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How High Can Kentucky's Malik Monk Fly Up 2017 NBA Draft Boards?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 26, 2016

Oct 14, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) during Kentucky Midnight Madness at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Athleticism and offense propelled Malik Monk up recruiting ranks straight toward the spotlight at Kentucky. Will they help him soar up 2017 NBA draft boards? 

Production and eye-test results won't be issues for one of the most talented freshmen in the country. He'll put up numbers and turn heads with superhero-like leaping ability.

Monk is expected to replace Jamal Murray at off-guard and emerge as the Wildcats' No. 1 option. Head coach John Calipari believes he will "probably take the most shots on the team," according to KSTV.

But he'll have questions to answer about his eventual transition to the pros, with the first concerning questionable physical tools for his projected NBA position (shooting guard).

Projected Position/Physical Tools
NBA PositionHeightWeight (lbs)WingspanStanding Reach
SG6'3"1976'3.5"8'3"
DraftExpress

Based on his skill set, Monk's NBA calling card will be scoring. But since 2000, the only non-point guards 6'3" or shorter to average 15 points in a season were Ben Gordon, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams, Avery Bradley and Leandro Barbosa, per Basketball-Reference.comCan Monk efficiently score against 2-guards who'll be bigger and longer?

"It will depend on how well he shoots it," one NBA scout told Bleacher Report.

Monk compensates for limited size and length with jaw-dropping explosiveness and bounce. Those skills translate to easy buckets off fast breaks and drives through open lanes. 

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The question is whether they'll result in draft buzz or high-level NBA success.

                  

Strengths 

Monk will make the most waves with flashy dunks and finishes, but his perimeter game fuels his scoring potential. He can score in bunches with the ability to shoot off the dribble in transition, isolation or ball-screen situations. He can also separate from defenders with abrupt pull-ups and sneaky step-backs.

He's additionally developed the shot-making ability to connect off balance, under pressure or from deep. 

Monk gets good elevation when rising to fire, a noteworthy detail considering the size disadvantage he'll face against starting NBA 2-guards. He's added a promising floater to his runner game around the foul line—a new weapon that completes his perimeter arsenal. 

Though he's a dangerous one-on-one scorer, Monk has some trouble resisting the urges that come with being able to easily create shots and hit tough ones.

He has the J.R. Smith-like tendency to settle and opt for the hero jumper, whether it's a contested fadeaway or a quick-trigger pull-up early in the clock.

Overconfidence and a shooter's mentality can lead to slump-busting attempts and cold streaks (2-of-10 from three during the Jordan Brand Classic). 

"He'll miss eight shots in a row and then go back to the line and miss a ninth," Calipari told the Courier-Journal's Jon Hale. "Like, 'Dude, you can't.' We're now charting every shot and every workout."

Monk's efficiency will be tied to his shot selection. Scouts will want to see more slashes and foul shots than two-point jumpers. One questioned "how well he can get to the bucket inside the arc." 

His handle isn't the tightest and can prevent him from blowing by and turning the corner. Improving it could lead to more points at the rim and free-throw line—but also more threatening potential as a distributor.

                

Weaknesses

Monk's value would get a significant boost if he offers this versatility by establishing himself as a combo guard. 

"He's become a much better shooter over the years," a second NBA scout said. "Now the question will be how comfortable is he as a ball-handler and as a playmaker off the dribble."

"If he's like a Monta Ellis, he'll be OK. If he's Archie Goodwin, he'll struggle," the first scout said.

Passing isn't his forte, but Monk has flashed glimpses of dribble creativity and setup ability—he averaged six assists through four games at the 2015 Nike Global Challenge, per RealGM. His first step and speed naturally translate to drive-and-dish opportunities. 

Still, he can be loose with the ball and reckless with passes on the move. Monk's handle and facilitating must improve for him to emerge as a legitimate secondary source for assists.

Doing so would give coaches a reason to keep him on the floor when his jump shot isn't falling. 

Monk's foot speed and athleticism bode well for his potential to contain dribble penetration; he should be able to stay in front of speedy ball-handlers when engaged.

But at 6'3" with short arms, it's fair to question how effectively he'll defend NBA off-guards. He doesn't compensate with motor and intensity like undersized 2s such as Bradley and Norman Powell. He will rack up steals but won't take anyone out of a game with constant pressure on or off the ball.

His NBA value would take a hit if coaches deem him unfit to defend quality 2-guards, which would further damage his chances of becoming a regular starter.

                

Takeaways

Monk's athleticism and numbers will create noise as well as debate regarding his NBA outlook. 

It wouldn't be surprising to see him average more than 15 points and shoot a respectable percentage from deep. Bank on frequent appearances in top-10-play lists and highlights that mirror many of today's pro stars.

But his individual goals involve staying efficient and being defensively alert. Each is bound to be a challenge during his likely one-and-done freshman season. 

Struggling with those two facets could lead scouts to believe Monk's game will be better suited in a bench role as a sparkplug. Consistent shooting, unexpected playmaking and defense would help diminish concerns over his tools, style of play and ceiling. 

The difference will not only impact his future role, but also his draft location. Thus, I'm pegging Monk as a mid-to-late first-rounder with late-lottery upside.

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