Since 2009, there arguably hasn’t been a better recruiter in college basketball than Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Since his arrival in Lexington, Calipari brought in a plethora of five-star prospects that would later wind up as elite NBA talent. That list of players include: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.
That crop of elite Kentucky alumni will look to grow as we head into the 2016-17 season. Yet again, the Wildcats have arguably the best recruiting class in college basketball, that features a handful of five-star recruits (De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones). Yesterday, we started to dig into that talented group by looking at 6’10 freshman big Bam Adebayo.
As Adebayo and to a lesser extent De’Aaron Fox stand tall as the best of the talented bunch, there’s one Kentucky freshman that has arguably been overlooked: Malik Monk. Despite ending his high school career as a top-10 prospect from both ESPN and 247sports, Monk stood as a third Musketeer behind Fox and Adebayo.
That status is in no way a discredit to Monk’s overall performance in high school. To the contrary, Monk ended his high school career by averaging 28.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Those stats led to him being named as the 2016 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year, an award that was previously won by current NBA players Bobby Portis and Archie Goodwin.
When you first watch Monk play, you witness a player that seems like he’s bound to join Portis or Goodwin in the NBA. Monk instantly jumps off the screen with a mix of aggression and phenomenal athleticism. In a way, those tools make Monk out to be the guard version of Adebayo. Because like Adebayo, is more than willing to use his athleticism to go all out for the big offensive rebound or drive to the rim for a dunk. An example of Monk using his athleticism to put in the huge putback slam.
Looking away from those monster putbacks, Monk is a standout offensive rebounder for a 6’4 guard. Monk does a fantastic job of maneuvering his way inside the paint, and finding an area where he can get in position. After that, he works hard on box outs and then uses his quick hops to get up and snag the ball.
When Monk isn’t slithering his way towards the paint to grab an offensive rebound, he’s using quickness and athleticism to be an effective on and off-ball cutter. Over the course of his high school career, Monk continued to make some significant strides as a ball-handler to the point where he can break down an opponent and drive to the rim.
Although he’s not quite at the level of a prospect like Dennis Smith, Monk has shown an ability to drive to either the left or right side of the rim. Once he lands in the paint, Monk looks pretty comfortable working around the rim as he uses his solid 185 frame to finish around contact. As you can see in the play below, Monk isn’t deterred by the terrific defense from the opposing guard as he drives right to the paint for the hard-fought layup.
Monk’s work as a ball-handler is also prevalent in his work as a facilitator. Working primarily on the perimeter as a pick-and-roll player, Monk looks confident in his ability to move around the screen and find the right teammate to dish it to. He’s also comfortable as a drive-and-dish guard, as Monk definitely knows how to make precise passes while on the move. That drive-and-dish nature is seen on the play below, as Monk makes the dangerous but yet precise pass to the big that’s sitting right under the basket.
While Monk is definitely capable of making the necessary play as a facilitator, he does have some moments where he looks like your typical 18 year old guard. What I mean by that is how Monk seems to love to try to make the huge highlight-reel assist when he’s facilitating. Although that can definitely work out (see the above play), there’s also times where his pass either is too hard for the teammate to catch or it just sails over everybody’s head. Again, this flaw might go away as he matures as a player but it’s a definite thing to keep an eye on as he heads to Kentucky.
Another area of Monk’s game that will be under examination at Kentucky is his perimeter shooting. Like any other skill, Monk shows absolutely no fear as a perimeter shooter as he’s been known to launch shots that would make Stephen Curry blush. Some of those jumpers are definitely warranted as Monk seems to have unlimited range as a shooter. Monk has a pretty solid shooting stroke with a high release point.
However, like his facilitating, there are times where Monk can become a little too careless with his jumper. That issue is exemplified in the play below, where Monk has a shoot-first mindset from the moment he crosses half-court. Following that, Monk moves towards the right corner, that’s guarded by two opposing players, and launches the ill-timed perimeter jumper.
Those decision-making problems will needed to be fixed as Monk heads into his freshman season at Kentucky as John Calipari is not afraid to bench players no matter how they were ranked in high school. If he’s able to help mend those clear concerns, Monk can stake his claim as arguably the best combo guard in college basketball.
That combo guard label will definitely stick with Monk through his time with Kentucky and whenever he decides to go into the NBA. Standing 6’4, 185 with a 6’7 wingspan, Monk stands as a player that might be a little too undersized to play shooting guard at the NBA level. However, he’s going to spend a lot of time at that position in Kentucky, as De’Aaron Fox is basically guaranteed to handle the point guard role for the team.
Perhaps that’s another reason as to why Malik Monk needs to fix some of those decision-making issues that he showed at Bentonville. If he’s able to establish himself as a dependable guard that consistently makes good decisions, then his insane athleticism and solid outside touch will be on full display when NBA scouts examine his game next spring. And if that does happen, then don’t be surprised if you hear Monk’s name called early in the 2017 NBA Draft.