BG’s St8 of the NBA: Malik Monk and the short-term future of the Charlotte Hornets

Articles, Hornets Hub, Sports

Normally on the St8 of the NBA, we take a look a four topics surrounding the Charlotte Hornets, and four league-wide items. However, next week will bring our year-end awards; so for today, we will focus on two matters regarding the Hornets — starting with rookie guard Malik Monk.


Uptown Monk Back?

It’s been an interesting foray into professional basketball for Malik Monk. After looking like a steal at the No. 11 pick in last June’s draft, Monk started the season off in decent form. With Michael Carter-Williams shelved with an injury, Monk soaked up the backup point guard minutes; the shooting number weren’t too pretty, and his plus/minus numbers: among the worst in the league — thanks in part to playing with a bench unit that never found a foothold. (Also: because this means sharing the floor very little with Kemba Walker — Charlotte’s on/off god.)

However, he did have several games — home wins over Denver and Milwaukee, a road loss at New York — where he looked electric. He played with bounce, showcased his loopy shot-making abilities and ran the pick-and-roll with zest.

Over the first 14 games of the season, Monk shot 14-of-35 (40 3P%) on catch-and-shoot triples, which is damn good. When he played with Kemba in that stretch, the Hornets scored nearly 107 points per 100 possession with a net rating of +7.5 points per 100.

Then MCW returned to the lineup — and well, it didn’t appear as if the Hornets had much of a plan.

Monk’s minutes were sporadic, at best; when he did play, he seemed confident in only two things: losing his man defensively (not exactly a sin for a rookie guard) and chucking contested pull-up two-pointers. That type of two-way game won’t endear most players to NBA coaches — especially someone like Steve Clifford, who preaches assignments and attention to detail.

Midseason Doldrums

From the start of December through the end of February, Monk played in only 27 of Charlotte’s 42 games; he averaged just 7.4 minutes per contest in that stretch, too. In those 201 minutes, the Hornets were a -92 with Malik on the floor. The rookie shot just 27.8 percent from the field — partly because he loved to settle for pull-up looks.

In the months of December, January and February: 43 of Monk’s 88 field goal attempts were either pull-up 2s or 3s, per He went 5-of-20 (25 FG%) inside the arc, and just 6-of-23 from distance (26.1 3P%).

Monk played like he was allergic of getting all of the way to the rim, or taking an efficient three-point opportunity.

During this run, Monk played just one game with Charlotte’s G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. In that one game, Monk scored 25 points…on 27 field goal attempts. His name even popped up in trade rumors with the Milwaukee Bucks — a team looking to see if it could swipe away a lottery pick months after arrival.

I wrote about those struggles five weeks ago; Spencer, Richie and I discussed how the Hornets were using their once prized rookie — it seemed rudderless.

As Charlotte’s season wound down, though, MCW suffered another injury; his left shoulder required surgery, which cost him the rest of the season. In his absence, and with postseason hopes fading quickly, Malik Monk once again became a part of the rotation.

Hope Springs Eternal for Malik Monk

Over the last 10 games, we have seen Monk play with not only improved verve, but he’s flashed some of the artful playmaking that made him such an alluring talent out of Kentucky.

For the season, Charlotte has scored just 98.4 points per 100 possession and allowed 113 points per 100 (an absolute avalanche of scoring) with Malik on the floor. That’s really not great, Bob.

It doesn’t help Monk’s case that he’s played 602 of his 778 minutes this season with Frank Kaminsky, who at age 25 continues to struggle defensively. The Hornets have allowed 115 points per 100 possessions with Monk and Kaminsky in together.

However, over the last 10 games, the Hornets are up to 106 points per 100 with Malik on the floor. Defense remains an issue, but the shot profile has improved, and it’s fun to watch him once again set dudes up for easy buckets.

Malik is 10-of-25 (40 3P%) on catch-and-shoot threes (25.5 percent of his FGA), and 13-of-31 (42 3P%) on pull-up triples (an important element of his game in college).

