Kentucky fans came away from the SEC Tournament feeling optimistic about the team’s performance. Just about every key contributor seems to be playing his best basketball heading in to the NCAA Tournament. The one glaring exception is Malik Monk. Over his past four games, Monk has failed to reached his scoring average for the season (20.4 PPG), and he hasn’t been nearly as effective or efficient as a shooter as he was earlier in the year.
There probably isn’t a player on the roster who will have more to say about Kentucky’s chances of winning a title than Monk. The team will likely have to win at least one tournament game when he’s cold, but four to five vintage Malik Monk performances would considerably elevate Kentucky’s hopes of cutting down the nets.
Monk went for 20+ points in 18 games this season. You would expect Kentucky to need close to that level of scoring from him (if not more) to advance to Phoenix. So what did these 18 games have in common? I recently looked at these performances to see if there were any trends that developed. There are some common threads to be found, and what follows are a few benchmarks fans can keep an eye on to know whether or not Monk is “on.”
Shoot Better Than 40%
This was one of the clearer (and more obvious) trends in Monk’s production. In the 18 games in which he went for at least 20 points, he averaged 52% shooting from the field (he shot 48% for the season). In 15 of those 18 games he shot better than 40%. There have only been three times when Monk was able to score at least 20 while shooting under 40% (Tennessee – 2x and Vanderbilt). Recently, this has been one of Monk’s biggest struggles. He’s been under 40% from the field in six of his last nine games.
If Monk is an efficient scorer early in a game, it’s a really good sign for the Cats.
Hit at Least Four Threes
Monk did a lot of damage from deep this season. He ended the year with the fifth most made threes (95) in a season in Kentucky history (tied with Tony Delk). In 13 of the 18 games in which he scored 20+ points, he connected on at least four three pointers. This has been another struggle for Monk as of late. Over his past five games he hasn’t made more than two in any game. For Monk to look like the player he did earlier in the season he’ll have to start hitting from behind the arc again.
However, it’s not enough for Monk to make a lot of threes. He also needs to be shooting them at a high percentage. This leads to our next point.
Hit at Least 50% of His Threes
There isn’t another scorer in the country like Monk when he’s hot. In his biggest performances he not only hit a number of threes, but he was efficient in the process. Over the course of his 20+ point games this season he shot 52% from deep. He was at or above 50% in 12 of those 18 games.
In fact, three point percentage might be the best indicator of the kind of game Monk is having. In every game in which he scored fewer than 20 points, except for one (Florida on February 4), he shot 33% or worse from behind the arc. If Monk is missing three pointers early, it’s been a pretty consistent indicator that he won’t finish with a high point total.
Attempt 10+ Free Throws
(especially if he doesn’t hit four threes)
Lately, Monk has been able to crack 20+ points even when he hasn’t hit at least four threes. In his past two 20+ point performances (Vanderbilt and Alabama), he’s only connected on two three-pointers in each game. How has he kept his point total up? By attempting at least 10 free throws in those games.
In five of the last eight games in which Monk has gone for 20+ he’s attempted at least 10 free throws. There seems to have been a pretty deliberate change in Monk’s game toward the end of the season to attack the basket more. If he’s getting to the line, he has a chance to overcome poor shooting elsewhere.
Score At Least 10 Points in the First Half
This benchmark isn’t quite as definitive as the others, but it’s held true for much of the season. Monk has averaged 13 points per game in the first half when he finishes with 20 or more. In 10 of his last 13 20+ point performances, he’s scored more points in the first half than in the second. Some of this is because the Cats got a big lead and he was able to rest, but most of the time Monk’s big performances have coincided with an ability to get things going early.
None of these are hard and fast rules, but they’re trends to keep an eye on. There is plenty of talent on this team to get to the Final Four. However, an effective and efficient Malik Monk increases those chances exponentially. If Monk hits these benchmarks early in the tournament, it could be a good sign for the prospects of hanging number nine.