Monk’s athleticism, potential excite NBA teams

Malik Monk dazzled Kentucky fans about as much as any freshman has in the entire John Calipari era.

Whether it was his spectacular dunks, clutch shots or jaw-dropping performances, Monk quickly became must-see basketball for the Big Blue Nation from day one.

Heading into next week’s NBA Draft in Brooklyn, New York, Coach Cal doesn’t think that aspect of Monk’s game will change at the next level. A “special” athlete, Calipari says Monk will be appointment viewing for whichever team selects him.

Many of the latest NBA mock drafts have Malik Monk going eighth overall to the New York Knicks. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Among the seven mock drafts listed in the mock draft roundup 4.0 on, five are projecting Monk to go eighth overall to the New York Knicks.

“What I would say – just taking about Malik – what Malik is, (is) an elite, special athlete/talent,” Calipari said. “When he gets in a zone and he just locks it down, you just kind of sit there and say, ‘Oh my goodness.’ … He would be one of those guys for the Knicks that fans would pay to go see and say, ‘I gotta see what he’s gonna do today.’ ”

If Monk, a consensus second team All-American, is taken at No. 8, Knicks fans will surely hope the Lepanto, Arkansas, native repeats his last performance at Madison Square Garden when he scored 23 points and knocked down 7-of-11 3-pointers against then-No. 13 Michigan State. That was just Monk’s third collegiate game.

One month and two days later, Monk broke the Kentucky freshman single-game scoring record when he netted 47 points against eventual national champions North Carolina in Las Vegas. In that game, he hit 8-of-12 3-pointers, including one in the final minute that Calipari was asking him to drive.

“Coach Cal told me to drive,” Monk said after that game, “but I was hot, so I didn’t.”

He then broke the school record for points by a freshman in a road game when he scored 34 points in the Wildcats’ Southeastern Conference opener at Ole Miss. In February, two days after scoring 37 points against Georgia (which at the time was the second highest single-game total by a freshman in program history), Monk scored 33 points against Florida, including 30 in the second half alone.

What is perhaps as exciting as the elite shooting and athleticism that Monk will bring with him to the NBA is that Coach Cal believes there’s still more room for growth in his game.

Coach Cal believes Monk can be a terrific rebounder and defender at the next level. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

“He also could be – and I believe in the NBA will start to become – a terrific defender and rebounder for his position, because there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be,” Calipari said. “He’s long enough, he’s athletic enough, he’s bouncy enough.

“Never once did I have to use a board to draw up stuff with him. I could just tell him, ‘Look, you’re coming off that screen, I want you to step out, but go back, don’t come out.’ He’d say OK and then he’d go do it. He was really a great basketball mind and pick up things quickly.”

In addition to that, Calipari believes Monk, winner of the Jerry West Award, which is presented to the nation’s top shooting guard, can play either guard position at the next level. With De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe on the roster, slotting Monk at his more natural shooting guard position was a no-brainer for Calipari. But that doesn’t mean Monk can’t run the point.

“You look at Malik and I think the interest in Malik is because he can play both 1 and 2 and he can score the ball,” Calipari said. “So, if you play other players and playmakers, he’s done it here. With Malik, what people have talked to me about, the teams, is we didn’t realize he was as good in pick-and-roll as he is. And I laughed and I said, well, they said the same thing about Eric Bledsoe, but both of those guys played with point guards that were truer point guards than they were, even though they both could play the position.”

An elite, explosive scorer who has room to grow as a defender and rebounder and can play as a point guard? Sounds like an exciting prospect.