It's almost as if those old Nerlens Noel versus Jahlil Okafor debates fans have had for the last year and a half have been reincarnated ever since the Sixers landed the third pick in the draft on May 16th, only this time it seems to be between Malik Monk and Josh Jackson and which player is the right choice come draft night.
The front office, of course, doesn't look at it that way, and they shouldn't. There are a number of things they could do, there could be players mocked in the 4-9 range that could impress the Sixers in private workouts, interviews, tape study and some those prospects can shoot up the rankings on a lot of big boards in the weeks leading up to June 22nd. The team could explore trading back in the draft for better value if they know a player they like will fall into the late lottery range. While it's fun to speculate and debate about which road to take, for now, we'll break down prospects the team will be looking at with the third pick, assuming Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball go to the Celtics and Lakers respectively and assuming the Sixers don't look to trade down in the draft.
The one prospect that seemingly fits the need of a shooter/scoring combo guard, Kentucky guard Malik Monk, is a prospect that has sparked debate among those who want to fill a need versus those who have had Kansas forward Josh Jackson as the second or third best prospect in the draft. While Jackson does a lot of things well on the court, scouts and fans have well documented, and legitimate, concerns with Jackson's jump shot, making him a tough fit next to Ben Simmons who will assume the point guard duties. On the other side, taking Monk with the third pick would be considered a reach at that spot giving that his weaknesses are basically everything that Jackson does well. Having the third pick in the draft is great “problem” to have of course, but it almost seems like the team is in a trickier spot because they are trying to find pieces to fit around Simmons and Joel Embiid, rather than having relatively easier choices with the first or second pick. So why is Malik Monk considered a reach at three?
Let’s start with the weaknesses first because I really do like Monk as a prospect, and has more facets to his game that I like.
When I first started watching Monk at Kentucky, I wondered if he suffered from being pigeon-holed into a certain role on the team like Wildcat prospects of yesteryear. I thought of former Wildcats like Devin Booker coming off the bench and strictly playing the role of spot up shooter, but now, as we have seen the last few years, Booker is a versatile scorer, who can run pick and roll, and dropped 70 freaking points in an NBA game as a 20-year-old. Jamal Murray at least showed some flashes of being a solid pick and roll player and a creator during his rookie year with the Denver Nuggets, after playing the role of a shooter/scorer at Kentucky as well.
It made you wonder if Monk had more to his game than what he showed. If that was the case, then Monk would seem to be the perfect fit to play alongside Ben Simmons. A “point-guard” who can mainly play off the ball, shoot, create a little bit, and run some pick and roll in a pinch.
After studying more games however it’s become clearer why Monk played the role of off-ball shooter/scorer. It’s because…well… he is typically an off-ball player with an off-ball skill-set.
Monk’s handle has shown slight flashes but for the most part, it's basic. If he dribbled three or four times in a possession to try and beat his defender, then that was a rarity. His in between game usually comes in one or two dribble move pull-ups and floaters and that’s after he already has a head start coming off a curl or off a screen or taking off in transition.
His lack of advanced handle gave defenders a beat on when he would try to take a shot, due in part because he didn’t have enough moves, or creativity. He’d usually take a quick jumper or would always take off for a floater or layup a tick too soon, and while it was hit or miss (shooting 49 percent in the paint), one more dribble or a hesitation move could’ve given him a better angle or chance at a cleaner look.
This was a goaltending violation but still a tough shot.
Monk has also had opportunities to run some point whenever fellow top-prospect, De’Aaron Fox, took his usual rest on the bench, but instead, John Calipari would default to Isaiah Briscoe as the pseudo-backup point and it might be because Monk just doesn’t have the chops to be a creator, at least not yet. He has displayed decent vision, but is it because he attracts a lot of gravity from a defense because of his shooting ability, making for easier passing lanes? Or is it because he is able to make reads as a play develops? Either way a, improved handle could also give him easier angles to throw the passes that he sees.
Monk’s elite athleticism and the fact that he only needs very little space to get his shot off masks that flaw to a large degree, and he is able to get by with basic handles now. But against NBA defenders, where the space gets tighter, he will need to refine it to find more creative ways to get his shot off. I’ve seen Jamal Crawford comparisons with Monk, and the lack of handle alone makes this comparison a fallacy.
It’s not through lack of trying, as John Calipari typically emphasizes defense with his players, but I can foresee some issues in the NBA with Monk’s defense because of his lack of size and thin frame.
Monk is a two-guard in a 6’2 – 6’3, 195-pound body, and he gets blown up whenever screens are set on him. He definitely tries to fight over screens but because he is so small, he is already behind the play as he gets swallowed by picks, leaving a compromised defense to try and scramble and recover.
If this happens in college, then you can definitely expect more of the same with bigger and more psychical players in the NBA.
