It’s a grand tradition among NBA fans to overreact to a small sample size, especially when it comes to rookies. A bad debut is proof that the player has always been overrated, while back-to-back solid outings are enough to confirm that the player was the steal of the draft and a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.
Sometimes those first impressions are correct. Anthony Bennett scored two points in his debut after going first overall, and he didn’t even make it to the end of his rookie contract. More often, however, first impressions of rookies aren’t accurate – it takes time to adjust to the professional game, and even the best players have off nights.
It’s important to keep that in mind when it comes to Malik Monk, the sweet-shooting guard out of the University of Kentucky that was supposed to be a major steal when the Hornets got him with the eleventh overall pick. Monk has struggled mightily through the first three games of the season, but that doesn’t mean he’s doomed quite yet.
Monk was a great scorer in college, but that ability hasn’t yet translated to the next level. Through the first three games of his career, he’s gone 4-for-22 from the field and 3-14 from behind the arc. Those numbers are abysmal, and he’s not doing much else to help the team with just a pair of assists and four rebounds so far. He’s been a complete disaster on the offensive end, and his defensive game isn’t anywhere close to making up for it. It’s not hard to argue that Monk has been the team’s worst player through the young season.
That sounds harsh, but it’s not unfair. Still, it’s important to remember not to overreact to one week of an 82-game season, especially when it’s the first week of professional basketball for a player. Monk is just 19 years old, and teenagers typically don’t dominate immediately after joining the NBA. That’s especially true when the teenager is 6-foot-3 and listed at around 200 pounds. That makes Malik Monk a very thing teenager going toe-to-toe with some of the best athletes in the world. In that context, it makes a bit more sense to see him struggle early on.
There’s also an issue with the role Monk has been playing. With injuries keeping Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out of the rotation, the Arkansas native has been thrust into a bigger role than expected. He’s even been asked to play some point guard thanks to Michael Carter-Williams’ knee issues. In a perfect world, Monk would be able to settle into a smaller role as a spot-up shooter in lineups next to some of the team’s better players as he grew more confident and comfortable. As it is now, he’s one of the team’s primary backups, meaning he’s leading units of second-string players. It can be hard for players to adjust to the pace and the physicality of the professional game in even the best circumstances, and Monk certainly hasn’t faced the best circumstances.
Malik Monk has looked rough so far this season, but it’s not the time to overreact and hit the panic button just yet. He might not yet be the player everyone was hoping to see suit up in the purple and teal, but he’s a skinny 19-year-old playing his first NBA minutes. He’s not ready for prime time yet, but there’s plenty of time for him to get there.