The Case for Point Guard Malik Monk

The-Case-For-Malik-Monk-Point-Guard
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Real talk: Malik Monk was horrendous through his first seven pro games. Outside of his 17 point effort versus the Nuggets (with former coach John Calipari in the building) there was little to be excited about.

Monk shot 20 for 68 from the field (29%) through this stretch – not good considering that shooting was supposedly his one surefire NBA skill heading into the Draft. His defense was awful (so bad that I caught Jeremy freaking Lamb shaking his head when Malik lost his man for the gazzilionth time). Worst of all, Monk was a turnover machine, averaging nearly 2 TOs per game in just over 20 minutes per.

Not all of this was the rookie’s fault. Injuries to both Hornet backup PGs (Michael Carter-Williams & Julyan Stone) forced Monk into a lead ball handler role he wasn’t ready for in the NCAA much less the pros.

Yet some of these problems are (and will continue to be) endemic to the type player Monk is. His handle at the moment is loose and when a defender locks in, Monk resorts to a nervous head down dribble in the full court. Given his size, strength and ability, Monk is essentially fated to guard ones and micro-twos so playing him next to Kemba for long stretches will be difficult against good teams. If and when Malik goes through his physical “mansformation”, this could change but that won’t be for several seasons.

No one’s been more critical of Rich Cho’s decision to draft Monk over a ready-made defensive beast who can shoot (Donovan Mitchell) than me – and through Malik’s first seven contests I was terrified that Charlotte’s front office had done what they do best again: Nail trades (Dwight Howard) and blow the Draft (Monk).

Malik’s effort Wednesday night against Milwaukee lowered my stress levels by half. Aside from the ridiculous 4th quarter explosion (18 points in a blink of an eye – we knew he was capable of that pre-Draft), what warmed my teal and purple soul was Monk’s carefulness as a ball handler and how he was able to play within his niche.

So much of Malik’s struggles early on were due to his insistence on trying to do everything on offense. Against the Bucks he focused on catch & shoot opportunities and jump shots off screens – which perfectly setup two impressive dribble drives midway thought the 4th. He was beautifully efficient. Much credit to both Malik and the coaching staff for figuring this out so early in the season.

The Off Court Benefits of Monk at Point Guard

Cho and Steve Clifford have more than just on-court reasons for accelerating Monk’s ability to play point. For the reasons stated above, if Malik is going to reach his apex as an NBA player – and for the team to succeed while he does so – Monk is going to have to play a lot of his minutes at the one.

When (if?) this apex is achieved, the trickle-down benefits carry enormous ramifications. For one, Charlotte can finally end its yearly bargain-bin search for a primary backup to Kemba Walker and instead invest those meager funds in a quality third string player should either Monk or Walker miss time.

Malik’s rookie deal keeps him cheap until the 2020-2021 season, timing perfectly with Nic Batum’s near max deal. The only reason to pay a player like Nic that kind of money is to team him with a lead guard who’d rather play like a primary scorer. That’s obviously true now with Kemba in his prime and could continue as Malik approaches his.

Once Batum returns this season, I expect him to play quite a lot with the 2nd unit (as he did last year), especially now that Lamb has proven to be such a great fit with the starters. An early rest for Nic would see him playing most of the 2nd quarter with Monk at nominal point, creating more efficient scoring opportunities for the rook.

Perhaps most importantly, an effective Monk at PG can cut Kemba’s minutes down to the low thirties. Walker has had two knee surgeries in as many summers and the big minutes slowed him down late last season. With unrestricted free agency (and a massive contract) looming just 18 months from now, the less wear and tear on the 27 year old star, the better.

Future Concerns

Speaking of that next contract (and yes, I know it’s nearly two seasons away), it’s important to remember that Walker will be 29 when he signs it and potentially coming off of three straight All-Star appearances.

What happens if the Knicks decide to break the bank in order to bring the Bronx native home at the full max? Do the Hornets really want to be on the hook for that kind of contract? Is a 33 year old Walker at around $30 million per season a wise move?

What if Kemba has yet another knee procedure? How does his game age? No one wants to think about this now that he’s balling out (including me) but rest assured, these questions are being contemplated by the Hornets front office.

And if they look into deep recesses of Rich Cho’s database, they may see a scenario in which Monk is not only Kemba’s short term backup at PG but his longterm replacement should things go awry.

In that case, it’s very important for Monk to not only improve as a pro but to improve at a position few expected him to ever play.

–ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Attitude Era | Thoughts on Malik Monk and the 2017 Draft

Malik Monk | Hornets Attitude Era
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WWE broadcast legend Jim Ross, AKA The Greatest Announcer of All-Time, had a wonderful way of describing former tag team champs The Hardy Boyz.

“Matt is the steak, Jeff is the sizzle.”

In just eight words, Ross was able to articulate the very essence of what makes something both of high quality and desirable.

The “steak” in Ross-speak refers to the fundamentals, the solid foundation on which anything worthwhile is crafted. The steak is consistent, dependable and organized. It is necessary, appreciated and well-regarded by the rational mind.

