The Charlotte Hornets season has not exactly gone as planned. A team once poised to make a serious run for the playoffs and possibly their best season in franchise history, now sits six full games out of the postseason picture. There was legitimate reason to be excited about the Hornets. They have Kemba Walker, still not in his prime and posting crazy numbers on a nightly basis. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nic Batum were the reliable, veteran wing players. Dwight Howard, while still a questionable locker room guy, has proven that he still has plenty to offer (did you see he posted 32 points and 30 rebounds the other night?). Jeremy Lamb finally had his breakout season and they drafted two important rookie pieces for their future. Dwayne Bacon out of Florida State was selected 40th overall and their prize draft pick of number 11 overall was used to select none other than Kentucky’s own Malik Monk.
The hope for Monk was that he could come in and immediately contribute on the offensive end with the speed and impressiveness that he did at Kentucky. Monk is one of the best shooters Kentucky has ever had under John Calipari and no one could put up points with the swiftness that Monk could (except maybe Jamal Murray). Unfortunately, Monk came into the NBA still incredibly raw.
He began the season the same way most lottery picks do, showing signs of brilliance mixed with just as many mistakes. But after so many games, say 20 or so, there becomes two paths that high profile draft picks takes. Either they explode and continue to display their brilliance such as Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, or Lauri Markkanen. Or, they quickly regress and become a project like Monk or Jonathan Issac or Zach Collins, but that isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. The odds of a 19-year old, fresh out of one season in college, making immediate and necessary impacts in the NBA is slim. Very slim. Monk has shown that he’s going to be a project for Charlotte, but one that could be worth it.
Monk’s first 12 games in the NBA were arguably his most successful. He averaged over 21 minutes per game, scoring 9.6 points while shooting 34.1 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from three. The percentages weren’t ideal, but the talent and reasoning for using a lottery pick on him were more than visible. A 25-point game against Milwaukee and a 21-point game less than a week later against New York made it very clear that he has the shooting stroke to make it in an NBA world built on outside shooting. Following the Hornets’ 12th game of the season on Nov. 10, a loss to the Boston Celtics, Monk would only register 20 minutes or more in one game until March. With no minutes coming his way, there were no more opportunities to showcase his talent.
It didn’t take long for the Hornets to fumble their season away. After starting off 8-9, they found themselves sitting at 11-21 exactly one month later. By the time All-Star weekend rolled around, the Hornets playoffs hopes were all but dead. Injuries plagued them early, but it soon became clear that the only way Charlotte could succeed on the basketball court was when Kemba Walker was doing everything for them. This season, the Hornets have a net rating of minus-10.0 when Walker is off the court compared to a plus-3.8 when he’s on the court. If Walker isn’t scoring at least 40 points, it feels like Charlotte has no chance.
With the season already folded and the Hornets essentially vying for draft lottery positioning, it would have made sense to give players such as Monk, Bacon, or even Treveon Graham and Willy Hernangomez (who was acquired at the trade deadline), all the minutes their hearts could desire. But that’s not exactly what happened. It wasn’t until the last day of February that Monk finally found himself back in the rotation. In that game – against the Boston Celtics – Monk played 18 minutes, shooting 1-7 from the field for three points. His minutes after that game only continued because of an injury to backup point guard, Michael Carter-Williams.
There was a 50-game gap between Monk’s promising start and the next time he would see consistent minutes. If teams are trying to develop young talent, that is the opposite way of how to do it. The best way for young players to turn into real NBA players is by playing, playing, and playing some more (I know, shocking right?). In a season already decided, the Hornets should have given Monk more run, and his play is going to unfairly recieve criticism because of it. Want to know just how eager Monk was to get on the court? In his one G League game this season (Dec. 26) that he played in, he shot TWENTY-ONE threes in 41 minutes, making seven of them.
Over the course of the Hornets last 12 games, Monk has played in 10 of them, averaging 16.3 minutes per game, a huge spike from the 7.4 minutes per game he was playing from Nov. 15 to Feb. 27. Admittedly, Monk’s numbers in these 10 games have hardly been encouraging. Averaging 7.3 points on a dreadful 30.2 percent from the field and an even worse 26.1 percent from three, he’s left much to be desired. The important aspect is that he’s still shooting. For Monk to make it in this league, he has to be a knockdown shooter. That was his calling card before he was drafted and it’s the most important area of professional basketball in this era. In those 10 games, he shot at least three three-pointers in all but one game, including 12 three-point attempts on March 17. At this point, Monk is just trying to find some sort of rhythm that he can ride into the offseason and next season.
He takes a lot of ill-advised shots, but, as ridiculous as it might sound, he needs to (maybe less contested stepback jumpers, but the point still stands). The more he gains a feel for the game, the more he’ll learn how to read defenses, manipulate pick-and-rolls (which is where he can really thrive), and find the most efficient way to get to his sweet spots.
But just as Monk was starting to feel comfortable within the offense, he bruised his shooting hand during the Hornets 61-point blowout (yes, you read that right, the Hornets beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night by 61 points because no one even dares to tank as hard as Memphis). It’s currently uncertain if Monk will return for the Hornets game in Dallas on Saturday, but the sooner he gets back the better. Even with less than 10 games left in the regular season, every minute counts for Monk. Through all the growing pains, and there will be plenty of growing pains, Monk will ultimately survive if/when the Hornets give him a real shot. It just looks like he’s going to have to at least wait for that moment until next season.