For much of the offseason, the Lakers age has been the key talking point when it comes to their acquisitions and new-look roster. It’s a sweet bit of irony, then, that it was the handful of youthful Lakers that stole the show for the purple and gold on Sunday afternoon.
On a night when so many of those veteran Lakers delayed the start of their respective seasons, it was three of the youngest players on the roster that shined brightest, none more so than Malik Monk. Coming off a career year in Charlotte, Monk took a risk by joining the Lakers and competing for a starting spot in a crowded roster.
But the 23-year-old may have taken the early lead in the competition by scoring a team-high 15 points in 21 minutes, albeit on a night when the Lakers lost going away to the Nets in the preseason opener, 123-97. As is the case in the preseason, the result is never of concern with the process being the main focus and Monk made a statement in that regard.
“We’re still surprised we got him, to be honest,” Anthony Davis said of Monk. “He’s such a hell of a player. You saw what he did out there the minute that he played. He can score the ball at all three levels, play hard and make the right reads. He’s going to be fun to have this year.”
Monk scored 10 of his 15 points in the second quarter. More specifically, they all came in the span of fewer than three minutes as the young guard showcased why he has been given the nickname “Microwave” by his teammates already this season.
He wasn’t the lone young Laker to stand out on the night as fellow youngster Kendrick Nunn scored all nine of his points in the second frame as well. The two combined for 24 of the team’s 30 points in the period with each making strong individual cases to fill out the final openings in the starting lineup.
“Those guys are in the mix,” head coach Frank Vogel said of the pair. “We’re really high on both those guys you mentioned. Malik and Kendrick both had strong nights out of the gate and I thought Wayne (Ellington) played well as well. Those guys are going to have big opportunities to earn big minutes and be a big part of what we’re doing.”
Talen Horton-Tucker also produced a handful of bright moments on the night, even if his 3-of-11 shooting performance wasn’t the prettiest. One of just three returnees from last year’s team, Horton-Tucker finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in his 26 minutes of action, his biggest highlight of the night being a thunderous dunk down the middle of the lane.
Horton-Tucker, though, was a part of the Lakers rotation last year and has playoff experience in his brief career. For Monk, after years of competition for lottery picks instead of playoff spots, a switch of coasts also necessitated a switch in mindset. But Monk has approached the situation with an eagerness to learn and an eagerness to compete.
“It’s definitely changed,” Monk said. “I have to be way more locked in because they know everything. LeBron can go out and tell you a whole 10-minute stint and will not miss a play so that’s how locked in I have to be playing with these guys and with training camp, too. They’ve been helping. Like I said, they’ve been helping me a lot. And I ask a lot of questions, too.
“Actually, all the guys are like big brothers to me because I’m pretty young and they’ve been in the league for a minute. They all just take me in and teach me as much as they can in that day. Tomorrow, they’ll teach me some more stuff and the next day, they’ll teach me some more stuff. Everybody’s taking me in with open arms.”
Monk has absorbed the information and applied it on the court, leaving an impression on Vogel and center Dwight Howard even before Sunday’s game with both singing praises of his performance in practice on Saturday.
On Sunday, he showed the public what his teammates had been witnessing, taking Vogel’s advice to simply be himself instead of being something others may think the Lakers need.
“We got a couple guys out so it’ll be a little different when they get back but it played out exactly as (Vogel) said,” Monk said. “Just me to go in and be myself. Not to fill in a box. Just go out there and be myself.”
If Sunday was any example, being himself would be more than enough for the Lakers. Perhaps more importantly for the Lakers as a whole, Sunday was also an example that the Lakers may not also be entirely reliant on its experienced veterans this season either.