Malik Monk Makes Strides, Now Faces Important Offseason

by Sam Perley

Malik Monk knows that the 2018-19 season – his second in the NBA – could very adequately be described as “up-and-down.” How much more “up” he hopes to see in Year #3 will come down to two major areas of focus this summer: shot-making and getting stronger.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a good year,” said Monk at his exit interview on April 11. “I’m going to take a little vacation, then get back to work. I’m going to work my tail off this summer. It should be good.”

Monk came out of the gates strong this season, recording averages of 13.3 PPG and 2.8 APG over the team’s opening 12 games. He shot just 39.0% from the field and 34.6% from three during this stretch though, as efficiency became a reoccurring struggle for the then-20-year-old. At times, he looked like an unstoppable high-octane scorer, and during some instances, he disappeared for long stretches out on the court.

As the season unfolded, Monk’s minutes continued to fluctuate on a night-to-night basis, some of which were dictated on opposing matchups and injuries. His best play of the season came in a five-game span between Jan. 28 – Feb 5, when the 6-3 guard averaged 16.0 PPG on 44.3% shooting (41.7% from three) and 1.8 APG in 21.7 MPG off the bench.

He fell out of the rotation for the first three weeks of March, but got significant minutes when the Hornets shifted towards their younger players during the late-season playoff push. Over the final 12 games, Monk averaged 6.6 PPG on 40.0% shooting (37.0% from three), 2.8 RPG and 1.2 APG over 16.4 MPG.

“He’s a work in progress,” said Head Coach James Borrego. “I think he made strides this season, I think he’s competing on both ends of the floor. He was a 33% three-point shooter this season. We need him to be closer to 40. I think he’s going to work on that this summer, work on his body some more. I want him to study the game more on a higher level. It’s a tough league. You have to be built to handle 82 games, especially [at] that position. It’s going to be a big summer for him as far as the weight room and changing his body.”

Monk finished the campaign with marks of 8.9 PPG on 38.7% shooting, 1.9 RPG and 1.6 APG in 17.2 MPG over 73 reserve appearances. Between his first and second NBA seasons, his offensive rating rose dramatically from 99.8 to 107.2, while his defensive rating improved from 111.2 to 110.4. He also shot 88.2% from the free-throw line on just 1.4 attempts per game, a number that should climb with more physicality added to his game.

Monk also benefited a bit from playing off the ball more, as opposed to his rookie year, when he rotated a substantial amount between the one and two-guard positions. He spent 90% of his on-court time at shooting guard this season, as opposed to just 41% in 2017-18 (59% at the point).

“I think the NBA is position-less now, so you have to know how to play at least two spots,” he said. “Last year, me playing point guard – I had been playing point guard my whole life. People really don’t know that because I was at Kentucky playing off the ball with [now Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron] Fox. This year was just like at Kentucky just off the ball running around. Learning how to get open and score from that perspective, too.”

At 6-3, Monk might never become a defensive stalwart, but he is certainly capable of becoming disruptive in that area. If his offense comes around more, he’ll also be easier to hide on the defensive end. Still, a lot of his immediate future will be determined by what kind of offseason unfolds for the 11th overall pick in 2017.

“Malik is still a developing young player and I thought he ended the season with great progress,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “Even in the games he didn’t score, he always brings energy, he always brings effort. He could be our best athlete, pound for pound. He’s got incredible skills, but he continues to have to work on his game.”

He added, “He’s got to get stronger. You know he’s got to be able to defend guys at his position. Sometimes at 6’3, he will have to guard a guy who is 6’4 or 6’5. He’s also going to be asked to guard the [Russell] Westbrooks and [Kyrie] Irvings of the league. If [Malik] wants to reach his potential in this league, he’s got to stay in the gym and he’s got to get in the weight room. Not just put on weight, but actually get stronger.”

“I think I learned a lot as a man and as a player [this season],” Monk added. “How to deal with the negativity and adversity because I was playing at some points and at some points, I wasn’t playing. Then I was playing, then I wasn’t playing. If you’ve never been through anything like that, it’s kind of hard to deal with.”

Monk is also aware that the potential departures of unrestricted free agents Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb would certainly give him increased responsibilities next season. However, it’s not something he’s fixated on at the moment.

“That’s always on my mind, but I just have to worry about myself,” he said. “I can’t worry about what other players are doing. If I do what I got to do, I think everything will work out. I can’t just say what I want now because it’s my third year. Whatever the coach wants me to do, whatever the team wants me to do, I’ll be comfortable doing.”

If Malik Monk does indeed worry about himself this summer and gets up his shots and strength, next season could be a breakout one for the highly-athletic, explosive young Charlotte Hornets shooting guard.

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