Over the past three weeks, Malik Monk has quietly been one of the efficiently productive bench scorers in the entire NBA. The third-year guard has had similar hot stretches before in his professional career, but nothing to this extent. It seems like the light has turned on for Monk and only burning brighter and brighter with youth becoming a heavier focus for the Hornets organization moving forward.
“I really just had to grow up and think about what can help the team when Devonte’ or Terry aren’t scoring,” said Monk. “Miles can’t do everything, Cody can’t do everything, so somebody else has to step up. I’m coming off the bench and we need somebody to bring that energy. We need somebody with a lot of juice and I’ve really just put it in my mind that it’s going to be me. I really have to just come out and perform at a high level if we have any chance to win.”
What’s perhaps most encouraging this season has been Monk’s improved attentiveness to his off-the-court habits, areas that aren’t abnormal for younger players to overlook. Ultimately though, few NBAers are truly good enough to get by on just talent and athleticism alone.
“I wasn’t putting that much effort into the game,” he admitted. “Wasn’t watching film, all the little things, I wasn’t doing them. I wasn’t breaking down the other team’s defense as much as I needed to be. I wasn’t looking at all my shots as much as I needed to be. This year, I grew up and really just took responsibility for myself by doing those things.”
As for watching film specifically, he added, “You know where the defense is going to be at. You know where a better shot is going to be at. You know where your teammates are going to be. You’ll know how the defense moves, you’ll know how your teammates move, so it really all plays a part in just looking at the little things.”
After being benched for the team’s Jan. 15 outing in Denver, Monk responded by averaging 16.4 PPG on 47.4% shooting, 3.6 RPG and 2.3 APG in nine games since. Only five other NBA players are putting up more points off the bench during this time frame (mini. nine games) and on the season, Monk is converting an impressive 63.8% of his shots within five feet of the basket (58.9% combined his first two seasons).
Offensively, the only noticeable shortcoming Monk has right now is his three-point shooting, which stands at 27.9% on the season (although 37.1% during this aforementioned nine-game stretch). He’s averaging a career low in long-distance attempts though (3.5) and unlike his first two campaigns, has been much more aggressive attacking the rim (6.2 drives per game; 4.0 previous two years combined) and not settling for long, sometimes contested shots.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now,” said Head Coach James Borrego after Monk scored 17 points in a road win over Detroit on Monday evening. “He’s playing at a high level, attacking the rim, getting to the free-throw line, shooting his three with a lot more confidence, talking on the defensive end. There’s been a lot of growth from him. I’m really proud of him.”
Having just turned 22 years old last Tuesday, Monk is still relatively young by NBA standards. He’s only six months older than rookie forward PJ Washington and younger than teammates Devonte’ Graham, Dwayne Bacon, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels.
“I’ve been so impressed with Malik,” said former teammate Marvin Williams. “Everyone in the world knows he can score. It’s his growth on the defensive end, the way he goes about himself every day in the gym. He’s lifting weights, making sure he’s getting his shots, he’s watching film. It’s like night and day from when he first got here to now. You have to continue to get better all around. He’s a gifted athlete and a gifted scorer. If you get him the ball, he knows what to do with it, but to see how he works on the defensive end individually and collectively with the team’s schemes, he’s gotten so, so much better.”
After being named the AP SEC Player of the Year and a Second-Team All-American at the conclusion of his lone season at Kentucky, were initial expectations a bit too high for the 11th overall pick Monk coming into the league? Probably, yes. He didn’t have a set position coming out of college, was injured for his first Summer League and joined a team with imminent playoff aspirations. Progression and adaptability take time and not every player develops at the same rate, which in most cases, is perfectly alright.
“It’s what we signed up for,” Williams added, the second overall pick in 2005. “A lot of lottery picks go through it. I went through it. It’s just part of it. I think Malik understands that and everybody that gets drafted in the lottery understands that. At the end of the day, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Did we give it our all? Did we get better?’ I think Malik has done that and he’s definitely grown. With that being said, he just turned 22. His body will continue to mature, his game will get better. Malik’s going to be a hell-of-a-player, for sure.”
Monk is by no means a finished product. He’ll be the first to admit there’s still a long way to go in order to reach where he wants to be both individually and collectively from a team standpoint. But a huge step has been taken in terms of physical and mental growth and with the youth movement in full effect, Malik Monk will be counted on more than ever over the final two months of the season.