Malik Monk turned twenty-three years old this past Thursday. The fourth year shooting guard has a lot to celebrate, not the least of which is the sudden resurgence of playing time in the Charlotte Hornets line-ups. Malik has played more minutes in the past three games; 90:21, then in the previous nineteen games; 65:43. He has more DNPs than games played, but has played in every one of the last five games. His 36 points in the overtime comeback win against the Miami Heat was not only a career best, but was also the main reason for the Hornets victory. Combine those numbers with the injuries to Terry Rozier and PJ Washington, Malik Monk has gone from socially-distanced benchwarmer to a key contributor to the wide open Charlotte Hornets offense.
Since the Hornets drafted the University of Kentucky alumnus it’s been a mixed bag at best. Drafted as the answer to the question, “Can someone please score a basket besides Kemba Walker?” Monk became another failed candidate, averaging less than 32% from the trey spot and getting worse as the minutes increased. Match that with a lackluster defensive effort and no other offensive weapon to speak of and you got yourself a classic Rich Cho draft pick. (shout out to that guy for getting millions of dollars to post food on social media while running a professional sports franchise)
However, Dunks like the one above and flashes of a motor that could out hustle other players on the court, created a groundswell of support from the Hive loyals. In the comment sections and the twitter threads of Malik-related media were strongly worded defenses. “Free Monk!” “Let Malik play!” And other expletive laden/ conspiracy driven comments would trail articles even At The Hive. Then the 2020-21 season started and Monk was on a milk carton. And for good reason.
The Hornets had drafted the future of their guard core in LaMelo Ball. He was added to the twenty million dollar, Terry Rozier, the rising star of Devonte Graham, and a plethora of forwards who have guard play in their arsenals. Malik was being outplayed of even the deeper lineups, losing time to the Martin twins who struggled at the start of the season. An early hand injury to Gordon Hayward couldn’t pry Monk off that pine.
Interestingly, it was an injury to a center that provided Malik Monk’s opportunity. Cody Zeller’s injury had a dual effect. The ‘PJ Washington at center’ experiment became a core line-up and the Hornets were overly dependent on the play of Bizmack Biyombo. Both of these line-up changes led to the introduction of Monk into the rotation, then the Terry Rozier injury turned him into a necessity. And to Malik Monk’s undying credit, he was ready.
Over the past five games, Monk has made the most of his opportunity. The game against the Miami Heat was a standout and an outlier, but even in the more down-to-earth performances he has played with energy and determination even if there are still evident weaknesses. The motor is still inconsistent. The heat check shots still get hoisted. But when a player is shooting over 50% from the arch to the tune of 15 of 26; it’s important that you get that player minutes. Especially if that player has some market value.
Malik is in the last year of his contract and the Hornets have three options. The least of which is letting him fade into free agency. In this scenario, you chalk this burst of productivity up to a last ditch attempt to salvage a career, letting the desperate New York Knicks or Dallas Mavericks overpay him to get Covid Tested on their dime. Another option is to pay him. The market value of a mostly ineffectual shooting guard who even while shooting 53% from the three in 2021 still holds a career percentage of 32%. The issue is teams overvalue potential. So, I’m putting Monk’s open market price around 12 million-a-year and hoping for a hometown discount of 10 million for the Hornets maybe with a player option third year.
The last option, but maybe not the least is shopping him before the trade deadline. The NBA set the 2021 trade deadline on March 23rd. That gives the Hornets a month and a half to increase Malik’s value by letting him play. The question will be can he keep up quality play in such a small sample size. The best the Hornets could hope for is some Center piece, draft capital, or some combination of the two. Understand that even with quality play the best they might hope for is a lottery protected first rounder. But if you squint your eyes and cross your fingers you could imagine a trade like JaVale McGee and a heavily protected 1st rounder from the Cleveland Cavaliers, but even that, or its ilk, is probably wishful thinking.
In the meantime, Malik Monk is MJ’s number years old and a revelation coming off the Hornets’ bench. The team is competitive even in losing efforts. The Mint and Gold pops even when it looks a little sherbertish in certain camera angles. We are a quarter of the way through the weirdest season of basketball in NBA history and the Charlotte Hornets are in the playoff hunt. We should all take a moment to celebrate. Happy Birthday Malik Monk! Many returns!... Many trade returns!