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Malik Monk’s journey so far, and what to expect from him moving forward

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Taking a closer look at Malik Monk’s up-and-down rookie season, and what to expect from him heading into his second year.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Monk came into his rookie season with the Charlotte Hornets with a lot of hype. Considered a steal at the 11th overall pick, many around the league were surprised he fell that far.

In one season at the University of Kentucky, Monk showed plenty. At 6’3, he was a combo guard capable of getting his shot off from everywhere. Ideally, he would be a deadly shooter and a great athlete who would able to come in and take a little of the load off Kemba Walker. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Monk’s rookie season was a roller coaster. At the start of the season, he saw consistent minutes and showed some flashes mainly in a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks when he dropped 25 points, including five 3’s. It was an electric performance that got Hornets fans buzzing (I’m the worst). It wasn’t all good though — Monk was brutal on defense. So bad, in fact, that head coach Steve Clifford took him out of the rotation entirely. From November 18th to March 6th, he only played more than 15 minutes five times and received 20 DNP-CD’s.

Monk didn’t get an opportunity again until the Hornets were out of playoff contention. In the last 18 games of the season, he played anywhere from 10 to 26 minutes per game. During the final stretch, Monk averaged 12.1 points per game, including 20.4 points per game in the last five games. He showed plenty of tantalizing potential during that stretch. At Chicago, he dropped five 3-pointers and had a breathtaking double-pump dunk. Monk reminded Hornet fans and the league that he has a lot of skill and if developed he can become a weapon.

The Good and the Bad

Monk’s rookie season was undoubtedly a mixed bag, but what stood out? There is talent to work with, but a lot of weaknesses in Monk’s game as well. The key is to separate what he can fix with more experience and time in the weight room, and what will be a concern going forward. Let’s start with the strengths Monk showed in his rookie season.

Monk showed the ability to get his shot on or off the ball. As of now, I think he is best off the ball on the offense, but he also proved to be a deadly isolation scorer. He has elite shot-making ability. Yes, elite. It’s his shot selection that needs refinement. There is no question his shot selection needs to improve, but his ability to make tough shots is impressive.

On offense, he was at his best spotting up or in isolation. According to Synergy Sports, he ranked in the 81st percentile on Spot Up opportunities. This is because his 3-point shot must be respected. Monk only shot 34 percent from deep last season, but he can shoot. Expect that number to go up this season with a better shot selection. Opponents know Monk can get it cooking from deep. He also can attack closeouts and finish at the rim. His ability to get separation is special, watch this play.

Michael Carter-Williams starts a pick and roll on the top right of the key with Cody Zeller that is well covered by the Knicks. Monk is spotting up to the right and gets the pass from MCW, but he is well defended by Frank Nkilitina. As he gets the ball, Monk takes one side dribble, steps back to create separation and then nails the 3. Big time move.

Last season Monk shot 60 percent at the rim, an above average mark for his position. Monk should only be better this year with added strength. The next step is drawing more fouls, something he struggled with last season. Adding more free throws would significantly improve his efficiency, especially since he shot 84 percent from the stripe.

There is no question Monk struggled with efficiency, but one encouraging since is that he was a low turnover player last season. His 10.3 turnover percentage ranked in the 83rd according to Cleaning the Glass. Forcing up bad shots is not great, but at least he is not coughing up all over the place. That said, his court vision is average. He didn’t see or attempt a lot of next-level passes, one reason he had a low turnover number.

However, Monk was able to make the simple pass, and his assist percentage of 17.7 percent is about average. Another year of experience and I think he can be about a slightly above average passer, and with how well he can score that is good enough.

Defensively, Monk is poor at this point. He doesn’t rebound well, doesn’t get a lot of steals and blocks, and ranked in the 9th percentile overall on defense. He struggled with the nuances of pick and roll defense, didn’t have the strength necessary to get through picks, and at 6’3 he was undersized guarding two guards.

