Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Malik Monk.
When Malik Monk catches a basketball, lines up his shooting form and fires, there is a distinguishable weight to the simple movement’s. A level of pressure that shouldn’t be attached to an ordinary 3-point attempt — especially from a still 23-year-old — but is present for the wing largely due to a roller coaster start to his career.
Originally drafted within the lottery by the Charlotte Hornets in 2017, Monk was seen as a potential cornerstone of what many hoped was the beginning of a turnaround for a team smack dab in the midst of mediocrity.
The highs were enthralling, as his 3-point bombs and eye-popping athleticism drew roars from the fanbase and local announcing crew. When he was going, he was a top-of-the-line microwave, a player who could heat up on the drop of the dime and alter a game with his scoring prowess alone. But when he was not going, things got ugly, and fast.
Monk’s tenure with the Hornets was ultimately defined by fits and starts, as well as a few displays of immaturity. Some of this came simply by virtue of playing on a rebuilding team, and the eventual bad habits that can develop. Perhaps most famously exemplified by an incident where team owner Michael Jordan slapped Monk’s head following him receiving a technical for running onto the floor during the team’s eventual game-winner.
The Kentucky alum himself was also to blame, however, as between his own inconsistent play, shoddy defense and violation of the league’s anti-drug policy, he never gathered the necessary footing a young player needs in order to find a stable role. To his credit, Monk has since taken responsibility for his past missteps, and noted his excitement in learning “how to be a pro” with the Lakers this upcoming season.
Monk is also arguably coming off his most “professional” year yet, as well as his most efficient from behind the arc. Monk is a player whose shooting has mostly been the centerpiece to his on-court value, and he excelled in that regard during his fourth season, emerging as one of the league’s premier marksman last year.
As the graph above illustrates, the now Laker catapulted himself into the 92nd percentile of the league in terms of BBall-Index’s perimeter shooting database (which accounts for shot creation, ability and volume), as well as posting career-best numbers on his raw boxscore looks from deep.
Monk’s aforementioned shooting output and age ultimately were why many circled his one-year minimum deal with Los Angeles as one of the best bargains of the offseason. The question now is if the success he had this past year was simply a flash in the pan, or signals a corner that was turned.
When digging further into the possible reasons for Monk’s good fortune from deep, nothing particularly stands out as different when it came to his looks other than his sheer conversion rate. As his shot profile (where) and shot type (how) provided no outliers from prior years.
One potential on-court aspect that may have helped boost his play, however, may have come via simply being on the floor with better teammates, namely more talented distributors like Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball.
Ball not only proved to be a dynamic lead guard from day one as the 3rd pick in the draft, but also established himself as one of the league’s best playmakers (97th percentile in BBall-Index’s playmaking talent metric).
Beyond Ball, the Hornets also employed two other playmaking guards in Devonte’ Graham (93rd percentile) and Terry Rozier (88th percentile), both of whom also graded out exceptionally well when it came to creating for others.
When identifying this playmaking context, and comparing it to what Monk had played with before in the graph below, we can see that he had never been a part of lineups with better shot creators than he had this past season. That was a likely positive for a previously streaky shooter.
Despite playing with a team with more overall talent and better playmakers, a discouraging trend that has followed Monk throughout his young career wasn’t quite bucked: His poor shot quality (measures openness, if shot is self created, shot location and whether it’s off-movement).
Just like every assist, rebound, block, etc. are different than what they simply spell out on a scoresheet, not every 40% 3-point shooter is the same. This is where shot quality is valuable context not only when analyzing players, but potentially in predicting future success/decline for them.
For example, when removing aspects like garbage time and heaves, Malik Monk shot a blistering 42% from behind the arc — a career high. When comparing that raw number to the output of former Laker Alex Caruso, who shot 41% in his own right, they may look comparable, but their shot quality was vastly different.
Last season, Monk had a shot quality that was in the 17th percentile in the league, and an openness rating that placed him in the 11th percentile. Caruso on the other hand, was in the 97th percentile when it came to shot quality and 83rd percentile in terms of openness rating. This discrepancy between him and other players has been the case for Monk throughout the career.
While not ideal for Monk, his ability to convert at the rate he did last season despite his sub-par looks should be an encouraging sign that he can maintain his hot hand, especially if he’s able to get some more open chances. And given who his teammates will be this upcoming year, this likely will be the case.
“He’d open everything up for me,” Monk said of LeBron James during his introductory press conference. “A lot more easier shots. A lot more uncontested shots...because LeBron, and (Russell) Westbrook, and AD, they are all going to make the floor space out for all of us.”
Between playing off the likes of the trio Monk referenced (who consume gravity for breakfast), and the potential boost that comes with competing on a team with genuine championship aspirations for the first time, there are enough reasons for optimism that Monk’s move out west could be what helps propel his career to the next level. It will ultimately be up to him — both on and off the floor — to take advantage of this chance.
Despite all the rough patches and misses that came before, Monk’s shooting success last season may have been the exact type of resurgence the young player needed to change the course of his career, and finally find a home in this league.
With everything now potentially falling into place, perhaps now when he lets his shot fly, his shoulders will be a little more loose, his mind clear, and the only thing left to wait for will be the sound of the swish.