Charlotte Hornets

Why Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk is still a mystery as training camp nears

Charlotte Hornets' Malik Monk looks ahead to upcoming NBA season

2017 first round draft pick discuses his comeback from injury, being underestimated, and having confidence in himself in his rookie pro season.
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2017 first round draft pick discuses his comeback from injury, being underestimated, and having confidence in himself in his rookie pro season.

Since Malik Monk was drafted onto the Charlotte Hornets, you haven’t seen him take a shot or dribble through traffic or get into a defensive stance.

The left ankle sprain Monk suffered while readying for pre-draft workouts cost him summer league in July and much of a rookie’s normal off-season preparation. That makes him a bit of a mystery heading into next week’s training camp at Spectrum Center.

Wednesday, in an exclusive interview with the Observer, Monk covered a lot of ground:

▪ That he isn’t just a shooter, he’s a rounded-out basketball player.

▪ That he recognizes his defensive limitations, and that won’t be acceptable at the NBA level.

▪ That his new teammates have been generous with their advice. ...

And, while he was surprised to last until the Hornets’ 11th overall pick, he’s fortunate how this worked out: His idol is the guy signing his paycheck.

Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk reacts to a question during an interview at Spectrum Center on Tuesday, a week from his first NBA training camp. David T. Foster III

“I’m playing for the greatest player who ever played basketball,” Monk said Tuesday of Hornets owner and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. “I can call and ask him questions, and I have (new teammates) Kemba (Walker) and Dwight (Howard), too.”

The eleventh pick was longer than Monk anticipated waiting to hear his name at the draft. He has a wealth of self-confidence (he’s publicly challenged Jordan to play one-on-one), which he says is necessary to be what the Hornets need of him. So when teams skipped over him, he took note.

“I was surprised a lot of teams passed on me,” said Monk, who averaged 19.8 points in his one college season at Kentucky. “Every team where you (audition) says nice things about you. But I got picked here for a reason.”

The primary reason 6-foot-3 shooting guard Monk was chosen by the Hornets for his gift as a shooter and a scorer. He made 40 percent of his attempts from the college 3-point line. He and former Duke forward Luke Kennard, now with the Detroit Pistons, were probably the best pure shooters in the 2017 draft class.

The Hornets’ biggest deficiency last season was probably its bench play. Monk can help fix that.

He doesn’t like being marginalized as just a shooter. He finds it amusing that is the short description of his skill set, because last season at Kentucky is the only time he’s played off the ball. He was a point guard in high school and asserts his skills are not limited to putting the ball through the hoop.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford wanted to experiment some with Monk playing the point at Orlando Summer League. Monk’s ankle sprain delayed that experiment, but the Hornets figure to explore that option in the preseason.

As to Monk’s playmaking ability, he’s already made an impression on a veteran teammate in a handful of pre-camp workouts.

“I didn’t know (his game) a whole lot when we drafted him, just highlights,” said Hornets center Cody Zeller. “These past few weeks have been really good (in demonstrating) his knack for the game, particularly offensively.”

Size, defense

Offense comes naturally to Monk. That’s not so true at the other end of the floor.

“Putting way more effort in on the defensive end,” Monk said, when asked what most needs improvement. “You’ve got to know that every possession in this league counts. You can’t take anything for granted.”

Monk is a couple of inches shorter than ideal for an NBA shooting guard. Like most rookies, he needs to get stronger, but by all reports, he’s applied himself in the Hornets weight room.

Clifford feels the Hornets regressed defensively last season, and he plans to toughen his expectations in that regard. He has already discussed this in detail with Monk.

“We’ve watched film. I’ve made edits of his defense in college. It won’t be OK” for Monk to guard as he did at Kentucky, Clifford said recently. “It’s just a different world, and they’re going to go at him more.

“He’s a terrific athlete, he’s highly competitive and I’m confident we can help him figure that piece out.”

Alpha male

That word – “confident” – comes up often regarding Monk. He describes himself as an alpha male, possessing a dominating personality. He says that’s as essential to his new profession as shooting and dribbling.

“It gets you a long way,” Monk said of that confidence. “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. All my family has that confident edge about them. I’ve always had the mentality to be the best.”

The tests, and there are an abundance coming, start Tuesday morning at the practice gym.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell