We’ll never know exactly how Anthony Davis reacted when he first saw Malik Monk in the Lakers’ practice facility, but given how excited he’s been about his fellow Wildcat’s presence, it’s not hard to imagine his initial response might have looked a little bit like the postgame scene from Wednesday night’s 120-117 victory against the Miami Heat.
After exploding for a season-high 27 points off the bench to help the shorthanded Lakers secure their second overtime win in a row, Monk was talking with Mike Trudell of Spectrum SportsNet for the team’s customary post-win walk-off interview. But on a night when Monk seemed to be able to almost preternaturally sense every single coverage the Heat defense threw at him while raining down bucket after bucket in crunch time, this was one threat he couldn’t see coming. Davis casually snuck up behind his young teammate, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him in celebration as Monk couldn’t stop laughing.
Davis — still in disbelief that the Lakers even have a player on their bench capable of such scintillating scoring outbursts on nights when the team is dinged up by injuries — leaned in to Trudell’s microphone and offered affirmation, and a declaration.
“That’s how you play, man,” Davis said, grabbing Monk’s arm for a handshake-turned hug while Carmelo Anthony patted the 23-year-old guard on the head in approval.
“That’s why we say we don’t know how we got him for what we got him for!” Davis continued. Monk just laughed, replying “yessir” before realizing this little act of team bonding came while he was in the middle of another task.
“But yeah man, I forgot your question,” Monk said.
Monk’s forgetfulness is easy to excuse, as he had plenty of other things to be thinking about after by far his best game as a Laker, helping the team grab their best win of the young season and move to 7-5. The thought-stopping performance likely had anyone watching thinking the same thing as Davis while Monk was hitting leaning pull-up jumpers and flashing his seemingly limitless range on threes during the nationally televised matchup against Miami:
How did the Lakers get this guy for the veteran’s minimum? He’s their second-lowest-paid player?
Indeed he is. The only Laker making less than Monk this season ($1.8 million) is undrafted rookie Austin Reaves ($925,258). And how the Lakers got him isn’t exactly clear, but what is clear is that Davis is really, really happy they did. He’s a big fan of Monk’s game.
“I know Malik. He went to Kentucky so I’ve always known about him. Before he came into the league, and then I watched him a lot in Charlotte. I try to keep up with all the Kentucky guys, it’s like our own little brotherhood inside this NBA brotherhood,” Davis said.
“We call him Microwave. Instant scorer,” Davis continued. “We still don’t know how we got him for what we got him for. He can play. He’s just a hell of a player. He’s shot a lot of big shots, made a lot of big shots, and this is going to continue to build his confidence in what we do.”
Monk said his teammates having confidence in what he does is exactly what gives him faith to go out there and drop a season-high after getting his fifth-fewest minutes of the season two nights prior.
“They always give me confidence, man. Whether I’m playing five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, they always give me confidence. I’m always confident when I go in the game. I always kind of have the same mindset,” Monk said. “I just stay locked in and try to be prepared for every situation.”
Monk has long been prepared for the specific situation he faced on Wednesday. His career-high of 36 also came against the Heat, and this was the third of Monk’s three highest-scoring games that have come vs. Miami. For whatever reason, he really likes this matchup, but while the obvious assumption would be that he enjoys scoring duels with his fellow young guard Tyler Herro — who gave the Heat 27 points of his own off the pine — Monk said that’s not something he focuses on.
“I wasn’t matching, man. I was playing basketball. He just happened to be on me,” Monk said. “He’s a great player, he’s always knocking tough shots down and things like that, but I’m trying to kill everybody in front of me.”
malik monk’s 10 buckets agst the heat pic.twitter.com/ArsbFT4wdN— jeanie ️ ️ (@jeaniezk) November 11, 2021
It’s an attitude that has already endeared him to his teammates, leading them to re-appropriate Vinnie Johnson’s nickname all the way back in training camp, and continue to use it for Monk today.
“He’s the Microwave,” said Russell Westbrook. “When he comes in the game, his job is to put the ball in the hoop and he does that at a high level.”
It’s a reference Monk admitted LeBron James had to explain to him during training camp, which may seem blasphemous, but Monk was only born in 1998, six years after Johnson retired in 1992. It’s forgivable he wasn’t aware, and being a microwave is a role he’s still adjusting to, anyway.
“I’m always comfortable playing basketball, but yeah, it’s kind of hard to play. I’ve never played with this many greats,” Monk said. “You’ve got to pick your spots and figure out when the game is going to come to you.”
But he’s learning, and his teammates are helping him do so.
“They’re great, so they’re always going to help me in every situation, so I’m super comfortable,” Monk said.
And while Monk’s comfort is paying off for the Lakers on nights like this, if he keeps it rolling, they won’t be able to shock Davis by affording him next year. Monk’s deal is only for one year, and the team won’t have his Bird Rights, meaning they can’t go over the cap to re-sign him. If the former lottery pick continues to make teams that wouldn’t take a more expensive flyer on him last summer look foolish during his fourth season, the Lakers won’t be able to keep him.
But those are concerns for another day. For now, Monk says he’s just ready for whatever the rest of this season holds, and he never had a doubt he would be able to rise to the occasion to help his banged-up team steal a win and stay afloat in the Western Conference standings.
“I work on my game a lot, man,” Monk said. “I was really prepared for this moment.”
If that continues to be the case, he and Davis can celebrate a different kind of explosion next summer: One of the financial variety.