karl Malone says. "We're happy to have Jeff. He's going to do a heck of a job for us. We're beginning to run a lot of plays for him, and he's beginning to be a big threat for us. You don't get a guy of Jeff's caliber all the time."

"They say I instigate everything," Jeff Malone said. "I mess with everybody. I was surprised how well I fit in. The guys accepted me, I came in. I feel like I've been here three or four years."

He still had to overcome his shoot-first reputation.

"All of us were pretty open-minded," Stockton said. "We played against him, but not to the extent the Eastern Conference teams play him. We knew his talents. We didn't know there were other things besides his scoring ability. He's got a nice touch passing and he's a good defender.

"The difficult thing was that it was the first time since I've been here that we've changed in any way. We've all been coming to practice every day and we went with the same five. Other than that, Jeff's been very easy to play with."

Monday, Malone was fist-shaking, crowd-inciting. He swore he didn't have any extra incentive playing the Bullets. But the Jazz picked mercilessly on Ledell Eackles, who was guarding Malone. Utah ran three straight plays for Malone in the second quarter before Eackles turned his ankle and didn't return.

"We've had some great moments," Jeff Malone said. "I'm excited. We played Houston the other night and beat them by 15, and I was the same way. It's great to play with a great point guard {Stockton}. You can't beat it."

And when the Bullets were set to check out of their hotel early this morning, there was Malone, with a day off and the Pistons coming to town, to wave them goodbye.