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Know the Prospect: Malik Monk

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Do you like buckets? Then you'll like Monk.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Alabama Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks enter the draft desperate for backcourt talent. The consensus is this year’s class is loaded with point guard prodigies, and the Knicks have had a point-guard-prodigy-sized hole on the roster since time immemorial. But what if the best player available when New York’s on the clock is a scoring guard? What if that scoring guard is the best player in the draft, period? Could Kentucky’s Malik Monk be Manhattan-bound?

Some scouts think if Monk were 6’5” instead of 6’3” he’d be the top pick. He scored 20.4 points per game for the Wildcats, earning SEC Player of the Year honors. His athleticism is top-flight, and he comes by it honestly: his brother Marcus played D-I basketball and football at Arkansas; his uncle played football for Arkansas State; one cousin also hooped it up for the Razorbacks; another cousin played for Baylor’s champion women’s basketball team.

Although he’s only 19, Monk is a precocious athlete. He’s also a pretty smooth interview subject; check out this interview from the 2016 McDonald’s All-American game. He doesn’t default to mindless cliches (this may change after enough exposure to mindless questions) and appears to be enjoying his kismet. That’s not to be underestimated, especially for a PR-obsessed-but-tone-deaf organization in chronic need of uplifting narratives.

Monk is an elite scorer, hitting more than half of his two-pointers, 40% of his threes, and 80% of his free throws. He’s mad comfy shooting anything from anywhere: floaters, bombs, off of screens, off the dribble, going to his left, to his right. He gets his catch-and-shoots off in the blink of an eye. Even when forced off-balance, Monk maintains his form, as seen below against Florida.

In Kentucky’s first 34 games, Monk hit 95 threes. Through 69 games, only two Knicks have bested that number — Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. It’s hard to watch Monk highlights and not be reminded of J.R. Smith — the explosiveness, the ease and strength when launching from deep, the prolific scoring. The freshman’s 13% assist rate equals what Smith’s averaged over his NBA career. A second symmetry: the percentage of Smith’s field goal attempts that are threes has risen from 38% in his early years to a career high of 76% this season. 46% of Monk’s shots have come from behind the arc. Virtually every close look Monk gets comes via transition rather than halfcourt sets, raising questions about his ability - or willingness - to get to the rim and the foul line. Per Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman last December:

Monk leans almost exclusively on shooting and transition for offense. Of his 90 buckets this year, 62 have come on jumpers (or floaters), and 23 have been transition finishes at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com. Only five of his scores have come at the rim in the half-court, and despite averaging 21.9 points a game, he only uses the free-throw line for 2.1 of them.

I think this an overrated concern. Scope that entire Kentucky v. Florida clip from above: after a super-hot first half from outside, Monk spends the second attacking the Gator D, using dribble penetration to draw fouls and find teammates in the lane and around the basket. This was legit big-picture awareness. His outside shooting kept Kentucky in the game until the second half; once they began to pull ahead, he perceived that shift in momentum and helped the downhill push by consciously pressuring the defense with drives, introducing an additional element of complexity to a defense that was showing signs of cracking. He saw a weakness and exploited it. Ain’t no stats for savvy. But savvy’s where it’s at. Speaking of savvy, how ‘bout some sick open-floor action?

Another reason to feel confident Monk’s game will translate to the pros: When the lights were brightest, his shine was too. If you can bring the noise/bring the pain to North Carolina and Florida, you can probably bring it in, say, Brooklyn in March (something the current Knicks struggle with).

Reasons to steer clear of Monk? Well, the last time the Knicks took a Kentucky player in the lottery, this guy happened.

In the clip below, NY past meets NY future. Wormholes replace subway lines. Uptown, a three-legged bitch nurses a litter of demon pups; they devour her.

If Monk is available when the Knicks are up, their decision either way could indicate the franchise’s larger sense of direction, something fans are rarely ever certain of, or if one even exists. Monk is a three-point bomber who is traditionally undersized for a two-guard; neither of those details is likely to earn him high marks in Phil Jackson’s Secret Sacred Book of I Give A Fuck. This is probably Phil’s last big swing in the draft. Would he go after a guy whose skills aren’t prized in the Triangle?

Would he draft Monk confident his drive for greatness, coupled with the organization’s player development people, would improve his passing and finishing at the rim? Remember when people weren’t sure Karl-Anthony Towns was better than Jahlil Okafor? Even though Kentucky people were saying Towns was a great shooter but didn’t get the chance to show it in their system? De’Aaron Fox handles the ball more than Monk for the Wildcats. I watch Monk and I see a basketball player. I think his passing could surprise as a pro, given the opportunity to showcase it more. Not in the Triangle, maybe. But in an actual 2017 NBA offense.

Is Jackson feeling the pressure now more than when he surprised people taking Porzingis two years ago? If not, he may keep playing the long game and go for the best player available; if Monk is available, that could very well be him. If Jackson goes for the player most likely to succeed immediately in the Triangle, most of y’all be bugging. Then again...can you bug if you’re not even really being?

Ponder your abstraction while soaking in some highlights.