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2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Malik Monk thrived at Kentucky, but does he have NBA star potential?

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There wasn’t a player in college basketball last season that was required viewing in the way that Malik Monk was required viewing.

He had nights where he struggled, as any college freshman does. But when Monk got it going it was unlike anything that we’ve seem in college basketball in quite sometime.

It started with the seven threes that he hit against Michigan State in his first collegiate game against high-major competition. Then there was the 47 point outburst that he had in Kentucky’s win over North Carolina. He scored 31 points in a half in a come-from-behind win over Georgia. He had 30 second half points to lead Kentucky to a win over Florida that just about locked up an SEC title for the Wildcats. Two nights later he had 20 second half points in a win over Vanderbilt in which Kentucky erased a 19 point deficit. He scored at least 20 points in a half six times.

Without question, Monk is an elite shooter and scorer.

But given the lack of diversity in his game and the fact that he is just 6-foot-3 with a short wingspan and narrow frame, is he a good enough shooter that he can rely on carving out on NBA career based on shooting alone? Or will he have to rely on becoming a combo-guard — a scoring point guard — if he wants to pay off on being a potential top five pick?

Height: 6’3″
Weight: 197
Wingspan: 6’3.5″
2016-17 Stats: 19.8 points, 2.3 assists, 2.5 boards, 39.7% 3PT

STRENGTHS: There wasn’t a more explosive scorer in college basketball last season than Malik Monk. When he got into a rhythm, when his confidence was high and he saw a couple of shots go down, he was capable of putting up NBA Jam numbers: Twice he went for 30 points in the second half of a game Kentucky was losing. He had 47 points against National Champions North Carolina in a game in December.

And frankly, there isn’t really anything that he can’t do as a shooter. He’s dangerous in transition, whether he’s spotting up on a wing or leading the break with the ball in his hands. He’s terrific moving without the ball — he has an innate feel for where to slide to create an opening for himself to spot-up on a teammate’s penetration, and he knows how run off of screens. He can score on curls and he can read the defense, fading a screen if a defender tries to go over; 64 percent of his offense in half court settings came when he was spotting up or coming off of a screen.

Monk also understands how to attack close-outs, using pump-fakes and jab-steps and rip-throughs to get into his pull-up jumper, which is dangerous. He makes 43 percent of his off-the-dribble jumpers in the half court, many of which were three-pointers and deep twos. Everyone know about just how athletic he is, but Monk’s footwork is terrific, too — he has the first-step burst and the elevation to 1-2 step into one-dribble pull-ups going either direction. He’s the prototype of what you would call a tough shot maker.

Here’s the proof, and also the weirdest Malik Monk stat: He’s a much better shooter when he’s guarded than when he’s ‘unguarded’. According to Synergy, he shot 43.2 percent and averaged 1.271 points per possession on guarded jumpers, good for the 87th percentile nationally. He shot 36 percent and averaged 1.056 PPP on open jumpers, good for the 41st percentile.

Lastly, Monk just so happens to be a guy that, time and again, hit huge jumpers for the Wildcats. He’s got the clutch gene.

Put simply: I don’t know what there is when it comes to shooting that Monk doesn’t do well, except for, you know, making open shots.

Malik Monk (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WEAKNESSES: This is where it gets complicated with Monk, because he doesn’t do all that much else to affect a game.

Let’s start with the offensive side of the ball, where roughly 75 percent of Monk’s offensive came in quick actions — transition, spot-ups or running off of screens. Just 10 percent of his offense came in pick-and-roll actions or isolation. Some of that is a result of being the one guy that is capable of shooting in a back court that also includes playmakers De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe, but when Monk did have the chance to put the ball on the floor, he was not all that effective getting to the rim or playing through contact once he got there. Monk penetrated looking to pull-up.

He’s capable in pick-and-rolls, but what he does is predictable — he’s either looking to shoot a three if a defender goes under the screen or trying to find the screener for a lob if he rolls or a three if he pops. He’s not throwing pocket passes and he’s not getting all the way to the basket.