Here’s Monk sticking a three-pointer from one of Charlotte’s favorite actions — a flare screen at the elbow that’s usually set for Kemba.

Due to his size, Monk has to play some point guard in the NBA to hit his full potential; however, I still think he has utility as an off-ball magnet. He knows how to use curl, run off screens and set up his defenders. In turn, he can leverage this to make him self a dangerous screener and cutter. Over the last 10 games, Monk is 9-of-16 (56.3 FG%) in the restricted area.

It also allows him to be a dynamic closeout beater, too. Say hello to the rim for me, Malik.

In the (pipe) dream scenario, Kemba and Malik operate like Bizarro World Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

He’s still settling for a few too many long 2s — 5-of-22 on pull-ups 2s (22.7 FG%), 22.4 percent of his FGA. As my guy Spencer Percy mentioned to me earlier today, he’s needs to get to the line more frequently; Monk has attempted just eight free throws over this 10-game run.

This rest of this is encouraging, though. Perhaps folks shouldn’t have been so quick to right off a guy that just turned 20 and is in the process of learning the point guard position. Just a thought.

Pick-and-Roll Attack

Malik Monk will really earn his keep at this level if he continues to develop as a pick-and-roll creator; this is why the last month of the season is so valuable to him — constant reps against NBA defenses. Recently, Monk has flashed some serious waggle, vision, patience and finish out of the PNR.

This is one of the plays of the season for Monk: a left-to-right dash of a Dwight Howard screen; Tomas Satoransky does well fighting over, but Monk has him on his hip, and is fearless attacking in traffic over and around Bradley Beal.

Charlotte has found success at times this season letting Malik run PNR with Dwight from the side of the floor — dating back to the earlier parts of the season. It’s an easier read for Monk, but this is tremendous pace and timing on his part against Brooklyn. Monk waits out Jarrett Allen, another rookie, and the loft on this lob — over Allen’s 7-foot-5 wingspan — is artwork.

Next up: an action I’m a big fan of the Hornets. Monk comes off a pindown from Dwight Howard looking to attack; he gets into the teeth of Washington’s defense, gets Marcin Gortat to commits, then dimes Howard.

The next step for Monk is already something that he’s capable of — this is from earlier in the season against San Antonio: finding weak-side shooters after drawing attention. (I mean, what a pass from Malik Monk.)

Still Plenty to Iron Out

As most young guards, Monk is still learning to navigate these choppy waters; most guards aren’t Chris Paul — a superhuman put on Earth to run pick-and-rolls. He has a tendency to over dribble and force passes through windows that don’t actually exist — or close quickly.

Monk unsuccessfully tries to slide that pocket pass in between the two defenders. The Hornets can live with this type of turnover, though; it’s a positive sign that he’s even looking fit in a pass like this. Again, vision and selfishness aren’t his issues.

What’s next: Summertime Hoops

It’s important to remember that not only is Malik Monk a 20-year-old rookie; the 6-foot-3 guard essentially missed all last offseason with an ankle injury — before getting thrown to the flames. This should be different in 2018, though. Monk should have a full summer to workout with teammates, like Kemba, or a trainer. I would also imagine that Summer League is in the cards for Malik, too, which could provide him a laboratory to work on his situational decision-making —among other things.

An important note: These are, of course, interesting times for the Hornets, who will miss the playoffs for the second straight season. Charlotte also doesn’t have — let’s say — the best roster construction in the league, either.

With a new GM expected to land soon, and a salary dump required, changes will likely be made. Everyone on the roster, including Kemba and Monk, could be in play for a trade, assuming there’s demand.

There’s no guarantee on any of that, though, and until then, Monk is considered a part of this franchise, and a major piece for its future. That’s why the last month of basketball, and this offseason, are so critical for Malik Monk and NBA basketball in the state of North Carolina.