Among the most efficient scorers in power conference hoops for much of the regular season, Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk was nothing short of outstanding as a freshman. Even as he struggled to make his presence felt quite as frequently late in the season, he still flashed the ability to heat up in an instant and put points on the board in bunches. The clear-cut first option on a Kentucky team that finished as the nation's 12th ranked offense according to KenPom, Monk was critical to the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight and earned All-SEC First Team honors, scoring 19.8 points per game, showing his strengths and weaknesses as a pro prospect vividly in the process.
Monk's intrigue at the next level starts with his tremendous athletic ability, even if he is a tad undersized for a shooting guard at the NBA level at 6'3 in shoes, with just a 6'4 wingspan. A freakishly explosive leaper capable of finishing emphatically above the rim, registering a 42-inch vertical leap at Kentucky's preseason combine, the Bentonville, Arkansas native also possesses the strong first step and quickness to potentially grow into a dynamic shot creator off the dribble, even if that wasn't his identity at the college level. Possessing a lean, but promising 200-pound frame, Monk lacks a degree of height and length, but makes up for that in other ways.
Here's a closer look at the strengths Monk displayed throughout his time at Kentucky:
Aside from his explosiveness, it is Monk's prowess as a jump shooter that remains his most appealing trait as an NBA prospect. Making considerable strides with his consistency in the summer and fall leading into his freshman year, Monk made his mark this season primarily with his ability to get and stay hot from the perimeter, in addition to using his athleticism to get out in transition. With some 45% of his possessions coming on spot-ups and off screens and another 30% coming in Transition, Monk did much of his damage off of quick actions, finding daylight in the half court, or around the rim on the break, playing almost exclusively off the ball most nights.
Making 40% of his 3-point attempts over 8.1 attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season, Monk ranked among the most prolific shooters in this draft class, and mostly played to his strengths, with some 80% of his shot attempts coming away from the rim in the half court, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Shooting the ball with great elevation, to go along with very nice touch, Monk hunted set shots relocating well off the ball, and showed no shortage of confidence, taking and making many deep, contested threes. Exploding for a Kentucky freshman record 47 points in what was arguably the top individual performance of any player all year, in a non-conference win over eventual National Champions North Carolina, Monk scored in bunches on his best nights, raining shot after shot from the perimeter in spectacular fashion.
More than just a set shooter, with 50% of his shot attempts in the half court coming off the bounce, Monk was also exceptionally effective using quick dribbles to create space. Using fakes and low rip-throughs, Monk showed a knack for making one quick move and getting to his spots in the midrange. Making 43% of his dribble jump shots in the half court, Monk's strong first step and explosiveness elevating to score off the bounce made him a difficult player to close out effectively a year ago, even if his shot selection sometimes left something to be desired.
The challenge for Monk moving forward will be honing his explosiveness into legitimate NBA-caliber shot creating ability. With just 10% of his possessions coming in pick and roll or isolation situations last year, Monk was seldom asked to create for himself off the dribble alongside De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe, and found mixed results when he was. Shooting 49% inside the paint in the half court, Monk wasn't adept at using his tools to create high percentage shots around the rim. Lacking a degree of physicality inside to absorb contact inside and settling for some tough off balance shots in close, Monk did draw fouls at a solid rate, and shot 82% from the line, but has a lot of room to grow as a slasher and shot-creator.
Here's a closer look at the weaknesses Monk displayed throughout his time at Kentucky:
Though he has great burst to blow by defenders when they're forced to close him out, and a consistent pull-up jump shot, Monk was fairly quiet some nights when opposing defenses worked to take away his spot up opportunities. As he transitions to the next level, his ability to become a more dynamic ball handler, learn how to manipulate defenses, hone his developing passing ability, and become more of a combo guard will be a key step in his development. Monk flashed some nice court vision at points this season, particularly driving and dishing using his quickness or feeding Bam Adebayo with lobs out of the pick and roll, but his mentality as a lead guard remains a point of interest. Some players with the same reliance on difficult shots with shoot-first mentalities have an easier time flipping the switch and making sounder decisions with the ball off the bounce than others. The 19-year-old standout has the tools and game to be an elite role-player alongside a ball dominant guard, but the team drafting him in the top ten will likely have higher aspirations for the former McDonald's All-American.
Defensively, Monk has solid lateral quickness, but some things to clean up to help make up for his lack of great size, strength and length. Playing with wavering intensity and improvable discipline, Monk is capable of applying ball pressure and held his own for the most part this season, but makes some mistakes allowing slower players to get to spots against him off the bounce, isn't very disruptive, and offers little value on the glass. His ability to get stronger and stay dialed in will be key to his ability to guard both guard spots, as he seems better suited to defend the point guard spot given his physical tools.
Among the most productive freshman in the country, Monk stood out among an elite group of one-and-done players for much of the year, having a number of brilliant moments for John Calipari's Wildcats. Growing a bit more enigmatic late in the year, Monk would disappear for stretches before knocking down a few shots, seeming content to let the game come to him at times. While there is no questioning Monk's talent, especially as a shot maker, it will be his ability to grow into a more versatile scorer and all-around player that will determine just how successful he can be at the next level. Plenty of players in his mold have transitioned into competent lead guards in time, but Monk's tremendous athletic ability seems to give him more upside than most if he can grow into an identity as a scoring point guard.