Charlotte Hornets Player Preview: Malik Monk

Charlotte Hornets Malik Monk (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Charlotte Hornets Malik Monk (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Malik Monk is coming off a disappointing rookie year, but flashed serious potential last season. What should Charlotte Hornets fans expect from him in year two?

Outside of Kemba Walker, Malik Monk is probably the most intriguing player on the Charlotte Hornets. He’s an explosive athlete and scorer with a TON of potential, which is something that the Hornets haven’t really had since returning to Charlotte in 2014. Prior to last season, he was even being frequently mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate.

For various reasons, year one with Moist did not live up to expectations. His overall numbers were underwhelming, averaging 6.7 points, 1 rebound, and 1.4 assists on a rough 36% from the field & 34.2% from three. His advanced stats? Even worse. By ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus, Monk finished 518th out of 521 players at -5.59. He also finished with the worst on/off Net Rating on the team, at -15.4 points per 100 possessions. To put those numbers in perspective, the net rating of now infamous Michael Carter-Williams was -3.4 points per 100 possessions, and he finished 278th in RPM at -1.32.

These stats don’t tell the whole story, however. Monk’s rookie year was perhaps doomed to underwhelm the lofty expectations fans set from the start.

He suffered a sprained ankle in the draft-workout process that kept him from basketball activities the entire month of July, including the Orlando Summer League. That certainly has an impact on rookies, who need all the offseason hours they can get to prepare for the difficult transition from the College game to the NBA.

This unpreparedness showed during the season, but there was a very visible difference between Monk’s play to start the season and his play to finish the season. Monk’s rookie year was really a tale of two seasons.

First half of the season

Though many Hornets fans feel that Monk wasn’t given the opportunity he deserved last season by former head coach Steve Clifford, Monk was given decent opportunity straight from the start.

For the first 12 games of the season, Monk enjoyed a sixth man role off the bench, averaging 21.5 minutes/game as the 2nd unit’s primary ball-handler. The results were pretty bad, with Monk only piecing together three standout games where he really flashed potential. In those three games though, Monk played incredible basketball. He averaged 21 points, including 4.3 3PM on 52.1% from the field and 43.3% from 3 in them. Ultimately, consistency was a glaring problem, and Monk averaged just 5.8 points on 22.7% from the field and 24.4% from three in the other 9 games.

Additionally, four of Monk’s five most utilized lineups in those 12 games were all negative. His most used lineup in that stretch, Monk/Bacon/Graham/Kaminsky/Zeller was -15.3 per 100 possessions in 29.3 total minutes. His 2nd most used lineup was -32.8 per 100 possessions. The third? -61.8 per 100 possessions. Not good. The lone bright spot from his lineups in that stretch was the Monk/Kemba pair, which was +7.6 per 100 possessions in 97 minutes.

His overall numbers (9.6 points on 34.1% from the field & 32.4% from three) and shoddy defense in that first stretch weren’t enough for Clifford to justify continuing to give Monk minutes, so Monk spent the next four months in the G league to develop – only getting NBA reps in garbage time. 

Second half of the season

Though Monk’s benching in the middle of the 2017-18 season is Hornets fans’ principle criticism of Clifford, the move actually might’ve paid off. Monk showed considerable improvement in the final 14 games of the season when Clifford began giving him meaningful minutes again.

Although he struggled with efficiency from inside the arc in the first 7 games of that stretch (9.0 ppg on 32.3% from FG and 38.9% from 3), he looked a lot more comfortable on the court. Unlike the beginning of the season, his most used lineup during those seven games had him running the point alongside Bacon, Graham, Kaminsky, and Hernangomez, and was very effective at +11.4 per 100 possessions over 27.9 minutes of action.

Then, Monk absolutely exploded in the final 7 games of the season.

In those games, he put up 18 points and 3.3 assists on 47% shooting from the field and 39.7% from three on a whopping 8.3 attempts, scoring more than 16 points all but once. All five of his most used lineups in that stretch were positive as well, despite the fact that the Hornets lost 5 of those 7 games. His most used lineup in that stretch also featured him as the primary ball-handler, this time alongside Stone, Lamb, Kaminsky, and Hernangomez, which performed very well – a healthy +6.4 per 100 possessions in 73 total minutes.


One (really) positive takeaway from the final stretch of Monk’s season is how fast the pace of lineups he was leading played and how well they performed. Monk’s most used lineup during the final 14 games (Stone, Lamb, Kaminsky, and Hernangomez) played at a very fast pace – 100.1 possessions per 48. And the aforementioned Monk/Bacon/Graham/Kaminsky/Hernangomez lineup also played at a relatively fast pace, at 97.8 possessions per 48.

For reference, the Hornets’ starting lineup played at a pace of 98.7 possessions per 48, which is also really fast compared to other team’s starting lineups. The only teams whose starting lineups played at a faster pace last season were the Pistons (100.1), Pelicans (100.4), Warriors (101.6), and Thunder (102.3).

Those two lineups mentioned above aren’t possible anymore with the departures of Treveon Graham and Julyan Stone, but can still be effectively recreated and potentially improved. Coach Borrego now has Miles Bridges and Tony Parker at his disposal, and Parker figures to be an improvement over Stone. Bridges could also be an improvement over Graham. We’ll know more on Bridges soon.

In any event, Monk’s ability to lead lineups with pace at the end of last season is very encouraging for this season, in which playing with pace is the the central focus. 

Monk suggested Monday during his media day appearance that his rookie season isn’t reflective of his game, but rather reflective of how he was misused by the previous coaching staff. Frank Kaminsky expressed similar sentiments on his podcast as well. Both are excited for the transition to Borrego’s system and have bought into Borrego’s practice technique of reducing the shot clock from 24 to 12 to force a faster pace.

Monk especially should be excited for the increased pace the Hornets will play. In his lone season at Kentucky, the Wildcats played at one of the fastest paces in the NCAA – averaging 76.2 possessions per game. That ranked 18th out of 351 D1 schools, and was the 2nd highest average among Power 5 teams behind Auburn. As we all know, Monk had an incredible season at Kentucky, posting 19.8 points on 45% from FG and 39.7% from three, including a 47 point explosion on the Carolina Tar Heels on just 18 shots.  Playing with more pace should help unlock the potential he showcased at Kentucky.


  • Expected 2018-19 stats: 20.6 minutes/game, 11.3 points/game, 2.2 assists/game, 1.8 rebounds/game, 39.7% FG, 36.1% 3p%, 1.1 turnovers/game

With Nic Batum now projecting to spend more minutes at Small Forward, Shooting Guard will probably be the most competitive position on the Hornets this season.

While Borrego has continued to express that Monk will be an integral part of this team, a starting role out of the gates is unlikely. Borrego has also continued to re-iterate his goal for the Hornets to be a strong defensive team, and a starting tandem of Kemba and Monk would provide a very porous front line of defense.

For that reason, I would bet on Lamb being named the starter with Monk operating in the sixth man role, playing around 20 minutes off the bench. I would also expect minutes to fluctuate between the two each game – especially in the 4th quarter – where Borrego will likely roll with the hot hand. Monk’s minutes would also benefit from injuries to Lamb or Tony Parker. While Lamb was very durable last season (80 games played), he has only played more than 66 games twice in his career. Parker has averaged 65 games played over the past six seasons.

All in all, Monk has a real chance to redeem himself this season. Unlike last off-season, he’s been healthy (outside of a minor thumb injury), which has allowed him to really put in the time to work on his game and physicals. Between that, being in a better situation that caters to his skillset, and having a full NBA season under his belt, a bounce-back season seems to be on the horizon.