Kentucky fans have been blessed to consistently see elite athletes in Lexington during John Calipari’s tutelage. So blessed, for some it’s difficult to appreciate the awesomeness as it happens.
John Wall brought celebrity. Anthony Davis brought home hardware as the National Player of the Year, National Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. Tyler Ulis and Willie Cauley-Stein were consensus All-Americans. Last year Jamal Murray shattered the freshman scoring record and single-season three-point record. This year, Malik Monk’s on pace to break both records.
Malik Monk is doing things rarely seen at Kentucky, in fact, things rarely seen in college basketball, as noted by Vice Sports.
Over the last decade-plus of draft prospects–hundreds and hundreds of players–the Kentucky shooting guard stands out as genuinely unique. He’s a volcanic offensive force, seemingly put on this Earth to get buckets, a 6-foot-3 scorer averaging 22.4 points per game on a 63 percent true-shooting percentage, one of five high-major guards to put up such numbers in the last 25 years of college hoops.
And stats don’t tell the whole story. I’ve watched a lot of college basketball, and I’ve never seen a player so prone to preposterous, NBA Jam-style he’s-on-fire shooting stretches. For example, in Tuesday night’s Kentucky win over Georgia, he scored 31 points … in the second half (and overtime):
What makes Monk’s play even more impressive? He’s usually at his best against the best.
- Michigan State: 23 points, 7/11 3FG
- UCLA: 24 points, 4/8 3FG
- North Carolina: 47 points, 8/12 3FG
- South Carolina: 27 points, 4/7 3FG
Monk has the best catch-and-shoot and the off-the-dribble jumper numbers of anyone on the list. Absurdly, Monk has been better according to Synergy when guarded in catch-and-shoot situations than unguarded, hitting at a 1.53 point-per-shot clip guarded versus 1.15 pps unguarded. That 1.53 pps guarded shot clip is the second-best among high-major players who have taken a similar volume of shots in just over a decade.
There have been comparable scorers in college basketball who have gone on to have successful NBA careers, but Monk gets his points differently, at a smaller size. Vice doesn’t know how NBA front offices will evaluate Monk because he’s so much different than a Steph Curry or a Damian Lillard. The difference? Monk hasn’t proved he can pass or defend.
If Monk had other NBA-level skills that seemed likely to translate beyond “pure bucket getter,” none of this would be an issue. There are plenty of league players who bring value even when their shots waver. But when you’re an undersized two guard who doesn’t get to the rim, doesn’t create for others, and doesn’t defend? You better be able to put the ball in the basket.
For better or worse, Monk is an elite unique scorer with just a over a dozen games left for Kentucky fans to appreciate. If all goes well, we’ll get a few extra in the NCAA Tournament before NBA front offices are faced with a difficult decision.