The Sacramento Kings and their vast, innovative offense are one of the most dazzling nightly watches around the Association. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are playing like All-Stars. Kevin Huerter is en fuego. Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes flank that trio with complementary scoring on the wings. The ball, flowing through Sabonis as the hub, pings across the floor. They race up the court at every chance.
And when they turn to the bench, there is Malik Monk to continue the waves of electricity. After a stellar year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Monk ventured northward to join Fox, his former collegiate teammate, in Sacramento. He was one of the NBA’s most prolific reserves in 2021-22 and has expanded upon that this season to fortify the Kings’ attack.
Through 23 games, the Arkansas native is averaging 14.8 points (60.3 percent true shooting), 4.1 assists, and 2.3 rebounds. He’s shooting a career-high 60.5 percent on two-pointers (6.5 points above league average, the best mark of his career). Despite playing 5.6 fewer minutes per game than last year, his 14.8 points eclipse his mark from 2021-22 by a full point. Per 100 possessions, he’s averaging a career-high 30.9 points. With some help from Davion Mitchell, he’s piloting Sacramento’s bench unit and doing it damn well.
The biggest differentiator between Monk as a Laker and Monk as a King is the level of responsibility he holds. His usage rate has swelled from 19.4 percent to 26.5 percent. Per 36 minutes, his touches are up from 58 to 65.1. He’s gone from largely being deployed as a multifaceted scorer to a legitimate secondary creator. He’s showcasing substantial strides in his playmaking — his assist rate is a career-high 27.5 percent (14.3 percent in 2021-22).
His chemistry with Sabonis, both in handoffs and angle pick-and-rolls, is palpable. Monk pitches punctual pocket passes, flicks wraparound feeds from either hand, and is fluent delivering reads off a live dribble. He’s a genuinely reliable facilitator nowadays rather than being a pure scorer with noteworthy flashes of playmaking.
Back in 2020-21, his final season with the Charlotte Hornets, Monk discovered the outside shooting stroke that made him such a coveted prospect and drilled 40.1 percent of his long balls. But to that point, ventures inside the arc he remained precarious. He was a career 47.3 percent two-point scorer, including 47.1 percent that year.
The past two seasons, Monk has remedied those concerns, especially this season. He’s washed away the finishing woes of his Charlotte tenure, cognizant of how to mitigate the shortcomings of his spindly frame, while also being tasked to engineer those chances less often. This year, he’s shooting a career-high 69 percent at the rim (79th percentile among wings).
Whether it’s leveraging his slippery handle into vigorous downhill forays or migrating off the ball, Monk is a constant source of paint pressure. He trampolines off the ground and is stupendously flexible. The way he either plows through or gyrates around rim protectors is uncanny. His solace in busy spaces enables him to thrive as a slasher. He hosts a flying trapeze show at the basket. There’s a vibe of controlled chaos in all he does, but it routinely results in profitable conclusions for the Kings.
Monk’s interior opportunities are derived from the stress he inflicts beyond the arc. While his 35.6 percent clip is only a hair above league average (35.5 percent), his volume and malleability paint him as a clearly high-value gunner. He’s adept on the move, will launch in the face of lively closeouts, and hoists 12 threes per 100 possessions.
Sacramento is sixth in three-point rate, and Monk’s a prominent component of that. The release is picturesque and snappy. He’s been particularly lethal on catch-and-shoots, canning 38.6 percent of his 83 looks. If the ball swings his way with an advantage, he will relish it.
When the Kings acquired Sabonis last winter, they had a vision for an elite offense. At that moment, though, they didn’t roster the personnel to actualize it. The offseason additions of Huerter, Murray, and Monk helped manifest the vision. They want Sabonis as the interior nucleus, a screening and DHO waterhole functioning in tandem with various ball-handlers and dangerous off-ball shooters. Versatility and spacing around the Lithuanian are paramount.
Monk is exactly that. He’ll commandeer some possessions and is simultaneously equipped to slide away from the action, capitalizing on whatever his teammates cook up. The Kings are scoring 114 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the hardwood. He ranks 51st in Offensive Estimated Plus-Minus (plus-1.8).
Sacramento’s stellar starting backcourt limits his minutes, but he’s been absurdly productive when he plays. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 23.6 points and 6.6 assists. He’s one of the league’s top reserves and might be its most impactful through early December. At the very least, he’s probably elicited the most joyful viewing experience of the bunch, flourishing as he further expands his game.
Still only 24, the bench might not suffice for him in the coming seasons. For now, however, it’s proving to be the ideal spot. He’s enjoying a feature role and helping extinguish the Kings’ 17-year playoff drought behind a vivacious offensive identity, one that he brightly amplifies.