Malik Monk isn’t for everyone.
He’s a streaky shooter, a bad defender, and a late bloomer who didn’t really make good on his University of Kentucky potential until his fourth professional season; a season where he was limited to 42 games without a start.
If you’re a GM looking to invest in a player who has proven his talents at every level of competition, then Monk may not be for you. But for an executive who likes shooting and ceiling over proven stats, Monk presents a unique buy-low option you seldom find in unrestricted free agency.
Pray tell, which camp do you think the Philadelphia 76ers‘ President of Basketball Operations falls into?
Malik Monk just might be worth the MLE risk for the Philadelphia 76ers.
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For years now, the Philadelphia 76ers have been looking for a lights-out shooter to pair up with Joel Embiid.
Sure, they initially filled the bill with J.J. Redick, took a major swerve with the decision to trade for Josh Richardson, and then corrected that decision to acquiring Seth Curry from the Dallas Mavericks, but none of those moves were quite right for one reason or another.
Be it Redick’s age, Richardson’s shot, or Curry’s far too infrequently utilized two-man game with the big fella, the Sixers have tried to secure guards with a lights-out outside shot on the same timeline as Embiid, but thus far, it just hasn’t worked out.
Frankly, outside of Landry Shamet and Shake Milton, the team hasn’t seemed all that interested in even attempting to draft such a player for… curious reasons.
Namely? It’s really hard to translate 3 point shooting from college to the NBA level.
For every Desmond Bane, who knocks down 40 percent of his 3 pointers right out of the gate as a rookie, you’ll find scores of college “shooters” who struggle to translate their marketable skill from the NCAA to the NBA with some never finding that touch before their career comes to a premature end.
Remember Nik Stauskas? At one point, the Sacramento Kings decided to take the Michigan sharpshooter when players like Doug McDermott, Dario Saric, and Zach LaVine were still on the board, in a move that got basically everyone fired from the front office following the release of a Grantland documentary on the draft war room made everyone look foolish.
Had Malik Monk reached free agency one year prior, he’d likely be looking at a career arc similar to Stauskas, albeit without the fun nickname, but fortunately for the pride of Bentonville, Arkansas, he seemingly put his game together during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, where he finally made good on his collegiate potential.
Tasked with playing the role of sixth man coming off the bench, Monk recorded new career-highs in points per game, 3 point shooting, and field goal percentage while playing alongside everyone from LaMelo Ball, to Miles Bridges, and even Terry Rozier on a super fun Charlotte Hornets squad. Monk excelled as a spot-up shooter, took steps forward as a driver, and even experimented a little bit with taking the ball up the court to get the offense into its set, a massive accomplishment considering his initial usage as a first and second-year player.
In a different offensive scheme, where Monk is allowed to chill on the wings while, I don’t know, the most dominant post player of a generation is drawing double and even triple teams in the paint, the 23-year-old could nearly double his points per game without having to change his style of play all that much.
If that’s all the Sixers got out of a player like Monk, a 40 percent spot-up outside shooter, then he’d certainly be worth a , say, two-year deal at the mid-level exception, but what if Monk can become more? What if Monk could expand out his game and become the second coming of Eric Gordon, one of Daryl Morey’s best finds during his time in Houston?
Honestly, it wouldn’t be too hard.
In 2020-21, Gordon was deployed in the pick-and-roll 5.1 times per game with a scoring rate of 49.3 percent. Monk, by contrast, only ran 1.8 pick-and-rolls per game and scored on the play far less frequently, about 30 percent of the time. Considering Monk is known for his dunking prowess and connected on 53.1 percent of his 2.7 shots per game from within five feet of the basket, one would project a decent bump in production if you swap out players like Cody Zeller and P.J. Washington for Joel Hans Embiid, who, again, is the best center in the NBA in the last decade.
Remember how Embiid’s presence revitalized Redick’s career, unlocked his pick-and-pop potential, and secured him the bag from the New Orleans Pelicans after a pair of mercenary one-year contracts? Imagine that same situation but with a 23-year-old who hasn’t even reached his NBA prime.
Based on Morey’s track record, that seems like the sort of player he’d be all over.
Are there better uses of the mid-level exception than yet another one-way shooter? Sure. The team could certainly use a two-way stretch four/five with a reliable outside shot, even if they might be priced out of free agency’s top prize, Kelly Olynyk. But if the Philadelphia 76ers want to bet on potential, upside, and the most important skill in the modern-day NBA, they won’t find a more intriguing option on the exception-level segment of unrestricted free agency than Malik Monk, as players like him don’t hit the open market all too often.