The “sizzle”, conversely, is the stuff that glimmers, the eye-catching, the holy sh*t I can’t believe what I just saw moments that inspire jaws to drop and motivates butts out of seats. It bypasses all intellect and goes straight to the most basic part of our brains. It is electric.

Time for Excitement

Prior to Thursday night, the Hornets were Matt Hardy. Proudly so, I would add. After nearly a decade of being neither steak nor sizzle, Charlotte had worked hard to finally build a foundation of fundamental competence.

Now, nearly five seasons into the Steve Clifford era, it was finally time to add a little bit of OHMYGAWD.

Expect the Unexpected

The moment Commissioner Silver called his name, Malik Monk instantly became the Hornets’ most explosive athlete. All due respect to Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard – veteran power dunkers who can still surprise with the occasional poster jam – but up until Monk, Charlotte had no one else on the roster who could rise and throw down.

Thirty-six feet from the basket? Two defenders on him? Malik will levitate and shoot over you.

Opposing defense locked in, no good look in sight? Malik will take and make those “no-no-no-YES!buckets that can charge a crowd and demoralize the opponent.

No Risk No Reward

In my Offseason Preview, I highlighted the fact that the Hornets’ current regime has played it safe in the Draft over the past six or seven years – opting for solid singles and doubles over homerun swings.

That all changed Thursday night. With two high-floor, rotation ready guys staring them in the face (Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard), Charlotte bucked the trend and went with a small-ish two guard with a streaky shot and major questions on defense.

Monk’s slight frame and below average length demand that he be matched up defensively against opposing point guards exclusively. And given that the team’s best player, (Kemba) can’t guard wings either – expect the duo to play VERY LIMITED minutes together initially.

In fact, Monk’s size limitations at SG will dictate who Charlotte targets as their backup point guard in either free agency or via the trade market. Ideally, Monk’s backcourt partner would have the following qualities:

  • Size and strength to guard SGs
  • Lead Guard Skills
  • Spot Up Shooting Ability

If you’re scratching your head trying to think of players who have all of these qualities (and are available), don’t worry – you’re not alone. There’s simply not many backup point guards who fit that description around.

They Got 0-9 Reasons

Even with the complications Monk adds to the team’s roster configuration – it’s still easy to understand why the team drafted him.

As I mentioned in our Offseason Preview, the Hornets were 0-9 in games decided by three points or less last season and lost all six of their overtime games. How many fourth quarter leads were blown simply due to Kemba resting and/or being gassed? How many winnable games were given away simply because Walker dared to have an off night?

If Monk’s collegiate ability to get buckets translates, he instantly upgrades Charlotte’s ability to stay in and close games that they’d become expert at giving away.
Oh, and he may just add a little excitement while doing it.

Baseline Bites

  • Whoever the Hornets sign as their backup point guard is bound to play big minutes. Clifford LOVES playing Kemba alongside a big lead guard (see Lin, Jeremy) and no doubt the team craves insurance if (when?) Walker misses any time. Once you factor in those minutes at both guard spots, Monk’s 20 or so per night and MKG/Nic’s split time at SF, there’s only around 8-10 minutes per night remaining for another rotation wing. Jeremy Lamb ain’t gonna be too happy about that. Add in the fact that the team’s 2nd Round pick, Dwayne Bacon, plays a style that’s very similar to Lamb and it doesn’t take a hoops Nostradamus to foresee a potential JLamb trade sooner than later.
  • Did Sacramento win the Draft or lose it? I can’t decide. While De’Arron Fox is a fine character prospect with upside, I’m worried about a lead guard who can’t shoot. Justin Jackson is a 22 and a half year old meh wing who weighs less than one of Ike Anigbogu’s legs. Harry Giles may never fully rebound from his dual ACL surgeries. As uncharacteristically responsible as the Kings were on Thursday, they may have been better off just standing pat and taking Monk at 10. Their loss, our gain.
  • Who was a bigger Draft winner than NC State’s Dennis Smith? Smith seemed destined to be a classic big stats/bad team guy. Y’know, the kind of player who goes to Orlando or New York to average 18ppg for the first six or seven years of his career only to disappear from the league by the time he was 30. Not so anymore. With Rick Carlisle at the helm, responsible vets around him and solid ownership in Dallas, Smith will have every chance to max out this talents.
  • Will Charlotte ever just keep a 2nd Round pick instead of either siphoning off cash in a trade down or outright selling? I get that Bob Johnson’s mismanagement (and stupid TV deal) leaked cash for years but good lord – even freaking Memphis moved into the Draft. If one of those guys taken from 31-39 pop (Ojeleye, Rabb, Bell, Bolden, etc), MJ will only have himself to blame.

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz


 

POLL : Best Offseason Addition for Hornets

  • Dwight Howard (25%, 8 Votes)
  • Malik Monk (50%, 16 Votes)
  • Dwayne Bacon (22%, 7 Votes)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 32

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