This is a concern because Monk is just 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-4 wingspan and a slight, narrow frame that many not be able to add all that much weight. Put another way, he’s the size of a point guard but still has a long way to go to develop NBA-caliber point guard skills.

He has the quicks to be a good defender when he’s locked in, although he projects as a guy that is only going to be able to guard point guards at the next level. He also developed a bad habit of ball-watching and losing track of his man defensively this past season, and got beaten on straight line drives far too often by guys that have no business beating him to the rim. Monk doesn’t provide much help on the defensive glass, either, and can disappear on the floor when he’s not making shots.

Ironically enough, the knock on Monk coming into college was that he was a streaky shooter, a guy that could make six in a row just as easily as he could go 2-for-18. Some of that was still there at Kentucky — he often let the game come to him, taking over in the second half, and went through a couple of elongated cold stretches late in the year — but for the most part, Monk ran hot for long stretches of time without having too many terrible nights. It’s hard to quibble with a guy that shot basically 40 percent from three while shooting nearly seven per game.

Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)

NBA COMPARISON: It’s hard to think of a direct comparison for the player that Monk will be at the next level. Generally speaking, it’s hard for someone that is nothing but a shooter to to carve out a role for himself in the NBA, particularly when that player in the size of an average point guard. It’s a testament to how good Monk is at what he does that he’s being discussed as a potential top five pick.

We can, however, talk about the role that Monk will play, and I think it will end up being somewhere between JR Smith and Lou Williams. Williams is closer to Monk’s size and comes off the bench — I see Monk’s ideal role being as a scorer for a playoff team’s second unit — while Smith, who is 6-foot-6 and a physical specimen, plays more like Monk does, a three-point gunner that is streaky but that can rip off five threes in a half when he gets rolling.

OUTLOOK: I just don’t see Monk being a star at the next level. I don’t think he develops the ability to play the point full time, and given his size and inherent defensive limitations, as an off-guard he likely would need to be teamed in a back court with a point guard that’s big enough to guard NBA wings. There’s a reason that 6-foot-3 scoring guards aren’t all that common in the NBA.

That said, I do think that Monk is good enough at what he does to have a role in the NBA for a long time, and he may actually be the best fit for Philadelphia, who is picking third. With 6-foot-9 Ben Simmons expected to handle point guard duties, it would allow Monk to slide over and defend opposing point guards while providing some much needed floor-spacing. Think about the way that Cleveland uses Kyrie Irving, an unbelievable 1-on-1 scorer with limitations when it comes to defending or creating for others. They play him off the ball, allow the offense to run through LeBron and put Kyrie in a position where all he has to do is what comes naturally to him.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Monk will be Kyrie or that Simmons is the next LeBron, and it would be silly for Philly to use the No. 3 pick on Monk when they can get the likes or Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball or Jayson Tatum anyway.

But finding a place like that to land, a place where he isn’t going to be asked to do much more than what he’s capable of doing, is where he will be at his best.

Watch James Harden drop 44 in final preseason game

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MIAMI (AP) — James Harden sure seems in midseason form.

Russell Westbrook isn’t there yet.

Harden, the reigning NBA scoring champion, scored 44 points in 35 minutes – 18 of those points coming in the third quarter – and the Houston Rockets ended the preseason with a 144-133 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night.

]”James was ridiculous,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Harden was 12 for 26 from the field, 8 for 16 from 3-point range and 12 for 13 from the foul line. He also had seven assists and five rebounds, and finished the preseason averaging 31.5 points.

“That’s the way he’s wired,” D’Antoni said. “He loves to play. I couldn’t take him out in the fourth quarter if I wanted to. He’d play 48 if he could. He’s wired that way. He gets better every time. I don’t know what his ceiling is. But he’s, to me, the most improved player every year. He’s just ridiculous.”

