The Los Angeles Lakers have been searching for reliable contributors alongside their superstar trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. Slowly but surely, they may have found one in Malik Monk.
Monk was one of the main topics of conversation after the Lakers broke their five-game losing streak on Tuesday. The 23-year-old poured in 25 points in the 132-123 over the Houston Rockets, his second game back after nearly two weeks in the health and safety protocols. The Lakers needed every bit of his scoring, spread out over nearly 40 minutes, for a short-handed win in a high-scoring game.
The former Hornets guard has been the subject of praise from his teammates and coaches at various points this season so it was not surprising to hear acting head coach David Fizdale reveal to the media after the game that LeBron has “big-time confidence” in Monk.
Fizdale’s comments on Malik Monk after his third start of the season — and the first since October — did not end there. The former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach called Monk a constant “threat” throughout the game and compared the tempo at which he played to Lou Williams, another smooth, skinny assassin that has terrorized defenses off the bench for years.
Monk’s latest performance came on the heels of a 20-point display on Christmas in a loss against the Brooklyn Nets. In fact, the high-flying shooting guard has scored at least 20 points in five of his last ten appearances as he becomes more and more comfortable, especially alongside James. That duo has now outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when on the court together. In fact, the Lakers offensive rating goes from 106.7 points per 100 possessions in the 597 minutes James has played without Monk on the floor to a scorching 117.2 in the 257 minutes both are on the floor. That’s not a surefire metric as it ignores the other players on the floor but it does give some insight into the impact that Monk has had on this team.
From a results perspective, the Lakers are still in the poor position they have been all year, stuck playing .500 ball. But Monk’s evolution is symbolic of a growth within the squad as the more reliable role players rise to the top of the depth chart. Monk himself may be on his way to earning a starting spot in the fully healthy version of the team, if such a thing exists.
Monk is also symbolic of the room for improvements that still exist across a slowly growing team. It’s remarkable that Monk has had such success in two-man groupings with James when he still looks uncomfortable in inverted pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situations that someone like Wayne Ellington, for example, has excelled in in his short-lived minutes with James. Imagining Monk gaining that same comfort level but with a more dynamic play style and skillset is riveting and makes it easy to see him as a feature of the Lakers’ most successful lineups.
Monk, Ellington, Trevor Ariza and Austin Reaves have seemed to stand out in this way, albeit in very limited minutes for some of them. They each have different skillsets that fit perfectly alongside any combination of the three superstars on the roster. Getting additional continuity for those role players with their star teammates as well as finding more reliable contributors is the goal of the regular season, even if eventually the results in the win column eventually have to follow.
For now, Malik Monk represents the hope that this roster still has the pieces available to make a championship run if they are healthy at the right time.