By Mike O’Connor
Kentucky Freshman Malik Monk is the biggest outlier in the top prospects of tonight’s NBA draft. In a draft that contains several prospects in the top 10 hinging their careers on the development of one missing skill, Monk is vastly different. Monk stands out as a prospect whose career arc figures to be dictated by the strength of one already finely-tuned skill: his shooting.
The two questions that face Monk’s offense are: just how good of an NBA shooter will he be, and what other ways can he contribute to an offense?
So let’s try to project how his overall offense translates, find out where he’ll improve and show one area he didn’t get to showcase at Kentucky that could be the best part of his NBA game.
In contextualizing Monk’s pure shooting form and elite stats, it becomes clear that he has a strong chance to be the best shooter to come out of the draft in years. Both his technique and the value of his type of shooting will translate as well as any prospect in recent memory.
In looking at his form, it’s downright gorgeous. Energy flows succinctly from his feet up. Elbow in, sway, goose neck finish.
One of the best aspects of Monk’s form is how replicable it is. He maintains the same flow, balance and finish regardless of distance, or shooting on the move versus standing still.
His footwork and balance are impeccable. Here, after skittering around the court, he quickly finds his balance off the dribble.
In a similar play here, notice that there’s not one ounce of his weight still going in the direction he dribbled.
— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) May 31, 2017
But these stats don’t fully exemplify Monk’s shooting performance, and can’t encapsulate the value that his type of shooting brings to an offense. Monk ranked in the 87th percentile in “contested” threes, and 41st in “open” threes. Both of these bode well for his future. In all likelihood, his percentage on “open” threes will improve. But the more encouraging aspect is his remarkable efficiency on contested threes. Hands simply do not phase him.
And this ability is what will separate Monk from the average shooter, or even other high percentage shooters. The space he provides is a hint greater because of how difficult it is to contest his shot. Late contests are so trivial to Monk that the decision to help off is that much more risky.
His level of lift is elite. He has a 42-inch vertical leap and rises up quickly. This allows him to shoot with almost anyone in his face.
Between how quickly he can decide to go into his shot, and how good he is when contested, defenses must stretch to their limits to defend against the possibility of a Monk shot.
Lastly, the combination of his shot and his bouncy athleticism makes him a great sneaky lob threat. This will help to deter teams from over-playing or face-guarding Monk off the ball.
But we all knew Monk can stretch the floor. The question with him has always been, can he do enough of the other things in an NBA offense to warrant a top five or top 10 pick?
Let’s look at his creating potential, starting with spot up situations. With Monk, it’s all about getting to his spots quickly. Here, he beats everyone to his spot, then displays perfect footwork and balance to get into his shot.
He is a natural born scorer with great touch, even on weirdly angled floaters. He shot 44 percent on floaters this season. Squint here and you can see Lou Williams.
He excels at creating without the need for a set play. He gets to his spots regardless and finds gaps in the defense. How many players in this draft can you say that about?
He’s got all the tricks. Check out this oh-so-subtle chicken wing to get Graham’s hand out of the way:
He excels at these little off-timed layups to avoid confrontation with shot-blockers:
He also does a great job of using the threat of these shots to set up passes to big men:
But that’s a double edged sword. He’ll never be an elite or high volume creator off the dribble if he can’t confront the shot blockers. A lot of his failed drives look like this — leaving his feet among the trees with no real plan.
He hates contact. He needs to put on muscle and to not be so jump-happy. NBA coaches should train him to stay lower, longer. He’s got broad shoulders and an explosive burst, which he should use to carve out space down low. On baseline drives and rip-throughs, which he’ll have plenty of, he has to get the inside angle and explode up to finish.
Should he tighten his handle and put on some muscle, Monk’s off the dribble attack is a major part of what will make him an elite role player one day.
Now, onto the one thing that will truly determine Monk’s career arc: the pick and roll. This is what will truly determine if Monk will be a good role player or a borderline star. Isolations and spot-ups made up 45 percent of Monk’s offense at UK. Ideally, pick and rolls should eat into some of that. Since Monk was surrounded by two other point guards, pick and rolls made up only 10 percent of his offense at Kentucky.
Monk’s limited handle and problems dealing with physical interior and perimeter defense tell me it may be a while…
But the optics of the pick and roll are changing. It’s not so much about being a decisive maestro anymore as it is having the skills to be a threat for as many possible scoring avenues for the defense. For more on that, Kevin Pelton of ESPN wrote a tremendous article on the pick and roll:
— Mike O'Connor (@MOConnor_NBA) May 31, 2017
And this is where Monk could earn his salary. His pick and roll reps were so few that it wasn’t evident what he can do. But I project him as elite in this area. In Monk, we have a guy with razor sharp footwork, the ability to shoot with a contest, and find balance on the move with 10 percent of his offense in the pick and roll. That sounds like a hidden gem to me. You think this’ll translate to the NBA?
Look at this precise footwork to establish balance after coming around the screen.
Not a pick and roll here, but just imagine the torture of trying to recover on a screen to get a good enough contest.
He’s so good on the pull-up going either direction. He uses a leg sway to find balance. Can Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, or Dennis Smith Jr. do this?
A nifty added bonus for his pick and roll play: he’s a tremendous lob passer. With teams having to blitz and hedge hard with the threat of his shot, this will be a valuable asset of his pick and roll play.
While he’s a fairly average passer overall, he shows a lot of promise on these lobs:
That’s been well documented, and as a disclaimer, this gets him into trouble sometimes. He often struggles to recognize the weak side help. He also has a tendency to over-rely on it at times. Transition play here, but this needs to be a bounce pass.
To summarize, four things I believe about Monk’s offense:
- Monk’s form and stats suggest to me that he will be one of the best shooters to enter the NBA in years.
- He desperately needs to add weight and diversify his handle. He will become extremely one-dimensional and limit his potential if not.
- I absolutely love Monk as a pick and roll threat, with the slightest physical and cognitive improvement in those areas. He can be a very unique weapon.
- Of all the teams in the top eight, Monk’s skillset fits best on the Sixers. Monk can play a pseudo-point guard role next to Ben Simmons, and can cater perfectly to his strengths in the Sixers’ offense: off-ball scurrying, stretching the floor, some pick and roll duties.
Whichever team ends up with Monk tonight is getting a very uniquely talented prospect.
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