I could not believe that the Los Angeles Lakers were able to get a talent like Malik Monk. He wasn’t a guy that checked all of their boxes of need, but the ones he did check were in the boldest of ink. Up to that point, Monk had one of those careers where his next stop would surely be make or break. His time in Los Angeles may be an indication that he is here to stay.
Monk’s Early Year
Monk is a former lottery pick with all the decorations of one. Hailing from Jonesboro, Arkansas, he played high school basketball at East Poinsett County and Bentonville High School. His time there saw cross paths with teammate Austin Reaves. In 2014, the two competed in a State Championship Game.
After an All-American campaign, he went to the University of Kentucky as one of their top recruits. While there, he set a freshman scoring record of 47 points against the University of North Carolina. It was a no-brainer when he won SEC Freshman of the year, along with the conference’s Player of the Year. After that, Monk decided it was time to make himself eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft.
Time With The Hornets
At the 11th overall pick, the Charlotte Hornets brought in Malik Monk. For the first time in his career, he was faced with limited minutes while not being the best player on the floor on a given night. Over his four-year span with the team, he only started once. To top it off, he was suspended indefinitely in 2020. With so much influx and the emergence of Devonte’ Graham, the writing was on the wall for Monk. He was never able to gain that form of excellence that got him taken in the lottery. Inconsistency has plagued him, as evidenced in his stats. Over his 233 games in Charlotte, he put up 9.1 points and 1.8 assists per game.
A Lonely Free Agency
In the 2021 NBA Draft, the Hornets took James Bouknight. In the aftermath of the draft and into free agency, the Hornets elected to not extend the qualifying offer to him. He was heading into free agency at age 23. Contrary to popular belief, he was not highly touted as he’s been since he pretty much picked up a basketball. It was a moment of clarity for him. Monk was candid about the period, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“It was crazy for me because … you never see that many lottery picks that get to be unrestricted,” Monk said. “And it kind of hit me hard when nobody really wanted me besides the Lakers, so I just put fuel in my tank and just held it in until I get time to play and prove I belong for long periods of time, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
A Suitor Emerges
Luckily for him, the Lakers certainly needed what he’s been able to do in spurts, and that’s scoring. He has not disappointed the team, especially in his most recent stretch of basketball. Malik Monk has started six games where he’s averaged 20.7 points on 56.6 percent shooting and 45.5 percent from three. It’s safe to say he’s fitting in well. The chemistry he has with LeBron James has been exactly what I’m sure he and the Lakers wanted. Their two-man game down the stretch against the Sacramento Kings was deadly.
To be in LeBron’s good graces is valuable. Ironically, LeBron was interested in Monk last season, as he revealed post-game last night (h/t Harrison Faigen):
“It’s funny, just a little quick backstory, me and J-Kidd, we talk a lot last year,” James said. “We wanted him last year. When Charlotte stopped playing him last year, or they would play him, and then sit him for five or six games, and then they would play him, and then you would see him have a game at Miami where he had like eight or nine 3s in Miami, and then they would sit him and not play him. Me and J-Kidd, we would talk all the time, like ‘is there a way we can snatch this guy from their roster?’
The Lakers have been dying for scoring and play-making all season. Now that they have found a bit of it with Malik Monk, more dominoes must fall. Health is their top priority. If you can combine that with this new, nearly free money they’ve found, the Lakers will look like a team with a higher ceiling.
For Monk’s new success, I’m sure he has the same feeling. He strikes me as someone who just wants to be wanted. Now he’s exactly where he wants to be. He’s a starter on a premier franchise. If he can help them overcome the slow start to the season they’ve had, Monk’s rise will be cemented in rare basketball air. God knows that he deserves it.