When I've heard people mention Monk’s defense, typically they would use Steph Curry (even though he has been above average for a while now), Kyrie Irving, and Damian Lillard as examples of lesser defenders at the point guard position. While I’m of the belief that defense at the point guard position isn’t as big of a deal because the point guards of today are tough to guard anyway, you have to play at-least some defense, at least passable, and Monk’s size, even if he bulks up as he gets more NBA seasons under his belt, could still be a problem.
With all that said, if he is drafted by the Sixers, where Ben Simmons is the primary creator on offense, Monk would be better off playing both ends of the court as the “point guard” as appose to playing undersized at the shooting guard position if he were to be drafted by another team. Bigger players have also been able to move Monk when driving to the basket, and having a 6’10 point guard can give you some positional flexibility and limit stuff like this from happening.
(It's actually Monk's teammate who reaches in and gets the steal)
I see him becoming a passable 1-on-1 defender who can still be good within the team concept, help-defense, and rotations much like what we saw at Kentucky, and his athleticism and quickness will definitely help him out on that end, and in this video (and a video later on in this piece) below he has shown this type of effort.
Shooting and Scoring
The reason fans have been so enamored with Monk is because of his ability to shoot the ball, score in bunches, and his ability to be effective moving without the basketball in his hands. It's an undeniably perfect fit with a Simmons/Embiid foundation. Monk finished his freshman season at Kentucky averaging 19.8 points per game, while shooting 49.7 percent from 2-point range, 39.7 percent from three point range on seven attempts per game, and also shot 82 percent from the free-throw line. That's the type of shooter this team has not had for awhile now.
The videos below show the variety of ways Monk can get his shot off. Catch and shoot, coming off of screens, pulling up in transition, and a lot of his attempts came from NBA range and beyond. As mentioned earlier, when he gets a head start he can incorporate the floater and layup game into his offensive portfolio.
He also doesn't shy away from the taking the big shot even if he has an off game.
(Big three pointer in OT vs Georgia)
He doesn’t need much space to get his quick-trigger shot off either, which is why he doesn’t necessarily need Kyrie/Steph/Jamal Crowford handles to be an effective scorer or a pinch-hitter playmaker. He just needs to refine it to where he can be quicker in getting to his sweet spots more comfortably against NBA quality defenders. Monk showed all year that if he has a sliver of space, the ball is gone.
Monk also has the heat-check ability that scorers live for. Monk made four or more three-pointers in 14 of the 38 college games he played this year, including two games of seven made threes, and one game with eight made threes. Once he learns the tiny nuances of coming off screens, moving without the ball and the more intricate footwork that comes with it at the next level, he will be a deadly scorer, not just a shooter.
Because of his shooting prowess, Monk easily projects as a player who is a one-man offensive-set. He moves without the ball really well and brings his own gravity to the court as the defense always has to worry about his whereabouts. You only imagine the things Brett Brown and his coaching staff can come up with to try and leverage that gravity, especially when he already has two unique franchise cornerstones in place to work with anyway.
Monk might lack the prototypical 2-guard size and frame, but he is an elite athlete. He has a 42” inch max vertical and a 36.5'' inch no-step vertical (per DraftExpress.com), and he has elite quickness and speed in the open court, making him a terror in transition when you throw his shooting ability into the equation.
He fills the lanes really well.
He can also run to any spot on the three-point line and drill one in transition.
These were some of the rare times he showed flashes as a ball handler transition, which could make someone like Sixers head coach Brett Brown wonder if this was just a flash in the pan or if there is something more here to uncover.
He has an explosive first step, and has the ability to take defenders off the bounce, but once again it's the handle kind of hampers that ability and settles for a lot pull up jumpers and tough shots.
(Against Donovan Mitchell who projects to be a really good defender in the NBA)
The athleticism also helps him on the defensive end, he can chase players around screens, and is passable staying in front of his man initially.
He is also able to make extra effort plays because of his quickness.
So, is Monk a reach if the team picks him at three? That depends on how the player development and scouting departments within the organization project the type of growth he can have. If you like a player and how he projects three to four years from now, then nothing is really considered a reach.
Brett Brown has a well-decorated background in player development with the Spurs, and currently with the Sixers, so that’s another factor when considering whether Monk, or any other prospect for that matter, is a fit with the team. With how the roster is currently constructed, it’s easy to see why fans and scouts see Monk as a perfect hand-and-glove fit for the Sixers, his strengths match perfectly for what the team needs and his flaws can be masked and developed to the point where it’s not necessarily a detriment.
Despite the draft being as deep as it’s been touted there is a pretty significant drop off in talent after Fultz and a lot of these players have high upside while at the same time having flaws that could be career changing or role defining, which makes these decisions incredibly difficult and I do not envy anyone calling the shots. The team could go in a lot of different directions with their draft pick and there are other prospects that will inevitably pique the interest of the Sixers. We’ll brush up on those prospects more in this draft series.