Malik Monk’s Scoring Ability Is The Key To His NBA Potential

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Malik Monk might not be the best NBA Draft prospect in the country, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. For one Saturday in December, though, the freshman guard for the Kentucky Wildcats – by way of a small town in Arkansas – was arguably the biggest story in the sports world. And he earned every bit of that spotlight.

Monk exploded for 47 points in a nationally televised win over a fellow “blue blood” in North Carolina and the 6’3 shooting guard from Bentonville High School also knocked down the shot of the year to this point in college basketball. While any performance of this magnitude in a game between two of the ten best programs in the sport would draw a ton of attention, it was the way in which Monk dominated the proceedings that made his showing particularly noteworthy.

In addition to the fact that Monk’s outburst shattered the freshman scoring record at Kentucky (previously held by both Terrence Jones and Jamal Murray), he was utterly dynamic in his scoring prowess. Monk converted seven of his nine “catch and shoot” opportunities against the Tar Heels, which certainly helps, but it was his incredible shot-making on contested shots off the dribble that sent fans and assembled media into a frenzy. That was personified by the game-winner, in which Monk buried a shot in the final seconds despite the seeming absence of any rhythm or daylight, and that was a theme throughout the contest.

Shot selection has always been what many would describe as an issue for Monk, especially at the high school and AAU level. In evaluating his game at an early stage, there was never any question that the scoring guard would be able to do just that — score — but the way he assembled monster statistics left something to be desired in the efficiency department.

Some of those tendencies remain, as Monk’s shot selection was even derided by his own coach, John Calipari, after the game in which he largely carried the Wildcats to victory. Calipari prodded his star guard for not attacking the rim on a more regular basis. While it was certainly fun to watch, Monk elected to let contested jumpers fly on more than a few occasions in which easier shots were probably attainable.

As is typically the case with elite prospects, Monk is very, very good at making those shots. He scored at a clip of 1.51 points per possession during the game (an astronomical figure), and for the season he’s been able to maintain efficiency despite a challenging repertoire. His numbers include 61 percent in effective field goal percentage and 63 percent in true shooting percentage, both of which rank in the 90th percentile when it comes to perimeter options with anywhere near his usage rate. Is this sustainable? Well, maybe not, but in the same breath, scouts and fans can agree on the fact that he is dynamic in a way that most college freshmen simply can’t match.

Following his spectacular breakout performance, the (predictable) buzz surrounding Monk’s NBA Draft stock began and, frankly, it got a little out of control. At 6’3 with a very modest 6’4 wingspan, Monk is definitely a pure shooting guard, and given those size limitations, it is difficult to project him as a legitimate top-five pick.

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Beyond the measurables, Monk hasn’t displayed high-end defensive performance to this point, and while the tools are there (especially given how strong he is), projection would be needed in order to build him into an average defensive asset at the pro level. Lastly, Monk’s shooting has been off the charts, including 42 percent from three, and he will need to make that a habit in the future, doubly so given the fact that he probably profiles as a secondary option rather than a primary one.

There are issues with Malik Monk’s game and, for even top prospects, that is almost always the case. Still, it would be difficult to generate many memories of more captivating college performances from 18-year-old athletes than what Monk did against North Carolina over the weekend. College basketball has a “regular season problem” in that the great majority of match-ups fly well below the radar due to aesthetic issues and, frankly, the concept that games are devalued by the presence of a single-elimination tournament at the end of the line. For more than two hours, though, Monk’s performance in what might stand up as the best college basketball game of the 2016-201 ended up grabbing attention as arguably the most noteworthy occurrence across the sporting landscape.

Is Malik Monk a generational talent along the lines of his classmates in Markelle Fultz and a healthy Harry Giles? Probably not, but the first Top 10 national prospect from the state of Arkansas in more than a decade was a wizard in the best possible way on Saturday – and his stock will never be the same.