Malik Monk, mystery man.
Most of Monk’s fellow lottery picks enter the season with opportunity and hype gathered around them. From Lonzo Ball to Donovan Mitchell, many of his classmates have impressed this summer as a preview of their skills.
On the other hand, Monk has been stuck on the sidelines, still rehabbing an ankle injury that has plagued him since shortly before the draft. After missing all of summer league, he has been limited in practice and most likely will have his minutes monitored when he sees the floor in preseason.
Other top picks have had slow starts in recent seasons, and players such as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have sat out their entire rookie seasons. But not only is Monk expected to be on the floor once the seasons begins, the Hornets are counting on him to contribute.
As the season draws ever closer, what are the three burning questions for Malik Monk and his rookie season?
How much can he play out of the gate?
Monk was a heavy-minutes player in college, averaging 32.1 minutes per game on a loaded Kentucky squad. He handled a large workload as well, averaging almost 15 shots per game en route to 19.8 points per game and SEC Player-of-the-Year honors.
After sitting out the summer and much of the early days of training camp, Monk played 21 minutes in the team’s preseason opener. The minutes will be available for Monk to play from the jump if he is physically able to.
The hope is that Monk will be fully healthy to start the year. If that is the case, then 20 minutes is an easy floor for Monk to clear. Depending on how he compares to Jeremy Lamb in camp, that number could go up. A strong season, and it could shoot even higher.
Ankle injuries like the one Monk has been dealing with can linger, and the team will be careful to make sure his doesn’t. Managing his minutes, his practice regimen, and his treatment should see Monk ready for Opening Night. With proper care and a little bit of luck, it won’t be something he has to deal with all season.
He played 21 minutes in the team’s opening preseason game against the Boston Celtics last night. It’s a good sign after months of speculation.
Can he take over as backup point guard?
Monk was a high school point guard, but didn’t play it in college. His ability to pull-up and shoot and attack the rim could be applied to the point guard position just as well as the two guard spot he played in college. Coming into Kentucky, with fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox, meant he slid to the two spot.
Two years ago Kentucky had a similar situation, sliding Jamal Murray to the 2 with Tyler Ulis playing point. While Murray and Monk are obviously different players, just one year later Denver is playing Murray almost exclusively at point guard.
Monk is not quite the prospect that Murray is, but he also doesn’t need to be. The Hornets have an All-Star starting point guard in Kemba Walker. What they do not have is a quality backup point guard, shuffling through options last season after Jeremy Lin left in free agency.
Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie-of-the-Year, was signed to back up Walker. After having minor operations on both knees, he is not yet cleared for contact. Third-string guard Julayne Stone is not only a green option, he has been battling a groin issue of his own.
There is an opening for Monk to pick up minutes as the backup point guard, especially in lineups with a strong wing ball-handler such as Nicolas Batum. Given that Carter-Williams has shown little-to-nothing as a player the last two seasons, even when he is healthy Monk could wrest minutes away from him.
To take such a role Monk will need to imrove on his playmaking skills. While not a weakness at Kentucky, Monk is a scorer first at heart and needs to involve his teammates to a higher level. If he adds that level to his game, then the opportunity is there for him.
Will he close games by the end of the season?
Two seasons ago, or the last time Steve Clifford had a competent third guard, Lin closed games down the stretch and in the postseason for the Hornets. By season’s end, Monk could fill a similar role.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a lockdown defender, but his lack of an outside shot hurts Charlotte offensively. Clifford has shown a willingness to swap out MKG for a more versatile offensive player in the past.
Monk can be that player, spacing the floor as serving as another ball-handler when Kemba gives up the ball. His ability to hit big shots — a skill he demonstrated multiple times throughout his freshman season at Kentucky — could come up huge for a Charlotte team in need of such a player other than Walker.
Few rookies come into their first NBA seasons with such a combination of lowered expectations — Monk was neither a top-10 pick, nor has he lit up the offseason due to injury — and potential impact. A productive, playable Monk helps the Hornets immensely.
But until we get there, first we have to see if the rookie can play. Despite the ankle injury, all signs point to yes.