For the first time in a long time Thursday night, I agreed 100 percent with the Charlotte Hornets’ first-round draft choice.
Malik Monk, the most electric shooter in the NBA draft, was the obvious selection for the Hornets’ first-round pick at No. 11 once the rest of the top 10 picks fell the way they did. And the Hornets didn’t mess it up – as they are often wont to do when it comes to drafting – in selecting the former Kentucky star who is already planning to be something special next season.
“I’m trying to be rookie of the year,” Monk said shortly after the draft. Then he repeated the statement later so you knew he meant it.
The Hornets would trade down later Thursday and take 6-foot-6 former Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon with their second pick of the night -- the No. 40 overall pick. Bacon averaged 17.2 points for FSU last season, but disappeared at times and has struggled occasionally with his jumper. I’m not nearly as sure about how much impact Bacon will make; I doubt it will be much of an immediate one.
But I believe Monk will land with a thunderclap. I just keep thinking about that 47-point game Monk had against eventual NCAA champion North Carolina in December, when he got as hot as I have ever seen any college player get.
That wasn’t a game against a second-tier SEC opponent. That was a Tar Heels team doing anything it could to guard Monk, and it just didn’t matter. It was the most points anybody has ever scored against a Roy Williams team, and Monk hit a game-winning dagger 3 at the end – disobeying coach John Calipari’s order to drive the ball.
“Coach told me to drive,” Monk said at the time, “but I was hot and I shot it.”
I expect Monk will say the same sort of thing a few times next season at the end of a Hornets game, which is why I have been advocating this pick. Whether he wins or loses the game, the Hornets just got someone else who can take and make a last-second shot.
They have faltered in that department too often, with Kemba Walker frequently trying to force one up at the end and the other team’s defense knowing all about it and double-teaming him all the way.
Although Monk wasn’t as dazzling in the NCAA tournament rematch when Luke Maye was the shooting hero for North Carolina, he certainly was no one-hit wonder. He averaged 19.8 points per game for Kentucky during his freshman season, leading the SEC in 3-pointers, once scoring 30 points in a single half against Florida, winning the 2017 Jerry West Award as the nation’s best shooting guard and shooting 39.7 percent from three-point range. “And my mid-range (jumper) is better than my three-point,” Monk said.
This was what the Hornets needed in an increasingly offensive-minded NBA. They had other decent choices at No. 11 with Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, Duke’s Luke Kennard and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson still on the board. But they took the player they needed to take after the New York Knicks passed on Monk at No. 8 (that’s where he thought he would go, and where Kentucky coach John Calipari had hoped Monk would go because, he told ESPN, he knew New York would have loved him).
The Hornets had their best week in about a year this week. After a nasty 36-46 season, they added Dwight Howard via trade Tuesday night and then Monk on Thursday. Howard applauded the Monk pick via Twitter.
Jay Bilas, the ESPN analyst who lives in Charlotte, said of Monk on the network’s TV coverage: “That’s a good get at 11. I think he’s the best shooter, period, in the draft.”
Charlotte’s checkered draft history is well-known, starting all the way back with Rex Chapman with the team’s first-ever pick in 1988 (No. 8 overall). There was Adam Morrison in 2006. There was Kobe Bryant – drafted only at the behest of the L.A. Lakers and then traded away – in 1996. There was the North Carolina lottery double dip of Raymond Felton and Sean May in 2005. There was Noah Vonleh in 2014.
Monk – whose older brother Marcus was a wide receiver in training camp with the Carolina Panthers in 2009 before getting waived – is nothing if not confident. On a trip to work out for the Phoenix Suns recently, Monk said his range was “as soon as I walk in the gym.”
When asked on the same trip how his shooting range compared to Steph Curry’s, Monk said: “Mine is further than his.”
On Thursday night, Monk simply said: “I’m a winner.” He also smartly said something nice about imitating Walker, saying he “got the stepback (jumper) from him.”
He will need to figure some other things out – Monk needs to learn to both rebound and defend better, which are two things that Hornets coach Steve Clifford loves to stress. Monk also admitted Thursday in a conference call with Charlotte-area media that he must learn to give “110 percent” regularly on both ends of the court and “not take a play off.”
But Malik Monk is only 19, and he’s about to do some big things.