Those two words are the best best way to describe Malik Monk’s game. The freshman phenom from Lepanto, Arkansas has never disappointed. Kentucky has seen many great scorers, but Malik Monk gets hotter than characters on NBA Jam, achieving unprecedented awesomeness in Las Vegas against North Carolina by dropping 47 clutch points for the win.
A steamrolling locomotive who’s never seen a bad shot, Monk gets his. In high school, he never stopped shooting. John Calipari said he’d get tired watching him shoot so many shots. “How is he raising his arm again?”
They aren’t always falling, but they eventually will, just ask Florida (30 points after halftime), Georgia (31 after halftime) and South Carolina (30 after half).
Sometimes Monk takes bad shots, until they go in. The King of “No, No, No! YES!” shots, he might be a better shooter with a hand in his face than left wide open. To enjoy his greatness, you must learn to trust that Monk will be fine. Just give him some time and the once-in-a-generation scorer will eventually figure it out. In the meantime, he’ll throw in a few gym-clearing, SportsCenter Top Play dunks.
Until he got to the last game of the season.
For the first time in his Kentucky career, he didn’t reach double figures. After scoring just six points at Texas A&M, he only scored two points in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Since the Texas A&M game, he’s hit just 5-of-26 threes (19%).
Many described it as a slump. Monk took question after question after question after question after question after question after question after question after from reporters about his shooting slump, but stayed the course.
He failed to hit a three-pointer against NKU, but I was not worried. “Shooter’s shoot,” and Monk continued to look like Malik Monk, his shots just weren’t falling.
Then, he didn’t look like Malik Monk.
WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS THAT?!?!?!?!!
Monk had a two-step advantage on Shamet and two other Shockers. This is the part where we hold our breath, anticipating the death of an opponent with a poster that would make Michael Jordan proud. Even if Shamet’s life didn’t end with a dunk, Monk’s high-flying acrobatics guaranteed an amazing, finesse finish.
We didn’t see either. We saw Malik Monk hesitate. The dude best defined as a “dog” hesitated. Instead of fight, we saw flight, and a missed layup.
It got worse.
Two possessions later, Monk got the ball in a much more comfortable position: off a staggered screen with an incoming ball screen from Derek Willis. The pop from Willis for a three would ensure a wide open lane, best described as “playtime” for the prolific scorer.
He hesitated, again.
Drawing Bam Adebayo’s defender, instead of taking and making a soft floater down the middle of the lane or dunking on his face, Monk opted for the floating lob to Bam, a pass Adebayo confused for a shot.
For the first all season, this question was valid: “What is wrong with Malik Monk?”
Malik Monk doesn’t hesitate. He goes 100 percent. Like a bull in a china shop, Monk’s eye are always on his favorite prize: buckets. But that didn’t happen at the start of the Wichita State game.
Malik Monk didn’t look like Malik Monk.
The game against Wichita State quickly turned into a knock-down, drag-em-out, defensive struggle. With refs opting not to use their whistle against contact inside, at one point in the first half six minutes past before a whistle was blown and subs could enter the game.
The conditions for Monk to work out of his funk were not ideal. Still, Malik Monk found a way to be Malik Monk, but differently than Kentucky fans had ever seen him.
The second half grind gave neither team a decisive offensive advantage. With his shot still not falling, Monk used his skills elsewhere. A block, a defensive rebound, an assist, then another. Finally, Monk found a way to make a shot: at the free throw line. The two made free throws with just under six minutes to play were just what he needed.
The Cats looked like they might fall apart. After building a significant lead, De’Aaron Fox fouled Shamet on a three-pointer. The mistake shook the momentum the Shockers’ way, now trailing by just two with 2:30 minutes to play.
Malik Monk proved he’s still a killer.
Monk didn’t need any space. He didn’t need to hit a bunch of shots. He just needed to hit one. He was not finished.
The Shockers were not fazed, immediately answering with a three of their own. Fox responded with a ferocious dunk. The game was turning into a back-and-forth offensive battle…or so we thought.
After Monk’s jumper rattled around the rim, Wichita State needed a bucket to take the lead. Monk couldn’t do enough, we thought, until he iced the game.
Monk followed the incredible blocked shot by nailing two clutch free throws, the final points of the game. The volume scorer helped get the win not be scoring, but with assists and defense, as noted by Tom Leach on the radio broadcast after Monk’s block.
“Those two things you mentioned might pull him out of the slump he’s in,” Mike Pratt said.
Even if it doesn’t, we saw Monk transform into a complete player against Wichita State. His shot wasn’t falling, but it didn’t keep him out of the game. De’Aaron Fox got layups by driving at Monk. He made defensive stops and eliminated second chance opportunities. He made Kentucky better without scoring 20 points.
They say the Cats can’t keep winning without 20 points a game from Monk, but I think the Cats can keep winning with this version of Malik Monk.