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Malik Monk enters the 2019-2020 season surrounded by uncertainty

After inconsistent play through his first two seasons, will the Kentucky standout finally establish his footing in the NBA?

San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The debate over Malik Monk’s future role with the Charlotte Hornets has been one of the biggest topics surrounding the team recently.

During the 2019 NBA Draft, there was a segment of fans calling for the team to trade the 21-year-old for a late first round pick. This would then allow the Hornets to acquire a player with more perceived upside like a Kevin Porter Jr. or Bol Bol. Of course, this didn’t happen as the front office stayed content with their positioning and drafted Nevada combo guard Cody Martin 36th overall.

There are reasons for fans to want to give away the former 11th overall pick.

For one, Monk’s defensive ability did not grow through his first two seasons in the league. When playing in the shooting guard spot, as he often would alongside former Hornet Kemba Walker, Monk had a tough time navigating himself on that end of the court. He would get glued in by opposing screens, allowing easy looks for his assignment.

These defensive woes were most prevalent on the perimeter. Even though Monk was able to poke away a large sum of steals in the mid-range area, guarding his man on the from the three-point line has been a consistent problem. As the NBA has turned into a run-and-gun league, where more three-point shots are being hoisted up than ever before, Monk’s inability to close out his man from deep is troublesome.

Another question mark that has lingered Monk’s game is his passing ability. During his time at Kentucky, Monk was a pure scorer as the offense revolved around him and his shooting approach. That suited him well, as he lead the team with 19.8 points while shooting 50 percent from the floor. But, through the likes of teammates De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe, Monk was never able to develop himself as a passer. If Monk wants to solidify himself as an all-around offensive guard, having the ability to make plays for others is huge.

Now, since point guards Kemba Walker and Tony Parker left the team this offseason, the facilitating issue grows even bigger for Monk. Can a player who has averaged 1.5 assists in the NBA learn to develop into a well-rounded guard? Could he perhaps initiate the offense at times, improving his upside?

If that’s not the case, Monk would then primarily be stuck at the two-guard slot and his defensive liability will still be a lingering factor in his play.

Monk’s latest action caused even more eyebrows to be raised. Despite having two gaping holes in his game that need to be worked on, Monk declined to play in the Summer League this year. Skepticism about Monk’s decision was even talked about during the broadcast of the Hornets game against the Golden State Warriors.

Positively speaking, the two biggest silver linings in this situation are the Hornets current guards and Monk’s age.

There is a good chance that Monk can become a complementary piece with the Hornets new acquisitions. Acquiring both Terry Rozier and the aforementioned Martin this offseason may be an underlying plus for Monk’s on-court time this fall. These two guards have extensive experience carrying their team’s facilitation duties. Both also have excellent length advantage over typical guards as Martin stands 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, while Rozier carries an impressive 6’8” wingspan to complement his 6’1” height.

Having these traits allow them to play the point guard role while also switching to the opposing team’s best perimeter player on the defensive end. If the Hornets adapt this strategy, then Monk can get open looks for himself while also “hiding” on the defensive end.

We must not forget how hot Monk can get when his shots are falling. He is an ideal microwave player as the basket seems like it’s twice its normal size when he gets cooking. Taking a look back at his games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls, where he scored fourteen points in the fourth quarter in both match-ups, securing Hornets’ victories.

These brief stints simply need to become more regular occurrences. He has never been able to consistently heat up from three, as he’s just a career 33.5% 3-point shooter. However, given the assumed increase in minutes over last year, this may be the time where Monk becomes a reliable figure on the offensive end.

Age is still an important factor that needs to be considered when assessing Monk’s potential with this team. At only 21 years of age, he has several seasons before he reaches his prime years as a basketball player. The NBA is all about adjusting and it takes some players more time to adapt than others. It took Kemba five years to pop as a reliable scorer and many other guards have crossed that same path. Eric Bledsoe took four years to establish himself and Kyle Lowry didn’t bloom until his seventh year.

I’m not saying that Monk is up to the caliber of these highly successful players. This information was primarily to show the time it takes for select players to develop in the association.

Looking big picture, we must analyze Monk’s past success and try to scope it for both the present and future.

With question marks in defensive reliability and playmaking, it’s going to take a lot of development for Monk to become an established player at either guard spot. Will he be able to take a big step forward on a rebuilding roster and show Buzz City why he was worthy of an early lottery selection?

We simply do not know the answer right now.

For that, Malik Monk comes in with the more uncertainty than any other Hornet for this upcoming season.