Charlotte Hornets

Why is Hornets rookie Malik Monk sitting more than playing? It’s not punishment.

Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk (1), playing earlier this season against the Boston Celtics. Monk got 17 minutes Saturday, his first sustained playing time in five games.
Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk (1), playing earlier this season against the Boston Celtics. Monk got 17 minutes Saturday, his first sustained playing time in five games. AP

Someone approached Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford recently, asking what it will take for rookie Malik Monk to escape the doghouse.

Clifford says no doghouse exists: He likes Monk’s potential, envisioning a bright future for the former Kentucky guard.

But the future isn’t the present. Clifford feels it’s not only his prerogative to coach Monk as he has, it’s also his obligation.

Monk, the 11th overall pick, played sustained minutes Saturday for the first time in five games. He totaled 17 minutes – all in the second half – of the Hornets’ 106-86 home loss to the San Antonio Spurs. In the previous four games Monk had totaled four minutes, including two “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decisions” against the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards.

Saturday was a logical juncture to re-insert Monk into the rotation. The Hornets were horrible offensively in the first half (29 points on 10-of-45 shooting). The starters mostly looked dead-tired, after the one-point road loss Friday to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Why not throw in a guy who averaged 19.8 points in his one college season?

Understandably, Monk was rusty, making one of three shots from the field. He finished with four points and two assists. Whether he plays Wednesday in Toronto is still to be determined.

Clifford is adamant that moving Monk out of the rotation wasn’t a punishment. The Hornets were underperforming defensively, and 6-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams was ready to play again after a long recovery from sore knees.

San Antonio Spurs' Kyle Anderson, center, is fouled as he drives between Charlotte Hornets' Michael Carter-Williams, left, and Jeremy Lamb, right, during Saturday’s game. Chuck Burton AP

Adding Carter-Williams’ length and defensive acumen was a logical move, and the Hornets have played much better defensively since his minutes rose. To get Carter-Williams into the rotation, Monk fell out.

I asked Monk after a recent pregame shootaround if he was concerned about sitting, after averaging 19 minutes in the Hornets’ first 14 games. Monk was stoic, saying this is what a typical rookie season is in the NBA.

Some of the Hornets fan base seems shocked and angry that Monk isn’t playing much. Clifford believes such high expectations for instant impact aren’t realistic or fair to Monk. He has plenty more to learn after a 38-game college career. He’s playing point guard after being a shooting guard last season. He’s being asked to do things defensively that might as well be a foreign language.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was talking about rookies and defense before the recent game in Charlotte. He joked that players could sit down for a picnic on the weak side of a college defense, and maybe not get scored on. Rivers wasn’t calling college coaches unsophisticated; he was illustrating the complexity of defense at an NBA level where every player is potentially capable of a 20-point night.

Monk has impressed Clifford with a positive attitude and an effort lately to put in extra work. There will be more nights like the Milwaukee game Nov. 1, when Monk went off for 25 points.

The way Clifford views it, it’s as much Monk’s job to fit his skills into what the Hornets need to win, as it is the coach’s job to fit Monk into the rotation.

That’s just how it’s going to be. To use a Clifford-ism, it’s a non-negotiable.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell