“With the 8th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select Frank Ntilikina from Strasbourg, France.” It was at this moment, on June 22, that the thought of Malik Monk falling to Charlotte at the 11th spot got more real. There was supposed interested from the Knicks in Monk and when they passed on the Kentucky freshman, the stars started to align. The next selection was a no-brainer for Dallas as Denis Smith Jr. filled their hole at the one-guard. Sacramento could’ve reunited college teammates with the 10th selection, but decided to trade back with Portland — who didn’t have a need on the wing. What seemed like a mere dream, turned into reality as Monk fell into the Hornets’ lap.
The buzz created over Monk’s selection soon dissipated with the news that he’d be unable to play in Orlando’s Summer League because of a pre-draft ankle injury. In his absence, we were able to watch players like Treveon Graham and Dwayne Bacon step up. It would have been nice to see Monk showcase his talents in Orlando but the precaution far outweighed any excitement it would’ve created. Having said that, it’s understandable why some fans may have started to let doubt creep in about Monk’s on-court impact. Although Monk has been cleared for basketball activities, training camp won’t begin until late September. Until then, let me reassure you that Malik Monk can be something special.
Malik Monk averaged close to 20 points per game while shooting 40% from behind the arc and 45% from the field. This sheds some light on how productive this Kentucky freshman was but doesn’t paint the whole picture. Let’s take a look at Malik’s strong suits and how he’ll fit in Clifford’s offense.
Initially, Monk will be best utilized off-ball — spotting up and running off screens. With his footwork, his angle maneuvering, and his ability to read defenders, Monk is a very smart player in finding open space on the court. He will put a lot of pressure on the opposition if you put him in a floppy set where he gets the opportunity to run off a double screen.
Clifford uses Batum in this role — coming off pin-downs and staggered screens — but you are tapping into a different element with Monk. He will look to score, not pass, and his ability to shoot will create greater gravity. If the defense opts to switch, a big will have the task of defending the quick, athletic guard. If not, Monk will have created enough space to fire away or get to a more comfortable spot on the hardwood.
In Lexington, Monk demonstrated this skill of playing without the ball. He shot 43% after coming off a screen and an impressive 46% in spot-up situations. If anything, he will be a microwave-option off the bench when Charlotte is in need of buckets.
With his small stature, one would assume Monk is best suited for the point guard position. Unfortunately, Monk will have to overcome his height disadvantage on the wing because he’s not yet comfortable running an offense. But this is not to say Malik can’t play with the ball in his hands — just not your prototypical orchestrator.
Malik is such a good off-ball shooter that we forget that he can produce off the bounce and navigate pick and rolls. Although it was a small sample size, the Wildcats shot 49% from the floor when Monk initiated the pick and roll. This bodes well for Malik as he should pair very well with Cody Zeller in that second unit. With Cody being one of the games’ best screen setters, Monk should be able to get to his favorite spots on the court or hit Zeller on a rim-run. Last season, the roll-men involved with Monk’s screens scored an outstanding 1.46 point per possession. Look for Zeller and Monk to feed off each other when they share the court.
Lastly, when things break down, the Hornets can turn to Monk to score off the bounce. Without even logging an official minute, he’s already claiming the best step-back in the league. While I wouldn’t go that far, I love the attitude. He’s proven that he can get his shot off with the ball in his hands and scored 1.01 points per possession in jump shots off the dribble — placing him in the 88th percentile.
So to say that Monk is strictly an off-ball player wouldn’t be an accurate statement. He may not spend a lot of his time with the ball in hands but you shouldn’t feel uneasy if Clifford gives him that control with the bench unit.
Fit With Hornets
Barring injury, Monk will see minutes off the bench — a unit last season that often struggled putting the ball in the hoop. This should ease the pressure to produce immediately and will allow him to match up against lower-caliber players.
It’s always tough to judge a rookie’s impact on a Clifford-coached team because of his affinity for veterans. But the scheme in which Monk is entering has to be one of the best in the league for his skill set. An offense that loves to run players off-screens — whether on or off-ball — will play right into Monk’s strengths. It will be fun to watch that Zeller-Monk tandem and expect Monk to flourish.
There are still questions with his height and how that will affect him on both ends of the court. Luckily, he’ll be playing with Michael Carter-Williams who can take on the shooting guard on the defensive end. Many hope that Monk and Kemba could see the court together but I’m becoming less optimistic that that pairing will be together for extended minutes. It becomes problematic on the defensive end and they would certainly need to be surrounded by good team-defenders. Having said that, I would want to see them experiment with Monk at the end of games.
I’m not expecting Malik Monk to win Rookie of the Year but let’s not forget than many analysts thought he was a top-5 prospect heading into the NBA Draft. Monk, because of his measurements, slid to Hornets at the 11th pick. We should be grateful that a player of Monk’s caliber fell and should enjoy every minute of his rookie season.