Signing Malik Monk to a minimum contract ahead of the 2021-22 season is turning out to be one of the best pieces of business the Los Angeles Lakers executed in the offseason.
Monk spent his first four NBA seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, who picked him with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft. The Kentucky alum developed into a solid but fringe rotation player, averaging 9.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists for the Hornets over 233 games — only one of which he started from tip-off.
Charlotte could have kept Monk for a fifth year by extending a qualifying offer to him last summer. But they didn’t, making him an unrestricted free agent, which allowed the Lakers to swoop in and sign the talented scorer.
What’s more, Monk has said L.A. turned out to be the only side showing a serious interest in securing his services. “It was crazy for me because … you never see that many lottery picks that get to be unrestricted [free agents],” he said after Monday’s practice.
“And it kind of hit me hard when nobody really wanted me besides the Lakers so I just put fuel in my tank and just held it in until I get time to play and prove I belong for long periods of time, and that’s what I’m doing right now. But yeah, it was hard for me.
“Some days I didn’t know what to think, some days I was like ‘God is gonna do what’s best for both of us’ and it’s been happening. I’ve been playing good and I’m gonna continue to keep doing that.”
Monk signed with the Lakers even though they couldn’t guarantee him any role. But the guard says he believed that he could earn head coach Frank Vogel’s trust.
“You always got to bet on yourself,” Monk said. “I’m my biggest critic too, myself. So I know if I get my right mind and just go out there and play basketball the way I know I can, it will work out. Whether I’m getting 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, if I just keep continuing to play the right way, somebody is gonna see it and somebody is gonna reward me and that’s what’s been happening now.”
Monk put up 11.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists, shooting a career-high 47.4% from the field as well as 37.3% from downtown in his first 33 games for L.A. He also added six more NBA starts to his resume, becoming someone the Lakers can rely on — particularly on the offensive end.
Vogel has said he understood Monk’s disappointment over the Hornets’ decision to let him go last summer even though he was a high lottery pick. The Lakers head coach adds the fifth-year guard’s role in Charlotte was “inconsistent,” suggesting he wasn’t a good fit with the Eastern Conference side.
“He’s a very self-confident young man,” Vogel said. “We saw last year, just the production that he was putting out in Charlotte. We would always identify that could become available that could be maybe better in your system or a better fit with your system than the current situation that he’s in and he’s one of the guys that we identified as a talented young player that we wanted to take a look at.”
Vogel has also revealed he rated Monk highly ahead of the 2017 NBA draft — and his last season as the Orlando Magic’s head coach. The coach has also admitted to insisting on signing the guard by the Lakers when he became available in the offseason.
“I personally have always been a fan of his, we have that Kentucky connection,” Vogel said.
“I interviewed him when I was in Orlando when he was coming out of the draft and we were very high on his ability back then and when we had an opportunity to get him [on the Lakers], I really pushed hard for us to try to secure him.
“We had those conversations this summer and like he alluded to, there was no promise of role. We had a lot of guys coming in on minimums and everything would have to be earned, and he’s done a great job for us.”
David Fizdale praises Monk’s ‘mature temperament
Vogel isn’t the only Lakers coach who holds Monk in high regard. When David Fizdale served as the Lakers acting head coach in December, he offered the guard some high praise for his maturity and the pace in his game.
“He plays with a real mature temperament, kind of Lou Williams-ish,” said Fizdale, who is now away from the Lakers himself after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“I don’t like to get too deep into the comparison on it, but he just has that real nice tempo to his game and he knows the right play to make at the right time.”
Fizdale added Lakers superstar LeBron James “got big-time confidence” in Monk.