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Malik Monk turning heads after ‘great’ set of practices to start training camp

A name in competition for the starting shooting guard spot, Malik Monk has started off strong this preseason.

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2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers’ offseason has featured plenty of discussion, jokes and criticisms of their age. After signing a host of veterans, the purple and gold will feature a heavy dose of experienced players.

One of the predominant yin to those yangs is Malik Monk. After four largely underwhelming years in Charlotte, the 23-year-old signed with the Lakers this summer on a minimum deal. As frustrating as Monk’s time often was with the Hornets, the Kentucky product had a breakout season last year, setting the table for what has been a strong training camp in Los Angeles over the past week.

Monk entered training camp one of a handful of options the Lakers have on the roster for the starting shooting guard position. While Wayne Ellington has at least been rumored as the leader in the clubhouse heading into training camp, Monk has impressed with his versatility.

“I just think the versatility offensively of what he brings to the table has been what’s stood out most with Malik,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s had a great first few days for us, he really has. He’s shot the ball well, but he’s really just performed offensively in a lot of different ways. His cutting has been very effective, his movement without the basketball while running the floor, the ability to catch lobs both on the break and in the halfcourt, what he can do off the bounce, he can initiate offense.

“I wouldn’t put him as a full-time point guard, but you can run certain actions where he’s initiating for you, he’s comfortable with his handles. So his offensive versatility is probably what sticks out the most.”

Known for his scoring ability, Monk has consistently averaged at least 2.8 assists per 36 minutes throughout his career, peaking at 4.8 in 2019-20 before settling at 4.1 last season. Similarly, pick-and-roll possessions accounted for 15.9% of Monk’s possessions last season, per Synergy, the third most common play type.

While he struggled in those scenarios last season, he’s seen more success in larger sample sizes in previous seasons as well. Even still, Monk ranked in the 97th in passes to the roll man last season, a small glimpse into what he could be for the Lakers.

However, at the end of the day, it’s Monk’s scoring ability that will always be where his bread is buttered and it’s led to the Lakers giving him one of the game’s oldest nicknames during the preseason.

“We call him ‘The Microwave,’ because once he hits one shot, it’s over with,” Dwight Howard said. “He’s already heating up. So we’re going to make sure we keep his confidence flowing and continues to get better. I love what he brings to the game for this team and I’m happy he’s here.”

Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Howard spent a season alongside a rookie Monk in Charlotte. While Monk’s minutes and opportunities were limited that season, his performance in games and practice left a lasting impression on the big man.

“He’s always been great,” Howard said. “He’s always been amazing. Since I’ve been with him in Charlotte, I’ve always talked to him about just being patient and just waiting. ‘You’re gonna get your time.’ And it seemed like everything just happened at the right time for him. He was in Charlotte, he didn’t really get a lot of opportunities to play, but now he’s on a team where everybody is going to see how talented he is, and I know he’s going to shine.

“I’ve been a big fan of his since he was young, and I’m happy that we’re teammates again. I’m just looking forward to seeing his success and whatever I can do on the court to make sure he gets those open shots.”

Monk will certainly have the opportunities this season. Regardless of whether Anthony Davis starts at center or not this season, the shooting guard position remains wide open with the potential for even more spots on the perimeter open in the starting lineup. Monk will have a say in that race. He made that all the more clear with his explosion for 15 points in 21 minutes in the team’s first preseason game, a performance that left his teammates raving.

More preseason games will offer another setting — and a more public one — for Monk to make his case. If he can continue to build off his strong start, Monk could be a breath of youthfulness for the seasoned, veteran Lakers.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.