Way back in the summer of 2016, the crew at Ridiculous Upside examined a slew of incoming freshmen that were ready to take NCAA basketball by storm. While some of those players ended up sputtering out, other prospects actually ended up exceeding the high expectations that we put on them. Arguably the biggest example was seen with Markelle Fultz. Although we were extremely high on him prior to the start of the season, I don’t know if anybody really expected him to be the extremely likely #1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Another prospect that fit that description was incoming Kentucky guard Malik Monk.
In the build-up to the start of the season, Monk was looked at in the second tier of Kentucky prospects, as he was slated behind both Bam Adebay and De’Aaron Fox in a slew of preseason mock drafts. For example, Monk was placed 18th in DraftExpress’ October rankings, while Fox and Adebay were positioned 13th and 8th, respectively. Although everybody regard Monk as a versatile scorer with incredible range on his perimeter jumper, there were still clear concerns about his small 6’3 frame and lackluster decision-making skills.
Although Monk wasn’t technically able to hide those flaws at Kentucky, he still shined brighter than most people initially expected. That was probably due to how Monk seemed to force himself to be the team’s top scoring threat at the beginning of the season. During Kentucky’s non-conference schedule, the young guard just exploded as he was repeatedly putting up 20+ points per game. Unlike most young players that shine against lackluster competition, Monk’s best early-season performances actually came against some of the best teams in college basketball.
Some solid examples of this includes two 23-point game against Michigan State and Arizona State and a 24-point, 5 steal performance against Lonzo Ball and the UCLA Bruins. However, those three games paled in comparison to how Monk absolutely exploded during a December 17th matchup against the North Carolina Tar Heels. In Kentucky’s 103-100 victory, Monk put up a jaw-dropping 47 points on 18-28 from the field and 8-12 from beyond the arc. Monk’s 47 point outburst was the best scoring outburst from a Kentucky player since Jodie Meeks put up 54 points against Tennessee on January 13th, 2009.
Although Monk was unable to recapture that kind of jaw-dropping scoring magic for the remainder of the season, he stood as one of the best offensive weapons in college basketball. During Kentucky’s slate against SEC competition, Monk put up 21.2 points, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 44% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc on 6.7 perimeter attempts per game. Those shooting averages allowed Monk to maintain a 59% True Shooting Percentage
On a jam-packed team with a handful of future NBA players, Kentucky’s biggest weapon on the offensive end came from the perimeter shooting stroke of Monk That confidence was backed up by him shooting 42% from beyond the arc on 6.7 perimeter attempts per game against SEC competition. As apparent from those numbers, Monk stood as a dangerous perimeter threat whether he was working in catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble situations. Although he’s solid in both avenues, Monk probably did his best work through catch-and-shoot situations.
Even before he receives a pass from a fellow Wildcat, Monk seems to ready his body so he’s in the right position when he receives the pass. That preparation is evident in the clip below as Monk launches a beautiful perimeter jumper just a few milliseconds after receiving a pass from Derek Willis.
Another way that Monk shines as a shooter is when he’s working off-the-dribble. Although he’ll never conjure up comparisons to John Wall or Kyrie Irving, Monk can still utilize his handles to create the separation needed to launch up a perimeter or mid-range jumper. A prime example of Monk utilizing his handles is shown in the play below as he hits a smooth step-back jumper over NBA Draft prospect Justin Jackson.
Looking away from his expertise as a shooter, there really wasn’t another trait on the offensive end that Monk exhibited on a consistent basis. That probably had to do with how incredibly strict that Calipari has been, as he usually forces his players to stay within their lane without experimenting with other particular aspects of their games. For example, Jamal Murray and Devin Booker were basically perimeter-oriented players while Karl Anthony-Towns stuck inside the paint. Incredibly, that trio of players each exhibited a more versatile offensive skill-set once they landed in the NBA.
I think this could be the case for Monk as he showed rare flashes of being able to drive to the paint. After utilizing a quick first step, Monk is regularly able to motor his way towards the rim. Once he does that, he can either finish with a jaw-dropping dunk or acrobatic layup. A second example of that is seen in the play below as Monk finishes with a smooth up-and-under.
Those skills will have to be a bigger part of his offensive arsenal if he wants to have an immediate role with an NBA squad. That’s due to how Monk has never really been much a facilitator despite standing as a 6’4 guard. Monk’s status as a score-first player was evident by him only averaging 2.3 assists per game as a freshman. Although he definitely showed flashes of being a capable facilitator, he’ll probably be looked at as a score-first player for the rest of his career.
That score-first label won’t be a bad thing for Monk as he stands as arguably the best shooter in this year’s draft class. Whether you examine his solid shooting percentages or beautiful stroke, it’s clear that Monk is a huge threat whenever he has the ball in his hands.
Coinciding with that, Monk has potential of being a great on-ball cutter as he’s quick, displays solid handles and can finish at the rim with great dunks or layups. Those traits should push Malik Monk to be one of the first players called in next week’s NBA Draft.