That the best stretch of Malik Monk’s season comes directly on the heels of exiting health and safety protocols is a perfect encapsulation of Monk’s game in many regards. A player capable of heating up at a moment’s notice, Monk was the exception for the Lakers this season in not needing multiple days to ramp up before hitting the court once again as he played on Christmas against the Nets just hours after being cleared to leave isolation.
That game could very well serve as an inflection point in Monk’s season. While he had been a largely positive contributor with big moments this season, Monk exploded for 20 points off the bench against Brooklyn, then entered the starting lineup as the Lakers committed to their small ball philosophy and has pieced together his best run of games this season.
That move into the starting lineup has served as a launching pad for Monk. Across the last five games, the latter four of which he has started, Monk is averaging 20 points on 57.4% shooting from the field and 42.4% shooting from the arc while adding a couple of assists and over a block per game in that span.
“He can do it all offensively,” head coach Frank Vogel said after Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves. “That’s what we love about Malik. We can put the ball in his hands and he can make plays.”
Monk has excelled next to James this season, particularly in two-man actions where Vogel specified that he is really good at reading defenses and turning the corner when opponents overcommit to James, and also at getting James the ball when they don’t pay him enough attention. Vogel also noted Monk’s shooting ability on the backside of plays, backed up by Monk ranking in the 77th percentile in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations this season, per Synergy.
“(He’s) really giving us a huge lift offensively, and he’s competing and doing everything he can on the defensive side as well,” Vogel said.
Much of Monk’s success of late has come alongside LeBron James, but that’s a pairing that has found success together all season as well. Only three players — Avery Bradley, Austin Reaves and Carmelo Anthony — have a higher net rating alongside James than Monk’s +7.7. And over the last five games, Monk has a net rating of +20.1 in 147 minutes alongside James.
No one has played more alongside James in that span, and only Melo has a higher net rating.
Lineups w/Monk and LeBron on the floor:— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) January 3, 2022
Lineups w/Monk and LeBron (no big) on the floor:
Even with a growing sample, the numbers and film reveal an awesome chemistry building here https://t.co/17mf1V7i2C
“He does a good job of being aggressive, taking what the defense gives him,” Russell Westbrook said on Sunday. “He’s a scorer, so he’ll be able to do that on any given night. Our job is to make sure that we find him when he’s open. Simple as that.”
Amidst a dearth of guards on the roster, Monk has established himself as one of the best options because of his versatility offensively. While his 37.3% 3-point shooting this year is down from his career year last season, it’s still well above his percentages his first three seasons. On top of that, over his last 14 games, Monk is shooting 43.4% from beyond the arc on 5.9 attempts per game.
His game isn’t limited to his 3-point shooting, though. On the season, Monk is shooting 71% at the rim, a figure that ranks him in the 90th percentile among guards, per Cleaning the Glass. Overall, his 57.8% effective field goal percentage also ranks in the 90th percentile.
Monk has provided the Lakers an enormous spark over the last week-plus and, in the process, may also have begun really showcasing a burgeoning chemistry with James. For a team that lacked much direction or cohesiveness for chunks of the season, it’s a welcome and hopeful sign for the future.