The Los Angeles Lakers opened preseason on Sunday and the story of the game from their perspective was Malik Monk.
The 23-year-old shooting guard impressed in his first action for the purple and gold, scoring 15 points in about 21 minutes. The former Hornet hit three 3-pointers in six attempts and added some pleasantly surprising defense to make his case for a starting position once the regular season starts.
While Monk’s performance may have been a minor surprise to fans watching the game, it wasn’t news for his Lakers teammates and coaches who have raved about him during the first week of training camp.
In fact, Anthony Davis maintained after the game that the real surprise was that the Lakers were able to sign Monk this summer:
AD on Malik Monk, who led LA w/ 15 points: “We’re still surprised we got him, to be honest. Helluva player.”
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 3, 2021
Monk certainly showed that on Sunday, scoring in a variety of ways and leaving fans wondering if they got a steal with the shooting guard at the low cost he arrived at.
With the offseason now over, however, the focus is on what Monk can contribute on the court for a title contender, something he has not had the opportunity to show in his young career. The former Kentucky Wildcat made his case to be the starter for a contested position but head coach Frank Vogel continued to keep his cards close to his chest (h/t Jacob Rude of Silver Screen and Roll):
“Those guys are in the mix,” Vogel said of Monk and Kendrick Nunn, another top performer on Sunday. “We’re really high on both those guys you mentioned. Malik and Kendrick both had strong nights out of the gate and I thought Wayne (Ellington) played well as well. Those guys are going to have big opportunities to earn big minutes and be a big part of what we’re doing.”
Of course, this is all based on one preseason game where LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden did not play. Davis himself had just an 11-minute cameo.
Monk understood that as well, telling the media after the game that it will be “a little different” when the stars are on the floor. But he also showed the enthusiasm to prove himself next to them. After spending the early part of his career on a team whose success was defined mainly by just reaching the postseason, Monk said that he has to be “way more locked in” because the likes of LeBron will let him know exactly what he’s doing wrong.
It’s far too early to make sweeping judgments about Monk or the state of the Lakers’ starting lineup. But for one game, Monk has started to turn some heads and make his case to feature alongside Westbrook, James, and Davis.
As he put it, all he has to do is “go out there and be myself.”