It’s hard to imagine where the Lakers would be without Malik Monk this season.
It’s a wild sentence to read, but one that has plenty of truth in it. For all the talk of the team’s Big Three of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it’s been Malik Monk that has repeatedly stepped up and contributed in the absences of the latter two throughout the year.
Sunday was the latest example. With LeBron James out and Monk healthy again after missing his return to Charlotte, Monk exploded for a near career-high, tallying 33 points with eight three-pointers. That the Lakers lost to the Hawks in that contest was no fault of Monk’s, who more than exceeded the expectations for him as he’s done all season.
Monk’s candidacy for the starting spot has been of much debate this season. In his 45 games played this year, Monk has started just 13 times. He’s performed markedly better as a starter, albeit in more minutes, averaging 18.2 points per game in 33 minutes per game in his 13 starts while shooting 46.4% from the 3-point line on 7.4 attempts per game.
In his 32 other games, Monk is averaging 10.3 points in 23.9 minutes and shooting a (still above average!) 38.0% from beyond the arc on 4.6 attempts per game. He’s been a productive player in either regard, but has clearly been more productive when given an expanded role.
That his lack of starts have seemingly come as a result of Avery Bradley, someone who has not been as productive offensively regardless of his role this year, has been a source of ire and frustration from fans.
With James likely still out on Wednesday, head coach Frank Vogel said after practice on Tuesday that Monk was likely to remain in the starting lineup given his performance on Sunday.
“We haven’t set on a starting lineup for tomorrow but, he had 33 points as a starter last game so I would say he’s likely to be starting again,” Vogel said. “He picks up a big chunk of the scoring load with LeBron out. We lose him in the second unit and that’s something that’s been a positive of ours. (Quickly) subbed him where you get him out early in the third the other night in the second half (against) Atlanta so we had him with the starters but also with the second unit.
“When a player’s that hot, you kind of maximize his usage. I would say he’s likely to stay in the starting lineup, yes.”
The Lakers cycle of starting lineups has been both a result of injuries to James and Davis and constant underperforming this season. Monk, in fact, has been one of the few consistent contributors this season.
Vogel, as he noted, has relied upon Monk to be the scoring off the bench the team has needed, especially after Carmelo Anthony has (predictably) cooled off since cameoing as the greatest shooter in league history at the arena formerly known as Staples Center to start the year.
But he also noted that isn’t a role for Monk he’s committed to for the long-term, either.
“I’m not locked into it, to be honest with you,” Vogel said. “We’re going to have Russ, Bron and AD and we need shooters and defenders around them. That could be Stanley and Avery. That could be Trevor. That could be Austin. Malik as a scorer. We want to find the right balance when we’re fully healthy but we haven’t had that chance. Once we have all three of those guys in there, we can look at what those lineups look like around them.”
Of the hilariously low 308 minutes the trio of James, Davis and Westbrook have played together this season, Monk has recorded just 50 minutes alongside them and has actually been one of the worst players to pair with the Big Three in those minutes with a net rating of -12.9.
But those minutes almost exclusively came early in the season as the Lakers were figuring things out. Regardless of what that small sample size shows, Monk has been one of the team’s most consistent contributors no matter what’s been asked of him and he warrants a shot to play alongside the Big Three once they’re healthy for a stretch of games....
....whenever that long-awaited day will come.