It’s taken a bit longer than expected, but Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk is finally living up to his potential. Over the last 10 games, the former Kentucky one-and-done has been playing the best basketball of his life.
And it took one of his worst individual stretches to reach that point.
Leading up to his current run, which includes double-digit scoring in nine out of 10 games and three outings with at least 20 points, Monk was struggling. He was benched on Jan. 15, when the Hornets fell to the Nuggets in Denver, losing by 14. In the three games before that, he had appeared in a total of 28 minutes.
Before the benching against Denver, Monk failed to hit double-figures in his last eight games. Through his first 42 games of the 2019-20 season, only 14 of those saw him hit at least 10 points. But something has changed in just under a month’s time.
Here are the stats from Monk’s last 10 games (Hornets are 3-7):
17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc (16-42) while playing exactly 28 minutes per game. Spread out across an entire season, they would easily be career-highs.
His first two-and-half seasons in the NBA didn’t go as planned. He struggled on a bad Hornets team coming out of Kentucky as the No. 11 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Many thought he’d line up perfectly next to Kemba Walker and finally supply Charlotte with the co-star they needed to turn the franchise around. Obviously, things didn’t work out that way; Walker rightfully skipped out for Boston and Charlotte was left to pick up the pieces. And while they added/developed some critical pieces this past offseason (rookie P.J. Washington, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier), it might be Monk’s play over the last few weeks that has been most impressive.
In a recent sitdown interview with Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, Monk talked about how he wasn’t anywhere near ready for the NBA, even though he went to the school specifically designed to mold young men into NBA players. As Kentucky fans have seen in just this past season with players such as Nick Richards (a project who paid off) and Khalil Whitney (a freshman who never gave UK a real shot), it can oftentimes take more than one season in Lexington to prepare an 18 or 19-year old kid for the challenge of the NBA.
“You’ve got to know what 25-year-olds know when you’re 19,” Monk said, according to Bonnell. “I went to Kentucky, and I still wasn’t ready for the NBA.”
Monk turned 22 years of age back on Feb. 4 and his maturity is clearly advancing as his game continues to develop. Charlotte might not be winning, but they’ve found a reason to cheer with Monk.
Shooting has always been the calling card for the Arkansas native. He was an elite sharpshooter during his one season as a Wildcat and was drafted off his ability to knock down tough shots combined with an uber-athletic body type. In a league ran by superstar wing players, Monk fit the mold out of college as a player that could potentially fill into a Bradley Beal kind of player. That hasn’t been the case thus far, however, there is plenty of time to fit the bill and Monk’s been taking his game to the next level.
But it’s not just his shooting that he’s elevated recently.
Monk’s passing numbers are at an all-time high. He’s become a fluid passer whether he’s attacking the rim or working in the pick-and-roll. While his turnover numbers have slightly kicked up as a result, Monk is making plays at a level he hadn’t in his first two seasons. His defense is even coming along, as well (in spurts, at least).
It seems like you can’t go a few days without Monk flying into a ‘SportsCenter Top 10’ clip. He had two ferocious dunks in one game not long ago and is always looking to make a fool out of some poor defender.
Malik Monk has springs in his shoes ? pic.twitter.com/1xOWaTFpwT
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 9, 2020
— Marco A. Munno (@MarcoAMunno) February 9, 2020
His biggest issue had been efficiency, but even that appears to be mended for the time being. Monk is shooting over 10 percent better from two-point range than he was a season ago. He’s not shying away from contact anymore, either, in fact, he’s embracing it; 38 percent of his shots now come at the rim compared to just 25 percent in 2018-19. He’s taking far-fewer mid-range jumpers and getting to the free-throw line at a considerably increased rate. Monk is driving to the rim nearly 12 times per game over his last 10 outings, according to NBA.com (that number was down to just 5.3 drives per game before this recent surge), generating points on over 65 percent of those possessions. He apparently gained over 20 pounds of muscle this offseason to help make battling at the rim a bit easier – and it’s paid off.
The Hornets exercised their team option on Monk for the final year of his contract. They did this back in October with the hope that they’d eventually see the version of Monk that has blessed League Pass viewers this past month. It wasn’t necessarily a risk at the time – considering Monk will be owed just $5.3 million on 2020-21 – and now it’s starting to look like a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, Charlotte is stuck in the NBA’s cellar. They currently sit 11th in the Eastern Conference standings with an 18-36 record. Despite an encouraging start to the year, they’ve quickly come back down to earth. In the first year post-Kemba, the Hornets are in the midst of a full-on rebuild. Another year in the lottery is likely coming, but the future is much brighter than it was just eight months ago.
If Monk keeps doing what he’s doing, we might still be in the early stages of his best basketball. Now he just needs to do it for another 10 games.