February 1, 2021
Photo: Alex Cason
Since being drafted 11th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, Malik Monk has endured his fair share of ups and downs. He was expected to make an impact as a reserve combo guard with limited minutes in his rookie season but, like most 19 year olds in that situation, it’s been a process. Young guards typically take time to develop.
Coming out of Kentucky, Monk was regarded as a high-volume long-range sniper, but his three-point percentage trailed off in his second season and is only now starting to rebound as we near the quarter mark of his fourth season– also his contract year. Morphing from a three-point gunner to an aggressive downhill driver and playmaker is a positive development for Monk, but it placed him in a role the team may have not foreseen when they drafted him.
The Hornets have a puzzling situation on their hands with Monk. His value around the league is presumably low because the team hasn’t valued him as a permanent rotation piece until recently. It makes it tough to justify a multitude of options for Monk, whether that be trading him, giving him substantial minutes, or re-signing him in the offseason.
Teams usually don’t give up on lottery picks before their rookie contracts are up, but perhaps he’s been re-inserted into the rotation to bolster his trade value? Monk, like many young guards, is not the type of player that can develop his game playing in short spurts, he needs consistent playing time to establish a rhythm like he did during the best stretch of his career prior to his season-ending suspension in 2019-20. In a career-high 21.3 minutes per game, Monk averaged 10.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists. In the month of February 2020, those numbers jumped to 16.7 points and 4.9 rebounds on 45.5/38.6/85.2 shooting splits.
His insertion into the rotation could be to boost trade value because the Hornets probably won’t have the cap space to retain him if he plays well and earns an offer in restricted free agency. Charlotte could have up to $27-29 million in open cap space this offseason to offer an all-star-caliber free agent, but that number likely doesn’t include a cap hold or new contract for Monk, whose rookie-scale deal carries a current cap hit of $5.3 million and a $7.3 million qualifying offer. If Monk plays well, he’ll likely seek a bigger role and price himself out of Charlotte. If Monk doesn’t play well, the Hornets wouldn’t be making a wise investment in re-signing him to a multi-year deal with three good young guards in the stable.
Monk staying in Charlotte and receiving proper minutes wouldn’t be a bad plan though; he’s shown flashes throughout his early career, and he’s still just 22 years old. Even with limited playing time, he stays ready, turning his focus to coaching and advising the younger Hornets players from the bench.
“After the first couple of games, I got adjusted with not playing and just being a coach and helping and being a great teammate. But it’s hard mentally. I think it’s hard for everybody mentally. But if you want to do this job that’s what you got to do,” he told Jacob Rude in a USA Today article.
Monk may not have been ready for the trials and tribulations of life as an NBA player when he arrived in the league but he seems more prepared now. When the Hornets were in the midst of a four-game winning streak in early January with Caleb Martin and Cody Martin coming off the bench with their high-energy and hustle, Monk was the first player to get up and high-five his teammates during timeouts. Now, with the second-unit offense in need of some rejuvenation, Monk steps off the bench and makes plays. In limited minutes this season, he’s an improved and more willing passer, looking more comfortable shooting from beyond the arc. His off-ball defensive awareness has always been underrated, and he seems more engaged on that end of the floor.
Sitting Monk on the bench and giving him DNP-CDs (did not play – coach’s decision) in a contract year is, at best, subpar for asset management, but also simply unfair to a player. It’s also getting more difficult to justify minutes for the Martin twins based on their impact. The offense hasn’t been that effective with them on the court as of late (per Cleaning The Glass, Caleb’s on/off point differential of -3.5 is third worst on the team, meaning the Hornets are 3.5 points worse with him on the floor, and Cody’s turnover percentage (17.1%) is worst among Hornets that have appeared in 10 or more games.
The end of the Hornets’ rotation now seems wide open for Monk to fulfill his potential and impact the team, it’s time for Borrego to give Monk his opportunity. So far, Monk has come through when he gets his minutes. While his ceiling may never be reached in Charlotte, without ample opportunity, there’s no chance it happens at all, and the Hornets could lose the former No. 11 pick without gaining anything in return.
Check out the remaining 2020-21 schedule for the Charlotte Hornets.