Malik Monk’s first highlight reels were ubiquitous and even a little shocking, but from the beginning he brought substance to the court. Prior even to the year 2013, he’d drawn offers from Arkansas, Florida and LSU.
From there, Monk continually challenged himself. He competed at USA Basketball, toured with the Arkansas Wings and played up an age division to compete on the 2014 EYBL circuit.
That summer, Monk outshone both his peers and his elders, showcasing the kind of dazzling athleticism and scoring ability to keep him employed in the game for a very long time.
He fully entrenched himself among the top 10 players in the class. While the top three — Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson — created some distance from the class due to their talent and size, the 6-4 Monk nevertheless at times played like the most explosive scorer of the bunch.
His recruitment was destined to soar, and soar early, and home-state Arkansas — his brother, Marcus, was a talented athlete who played for the gridiron Hawgs — along with Kentucky and other major programs leapt in early with offers.
Offers don’t carry much significance for players of Monk’s caliber, of course, given that they have their choice of schools. He did tell colleague Brian Snow a couple weeks ago, however, that he intended to pare his list this month. Along with the Razorbacks and Wildcats, Oregon has been linked closely to him as well.
Clearly, athleticism stands atop this list. Monk is phenomenally quick and bouncy, able to blow past defenders and then sky for acrobatic dunks and lay-ins. He runs with a natural sprinter’s stride, upright on his toes and always ready to push into that extra gear that so few players possess.
He’s also strong and will continue to develop an imposing physique. Monk’s quickness sometimes actually obscures his strength, but when he does lack separation he can rely on his powerful frame and shoulders to clear space to the rim.
For all those reasons he’s one of the very best transition players in the class, because with a full head of steam he possesses innumerable options by which to put the ball in the basket.
Further, his jump shot is dangerous to well beyond the three-point stripe. As the highlights above suggest, Monk loves to pull up and let fly with J.R. Smith-esque triples from 25 feet. He shoots with his elbow nicely tucked and commendable arch.
Shot selection has been an issue at times, but he raised his shooting percentages to 47 percent from the field and 37 percent on threes this year with the Wings. He also buried 80 percent from the free throw line.
He possesses an advanced crossover dribble and surprises defenders by leaning forward for drives and suddenly halting and stepping back into mid-range shots. His ability to get his shot immediately will attract notice from NBA executives who watch him at postseason all-star practices next spring.
In terms of intangibles, Monk competes with an easy confidence and never hesitates to take the big shot. He’s the alpha and he embraces that role.
To create consistently against elite defenders — think NBA, rather than college — Monk will need to tighten up his dribbling. He does possess tricky dribble moves and certainly isn’t a poor handler, but his dribbling versus pressure can result in turnovers.
Though he clearly possesses the ability to become a top defender, Monk has a tendency to neglect that aspect of his game and also doesn’t rebound as well as he might. These are technique and focus issues, rather than talent, and with time he should correct any shortcomings along those lines.
Pro scouts may wish he were a little taller for a wing, and conceivably he could transition to point guard for that reason, but the opinion here remains that he’s plenty big for the NBA shooting guard spot and that his length will enable him to thrive in that capacity.
All in all, Monk’s positive qualities should continue to lift him toward the apex of the 2016 class. Everyone loves a scorer, and he posts numbers so effortlessly — and in diverse fashion — that he should continue to produce at the highest level.
His next stop will take him to what’s likely to be a one-year stint in college. Whether that’s to one of the SEC schools connected to him or somewhere else, he’ll undoubtedly be a featured attraction for that program from day one. And if all goes well, don’t be surprised if he walks onto the stage wearing a hat in the summer of 2017.
Monk ranks No. 7 overall, and as the No. 1 shooting guard, in the 2016 class.