Kentucky coach John Calipari thought Malik Monk shouldn’t have lasted to the eleventh pick of June’s NBA draft.
However, who selected Monk – who will guide his future – couldn’t be more ideal to his college coach.
“I thought he should have gone earlier in the draft, but when I heard it was (the Hornets), I said, ‘Hallelujah, it’s perfect!’” Calipari told the Observer Wednesday.
By perfect, Calipari continued, it’s the right teammates (he noted point guard Kemba Walker), the right coaches and – particularly – an owner with the Hall of Fame gravitas to mentor a talented 19-year-old.
“When Michael (Jordan) sits down with him and says, ‘This is what we want you to be,’ it’s a totally different deal,” Calipari said.
Naturally, it’s good for business for Calipari to promote his players, both current and former. But his effusiveness about Monk is a different level. He loves the kid’s spirit, his competitiveness and something Calipari says is harder to find than any of that.
“He has amnesia: Whatever happened before, he doesn’t remember,” Calipari said before the Hornets beat the Denver Nuggets 110-93 Wednesday. “The amnesia, it’s hard to teach. Some guys can’t get by two misses. He’ll miss five in a row and keep shooting.”
And then, as if determined to prove Calipari’s point, Monk scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. In his first three NBA games, Monk had totaled 13 points on 4-of-22 shooting and committed seven turnovers. Calipari knew Monk would block all that out, because he demonstrated that and more in his single season with the Wildcats.
Calipari said Monk averaged more points (19.8) than any other player he’s coached in college. However, as the Hornets are exploring, Monk isn’t just a scorer. He’s undersized at 6-foot-3 for an NBA shooting guard, so Hornets coach Steve Clifford is experimenting with Monk at point guard.
Clifford said after practice Thursday he appreciated how Monk didn’t recoil in June when Clifford asked him to try another position. Clifford says Monk understands this is how to draw the best from him, and he likes exploring.
“I think if you said to him ‘We’re going to invent a game here’ or ‘We’re going to play European handball,’ he’d be good at it,” Clifford said. “That’s an important thing. It shows he understands angles and anticipates things, and sees the next play. You can’t teach those things.”
There is, however, much Monk still must be taught. He was not a strong defender in his one college season, and there’s no position where lacking defense can be more exposed in the NBA than shooting guard.
Right now Monk is a reserve, and that’s where he belongs. The Hornets’ other rookie, Dwayne Bacon, has size (6-7) and strength Monk doesn’t possess. That’s why Bacon was slotted into the starting lineup while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was away from the team. Nic Batum’s eventual return from an elbow injury will push both rookies further down the depth chart.
But Monk was always going to play as a rookie. His gift for scoring in a multitude of ways is badly needed on a second unit that was the Hornets’ biggest flaw last season. Now, to use Calipari’s term, it’s up to Clifford and his assistants to “groom” Monk’s career.
“He doesn’t have the size to play against starting (shooting guards) every night,” Clifford said. “So to me, because he’s such a gifted player, if he plays both (guard spots) he can be a terrific player. If he plays just (shooting guard), he’s going to limit himself.”
All that’s fine with Monk. Either way, that “amnesia” thing comes in hand.
“It always comes into play,” Monk said. “(If) I don’t see that last shot ever, I’ll always be loose.”