When he is defending point guards he is not at a size disadvantage and has the speed to keep up, but he needs to get better at fighting through screens. A year of experience and added strength should help, but Monk will still likely be a below average defender. As long as he is not a train wreck that is okay. He at least gives effort most of the time, and his offense should be good enough to make up for it.

Offensively, Monk needs to work on shot selection. He took 32 percent of his shots from mid-range and only 14 percent at the rim. There were far too many contested long 2’s. If he can trade some of those in for attempts at the rim, then you have a far more efficient player. He is a lot better finishing at the rim than in the mid-range anyway. Monk did take 54 percent of his shots from 3, and that is fine with me, I would be okay if it’s more. His shooting is that deadly when he gets going, and it opens up things for everyone else.

Then there is pick-and-roll offense, in which Monk only finished in the 25th percentile. This is mainly because far too many times Monk too long 2-pointers out of the pick-and-roll. He needs to learn to either make the pocket pass or drive and only take the mid-range jumper if its wide open. That is the shot a lot of teams want him to take, and he can’t take the bait.

There is a lot to improve on, but a lot that is encouraging as well. Monk played one game in the Summer League before hurting his thumb. He looked stronger and was having a good game, so what did we learn in his one Summer League game? What was different or improved?

Summer League

In one game, Monk played 28 minutes and scored 23 points on 56 percent shooting along with two assists and two steals. He had 15 points in the first quarter alone, showing how explosive he can be. The advanced numbers were good as well, as Monk posted a 131 offensive rating, a 93 defensive rating and PER of 27.3. Monk showed some of what he is already good at plus a few new tricks he has been working on.

In particular, I was impressed with his off the ball movement to get himself open. Watch this play.

Hernangomez starts with the ball at the top of the key. Monk is in the right corner, and Devonte’ Graham goes to set a down screen for him. The OKC defenders play it to try to prevent Monk from getting a 3. Monk recognizes that and smartly curls off the screen towards the lane, where he gets the feed from Willy for the easy dunk. Nice recognition form Monk!

What to Expect This Year?

The Summer League is not the best competition, but there is no question Monk will be better this season, and he will certainly get more of an opportunity. My colleague Nick Denning projects the Hornets starters to be Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller, so Monk is most likely coming off the bench. With the addition of Tony Parker and rookie Graham, Monk’s role will be off the ball most of the time. Expect him spotting up, running secondary pick and roll, and getting isolation opportunities. I would also like the Hornets to explore Monk as a cutter more.

James Borrego’s pace and space offense should greatly benefit Monk, but what lineups can he put around Monk to make him successful? A lineup I would love to see the Hornets use with Monk is Kemba, Willy Hernangomez, Dwayne Bacon and Marvin Williams. This is a good blend of starters and bench players whose skills compliment each other well. The spacing would be good, now that Willy is an improved shooter, and everyone on the floor can shoot 3’s.

Kemba would be the go-to option and Monk would get plenty of spot-up opportunities. Bacon and Williams are both good defenders who could protect Monk from more difficult matchups. It has some holes defensively, but offensively it should be excellent.

Monk’s most likely lineup at first off the bench will be him alongside Parker, Bacon, MKG, and Hernangomez. Bridges could replace MKG at the four at times depending on the matchup, and Frank Kaminsky could get minutes at either the four or five. Of this group, I would prefer Monk with Parker, Lamb, MKG, and Hernangomez. That would bring balance. Bridges’ development, of course, changes a lot of this. Side note: one of Kaminsky or MKG is going to get left out on a lot of nights, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

The idea is to get with Monk with at least one other creator, give him space and protect him on defense. If Charlotte can do that, then I think Monk can play 20-25 minutes per game and average 12-15 points per game on solid efficiency. Monk should have a good year, and he will have some explosive moments. After an up and down rookie season, the Hornets should get the most out of him. Watch out NBA — Malik Monk is on the come up.