The 2017 NBA Summer has been a nonstop reel of headlines, surprises and action. From the NBA Draft to free agency to Summer League, fans have been fed a steady diet of news related to their favorite sport.
While Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul and others had their turn during free agency to dominate headlines, the most noteworthy actors of the summer have been rookies. From draft night to Las Vegas, they have stolen the show this summer, a needed development after the 2016 class fell on its face.
The Charlotte Hornets were ecstatic to see Kentucky guard Malik Monk fall to them at 11, when he was discussed as an option as high as 3rd. For a team needing guard help off the bench he seemed like the perfect fit, and he brought name factor to the team as well.
Yet Monk’s name has not appeared in any of the scintillating headlines. Those headlines have gone to former UCLA guard and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, who is destroying Las Vegas Summer League. The first in a line of “Big Ballers” is showing he belongs in the NBA.
Ball’s passing ability, his marquee skill, has been on full display in Las Vegas as Ball has dimed up players near and far. Ball has averaged 10 assists per game in Summer League, and put up two triple doubles - two more than all other players in the history of Summer League.
Dennis Smith Jr. went two picks before Monk at nine to the Dallas Mavericks, and he has been Ball’s co-star at Las Vegas. He has put together a highlight reel of athleticism and explosion, destroying the rim even when he missed the dunk. The Knicks, Magic, Kings, and Bulls are all wondering if they blew their opportunity at a superstar.
Jayson Tatum, picked third, put on a clinic in shot making in both Utah and Las Vegas. His footwork and body control allowed him to get up tough shot after tough shot, and hit more than any rookie would be expected to make. Both he and fourth overall pick Josh Jackson put to rest worries about their rebounding as they cleaned up on the glass.
De’Aaron Fox, Monk’s backcourt mate at Kentucky last season, went fifth to the Sacramento Kings and looks to be the Kings’ best lottery pick since DeMarcus Cousins (also a Wildcat picked fifth) in 2010. He brought defensive tenacity to a team and an event that often lacked it, and scouts everywhere are singing his praises.
Jonathan Isaac was rangy. Markelle Fultz was explosive. Lauri Markkanen had hustle. Even Zach Collins was a defensive monster despite his offensive struggles. The line of players taken in the top ten have impressed thus far, while Monk has been out of the news nursing a hurt ankle.
It’s not just those players taken ahead of Monk either. Donovan Mitchell is showing the fans in Utah that they may already have Gordon Hayward’s replacement on the roster. He can score at the rim, he can rebound, he’s one of the class’s best defenders - he looks like a star.
Luke Kennard. Bam Adebayo. Kyle Kuzma. Rookies up and down the board are putting up highlight plays and generating excitement in fan bases. Monk is generating questions by his absence.
Monk’s even overshadowed by the accomplishments of his own organization. Second round pick Dwayne Bacon out of Florida State balled out in Orlando Summer League, starting for the Charlotte squad and averaging over 15 points per game. Whether he was initiating the offense or cutting off ball, Bacon made an impression. Add in his versatile defense and Bacon flipped his performance into a three-year contract with the Hornets.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Monk didn’t take the court in Las Vegas, Hornets GM Rich Cho did, winning the NBA ping pong title for at least the second time.
Malik Monk has done nothing wrong. He still has every bit of talent that he did one month ago when he was talked about as a top-five pick. He’s an elite shooter with upside to back up both backcourt positions soon, and long-term be a dynamic starter at the 2-guard position. Nothing has changed.
But while the rest of the league celebrates their rookies, the Hornets have to wait on theirs. Come October, all of this will be a distant memory. But for now, Monk has to watch as his peers brashly drown out his memory.