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The Whiteboard: Malik Monk is finally delivering on his NBA potential

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Not many lottery picks who struggle as much as Malik Monk has get to their fourth season with a chance to breakthrough. Monk, who was taken with the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft by the Hornets played a decent amount during his first three seasons — more than 3000 minutes over 191 games. And across that sample, he shot under 40 percent from the field and just 32.2 percent on 3-pointers, with an assist-to-turnover ratio well under 2.0.

For a player whose pre-draft scouting report focused on his versatile shooting and shot-making skill, it was a disappointing return:

“Not only is he a dynamic shooter and scorer that is incredibly advanced for his age, instincts-wise, he might be the best shooting prospect since Damian Lillard in 2012, and the best predominantly off-ball shooting/scoring prospect since Klay Thompson (Klay was more on-ball as a Cougar but profiled better off-ball) in 2011.”

Monk basically struggled mightily in every area he was expected to excel. In his first three seasons, he never broke 40 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, posting decent but unexceptional percentages. He never really scored efficiently off drives and his pull-up shooting, which was supposed to be the swing skill separating him from his peers never materialized. He had made just 26.6 percent of his pull-up 3-point attempts and just 20.1 percent on pull-up jumpers inside the arc.

But all that feels like a somewhat distant memory. Monk has been dynamic off the bench for the Hornets this season, averaging 13.3 points per game on a 60.1 true shooting percentage.

What’s changed for Malik Monk this season?

Monk is on a career-best pace in a number of categories but his performance in those context-dependent scoring categories has been the biggest difference. So far this season, he’s shooting 48.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s and 51.5 percent on drives. His pull-up shooting is still far from elite but, at 36.4 percent on 3s and 37.5 percent inside the arc, it’s a reasonably reliable offensive weapon.

Like many Hornets’ players, Monk is benefiting tremendously from the gravity and creativity of LaMelo Ball. But it’s also about the addition of Gordon Hayward and the wealth of ball-handling and creation the Hornets are now featuring with those two along with lineups with Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier. Nearly two-thirds of Monk’s minutes have come with at least two of those other players on the court. Instead of acting as the primary creator for second units like he often did earlier in his career, he’s now often playing as the tertiary creator, playing off the gravity and creativity of others and attacking defenses that have already been bent.

Monk still leaves a lot to be desired at the defensive end and has not developed much as a playmaker for others, which really narrows the backcourt roles that are available to him. His hypothetical ceiling has come down a lot and he’s unlikely to ever become the primary scorer and creator the Hornets may have been hoping they’d lucked into when he fell to them in the draft. But from a career that looked like it was fading into oblivion, he’s salvaged himself. The Hornets will have an interesting decision to make as he approaches restricted free agency but he’s looking like a much more important piece than he was just a few months ago.

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Damian Lillard has made a compelling MVP case as Portland has held steady in the West without two of its best players.

In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, we’re looking at which teams have the most leverage as we approach the all-important trade deadline.

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