CHARLOTTE — A dozen kids were in the midst of playing knockout at Camp Greene Park on one of its covered courts on a hazy Friday afternoon. Typically, this activity wouldn’t garner a mention, but second-year Hornets guard Malik Monk typically isn’t involved, either.
Monk was there with a local radio station, giving the kids shooting around one hell of a story to tell their fellow classmates when school starts up the following week. He officiates the game of knockout, at times running interference for the smaller kids in the group. If one of the older kids misses a shot, Monk might deflect the ball far away or, in one instance, take the ball and run. The game keeps going until the smallest kid on the court wins.
The same Malik Monk that closed the season for the Charlotte Hornets was visible during this game — he resembled a carefree and self-assured geyser of confidence. Monk closed the final five games of the season averaging 20 points and shooting 48 percent from the field, showing the promise that made the Kentucky product the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The Hornets let go of both GM Rich Cho and head coach Steve Clifford by the first day of the NBA offseason on the heels of back-to-back 36-win seasons. This led to plenty of unanswered question about the rising sophomore’s role going forward. In response, the 20-year-old Monk took a week off and then went to work.
“I lift Monday through Thursday,” Monk told Dime. “Get on the court Monday through Thursday, but Friday, I just lift. I mean, I work out every day.”
Outside of his vacation and a trip to Vegas Summer League, Monk has stationed himself in Charlotte for the summer. While there, he made a decision that set Charlotte sports Twitter ablaze: He get a puppy, a neo mastiff named Bear who might be the closest thing to a canine avatar of Monk himself, as it’s young but simultaneously wants to get into everything.
That said, it hasn’t been a smooth transition for Monk when it comes to Bear, as the young puppy comes with all of the issues that you would expect out of dog. This includes the most frustrating thing for any dog owner: Making sure their new four-legged friend doesn’t go to the bathroom in the house.
“He’ll get it for like a week,” Monk says. “Then he’ll mess up and do it again. Then he’ll get it for two weeks and mess up and do it again. But, I mean it’s good though. I’m learning.”
Learning the NBA game is something Monk has had to do on the fly as well after missing all of Summer League and a portion of training camp his rookie year due to an ankle injury suffered during a pre-draft workout. The first half of the season was a struggle for the rookie, as he had to adapt to the NBA game without the benefit of a full offseason. His splits before and after the All-Star break illustrate his growth, nearly doubling his scoring output after the break (5.0 points per game to 9.7). Monk also saw an increase in efficiency and, maybe most importantly, playing time.
Monk credits veterans like Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, and Marvin Williams for helping him get up to speed on the NBA, and Williams particularly for helping solidify what an NBA player is supposed to do between games and in the offseason.
“Not everyone can be the first and last to leave, but try to be early as you can,” Monk says. “Put in the work early. I mean, (Williams) will be here for three hours. I beat him to the gym one time. It was 7, he got in like 7:05, but I barely beat him. He was like ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about young blood.'”
Monk, who suffered a hand injury after one game in this year’s Summer League, has been cleared to go full speed in practices for more than a week. He’s looking to continue the progress he made during the final five games of last season and take them into his second campaign in the league.
With the coming of the new season brings an excitement for Monk and the Hornets, along with a new locale for training camp: Chapel Hill, home to the North Carolina Tar Heels, a basketball program with which Monk has a little bit of familiarity, as he played them twice during his one year at Kentucky. He had the best game of his Wildcat career against them, dropping 47 on the Heels during the CBS Sports Classic.
Also exciting for Monk is the addition of Tony Parker to the roster and the chance to learn from the four-time NBA champion. With that excitement comes a little bit of pressure, as the Hornets haven’t quite met expectations the last few years. After the front office and the coaching staff were blown up, in came new GM Mitch Kupchak and head coach James Borrego, saddled with expectations that they will compete in what most consider to be an open playoff race in the Eastern Conference this season.
To get there, the Hornets will need to stay healthy and see improvement from much of the roster, Monk included. Charlotte was a good three-point shooting team a year ago, but were 21st in the league in attempts and could use their second-year shooting guard to bring some more long-range firepower to the offense. Monk is ready to meet that challenge, as he showed in the closing stretch of his rookie campaign what he’s capable of achieving as a scorer in the NBA.
One motivating factor to Monk is his new backcourt mate, as he’s already spoken to Parker about expectation setting in Charlotte before they ever take the floor.
“I think he made the playoffs 14 straight years,” Monk says. “He told me he don’t want to miss (the playoffs), so I mean, you gotta make it.”