If Malik Monk doesn’t score, there’s no argument for him to play.
Monk went 34 minutes over two games without tallying a point. He took just seven shots in that span. In those 34 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers, the Charlotte Hornets were outscored by 53.
So something had to change for Monk to stay in the Hornets’ rotation. Something did Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers: Almost immediately upon entering the game, Monk hit a 3-pointer. He took three more shots in the first half, making them all. By game’s end, he had 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Monk rediscovered aggression.
“I’ve been way too passive.” Monk said after the Hornets’ 111-96 road loss.
“Thinking way too much, trying to get other people involved. I’ve just got to attack.”
This early in the season, Monk already was at risk of being left behind. He’s in the second unit, playing behind starter Dwayne Bacon at shooting guard. Monk is only two seasons into his NBA career, but newer guys like forwards P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges look more like the Hornets’ future.
Friday, the Hornets picked up the option on Monk’s contract for next season, guaranteeing him about $5 million. His ensuing performances made that gesture look questionable.
Only he could fix that.
“Me being aggressive opens everything up,” Monk said. “For me, and my teammates, too.”
‘Everyone knows that’
Monk needed that reminder, not his teammates. They have all seen him occasionally explode for a 20-point half.
“Malik is at his best when he is aggressive. He knows that. Everyone knows that,” veteran forward Marvin Williams observed. “Tonight, he made a conscious effort to be himself. When he just goes out there and plays — when he doesn’t overthink — he’s very tough to cover.”
That’s what drew the Hornets to select Monk 11th overall in the 2017 draft. During his one college season at Kentucky, he erupted for a 47-point game against North Carolina. He has 3-point shooting range and the quickness off the dribble to blow past defenders. General manager Mitch Kupchak has called Monk the Hornets’ best pure athlete.
He might never be a good defender or a precise passer, but that gift for scoring in bunches is something the Hornets so need.
What happened to turn off Monk’s spigot?
Guard-forward Nic Batum broke a finger on his left hand in the season-opener, and is out for several weeks. Batum injury coincided with Monk’s two-game scoreless streak.
Those are not unrelated events, coach James Borrego believes.
“He was playing really well with Nic and Marvin in that backup lineup,” Borrego said of Monk. “Now, with no Nic, he’s had to be more of a primary ball-handler for us, which is a different role.”
Not a huge difference, Monk says, but certainly a shift.
“That’s me adjusting, having to figure things out,” Monk said of Monday’s performance.
“I guess it took me three games. Now, I have to keep it rolling.”