Malik Monk Is 2017 NBA Draft's Default Option at Shooting Guard

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 21, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives against Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The 2017 NBA draft conversation includes a number of compelling debates.

Projecting the best shooting guard isn't one of them, though—Kentucky's Malik Monk looks well on his way toward earning that title following his 47-point eruption during Saturday's three-point win over North Carolina. 

It felt like a statement performance, a historic display of offense capable of moving the draft-stock needle.

"Definitely buying into a shot-maker like that," one NBA scout said of Monk. "If he was 6'5", everyone would say he's the potential top pick."

Monk however, is 6'3", but he nonetheless further established his world-class shot-making while showing off advanced perimeter shot creativity. He's a pro at finding ways to create just enough separation, whether it's with a pump fake, screen, step-back or hang dribble to rock his man back

Throw in fearlessness and confidence, and Monk's clearly a threat to catch fire. You got the impression he saw a hula hoop instead of a rim against North Carolina. When locked in, he can score in bunches and take over stretches of a game. 

Monk especially went to work in the 18-23-foot range on Saturday, sinking jumper after jumper (14 total), including some off screens, others off spot-ups and more off the dribble.  

Monk's made FG distribution against North Carolina
Two-point jumpers (pull-up)5
Three-point jumpers off screen3
Three-point jumpers (spot-up)3
Three-point jumpers (pull-up)2
Transition (at rim)2
Two-point jumpers off screen1
Half-court FG at rim (cut)1

But despite all the fireworks, he actually didn't showcase anything new. His made field-goal distribution chart from the game corresponds with the one he's painted all season. 

Monk leans almost exclusively on shooting and transition for offense. Of his 90 buckets this year, 62 have come on jumpers (or floaters), and 23 have been transition finishes at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com. Only five of his scores have come at the rim in the half-court, and despite averaging 21.9 points a game, he only uses the free-throw line for 2.1 of them. 

"Has he really needed to get to the basket, though?" the scout responded when presented with the numbers that unless it's a fast break, Monk rarely gets himself easy points at the tin. "I think it's more important at this point for him to be able to shoot it. He's plenty athletic."

Monk's jumper and explosive leaping ability help diminish some concern tied to his size and shot selection. The question is whether to view him as a J.R. Smith type, who's valued for his streak scoring and shooting but isn't consistent enough for a top-two option.

Or are we looking at a routine 20-point scorer—like he is in college—which would justify top-five consideration in the draft?

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives against Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100.  (Photo
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Scouts must ultimately decide if Monk can improve his ball-handling, the key for him to drawing more fouls and putting pressure on the interior defense and rim. And if he can't, how will it affect his ability to stay consistent?

Regardless, with his bounce, stroke and production, Monk appears to have solidified himself as a surefire lottery option. Plus, there should be high demand for shooting guards but few good ones for teams to draft. A lack of talent supply at the off-guard slot in this year's projected field—as well as in the NBA—will work to his benefit.

That's because the next-best prospects at the position come off as late-first, fringe-first or second-round-caliber talents. 

Top 2017 eligible 2-guards outside of Monk
Terrance FergusonAdelaide 36ers, Australia
Kostja MushidiMega Leks, Germany
Grayson AllenDuke
Josh HartVillanova
Luke KennardDuke
Sviatoslav MykhailiukKansas

Terrance Ferguson (6'7"), an American teenager playing in Australia's National Basketball League, jumps out as the only other 2-guard worth reaching on in the draft's top half. However, at 6'7" with 13 total assists through 15 games, he's more of a wing than a guard. 

There is also a strong chance most teams in the lottery assess Monk's ceiling as higher than their current 2-guards: It hasn't happened for Ben McLemore in Sacramento; Mario Hezonja and Buddy Hield are off to slow starts in Orlando and New Orleans, respectively.

The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks could certainly stand to upgrade the position. Neither the Philadelphia 76ers nor Dallas Mavericks have a realistic, quality long-term option to groom at shooting guard. The New York Knicks would presumably take interest if they wind up missing the playoffs. 

Monk is flawed, from his suspect physical tools to his low-percentage offensive approach. Questions pop up when breaking him down on paper.

Yet he's also destroying defenses with athleticism and shot-making, and could still have room to improve his ball skills and playmaking. Monk has suddenly jumped into the next tier and become a real threat to compete with the perceived big dogs like Duke's Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles III, North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr., California's Ivan Rabb and UCLA's Lonzo Ball.

Thus, even with holes in the scouting report, it's now going to cost a high pick in a loaded draft to find out how far Monk's offense can go.


All quotes were obtained firsthand, and stats are up to date as of Tuesday, December 20, 2016.