The Rockets didn’t get out of the game unscathed, however. Austin Rivers could play only seven minutes before being downgraded to out with neck soreness, and Westbrook – who has been dealing with some dislocated fingers on his right hand – left the game in the fourth quarter in obvious discomfort.

Westbrook lost the ball, immediately grabbed at his right hand, then ran off the court and straight into the tunnel leading to the Rockets’ locker room without stopping. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists on 6-for-13 shooting in 26 minutes.

“Both of them told me they were OK, so we’ll take that,” D’Antoni said.

D’Antoni said Westbrook aggravated the finger issue, and will be fine. A top task for the Rockets in this preseason was figuring out all the ways to best utilize their new point guard, with D’Antoni acknowledged is still a bit of a work in progress.

“I was with him for eight summers in USA Basketball,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a great guy. Works hard. Unbelievable athletically. Just the speed and power that he can play with … he’s relentless.”

Some of D’Antoni’s favorite moments during Westbrook’s brief Houston tenure so far have been ones that few people have seen – since they’ve come in practice, in moments where the competitive juices have perhaps overflowed.

“He gets ticked off in practice sometimes and the next 3 minutes, he’s killing people,” D’Antoni said. “He needs that competitiveness to juice him up. He’s not like the old guy at the Y who will knock you down and shoot it. No, no, he’s coming at you with all the athleticism that he has.”

Westbrook will have a few extra days to get through the issue with his fingers. He and the Rockets don’t open the regular season until playing host to Milwaukee on Thursday.

Eric Gordon scored 23 points for Houston and Clint Capela finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Kendrick Nunn scored 40 points in 40 minutes for Miami, making 15 of 27 shots. Tyler Herro scored 14 points and Bam Adebayo made all six of his shots on the way to a 13-point, 11-rebound night.

Jimmy Butler didn’t play for the Heat, held out to rest.

Andrew Bogut appears to take shot at LeBron on Twitter

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The NBA wants it to, and it will eventually fade some (only to flare up again later), but the NBA/China relationship issue is not going away.

The latest spark comes from across the ocean, down in Australia, where former Warrior (and Buck and a couple other teams in the middle) Andrew Bogut takes what is a pretty clear a dig at LeBron James over the China issue.

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters just before the NBA was about to send the Lakers and Nets were about to head to China for a couple of exhibition games. China flexed its muscle to punish the NBA for touching a third-rail issue by having corporate sponsors pause their involvement with the league and preseason games were not shown in China. Adam Silver issued a milquetoast statement that seemed aimed to appease China, and when a backlash from the United States — still by far the largest NBA market — came swiftly Silver adjusted his position and came out more backing Morey’s right to free speech.

After all that, once back in the states, LeBron vented about the situation, saying Morey wasn’t “educated” on the topic, and seeming frustrated because the Tweet put the players in China on the front lines of an international trade dispute — remember, there is a trade war and tariffs. However, LeBron’s meandering comments came off as being more concerned about money than free speech. LeBron said he was saying Morey didn’t think through the consequences of his Tweet (true) and that he doesn’t have to take a public stand on every issue (also true) but it all came off as LeBron prioritizing protecting his brand,

Which leads to a lot of criticism. Some a lot more direct than what Andrew Bogut said.

Report: Grizzlies, Bulls have conversations with Iman Shumpert

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Iman Shumpert is just 29 years old, which seems crazy because it wasn’t that long ago he was making the All-Rookie team in New York or winning a title with LeBron James.

The point is he’s still young, was on the court for the Rockets during the postseason last year, and is the best free agent available. He turned down a contract offer from the Rockets before the preseason (which may have been incentive heavy, like Nene’s) and remains on the market.

Some team is going to snap him up. That team could end up being the Memphis. Or, maybe Chicago. That according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Free-agent guard Iman Shumpert has had conversations with teams, including Memphis and Chicago, league sources said. Shumpert, an eight-year NBA veteran, is one of the best players remaining on the market.

Chicago has Zach LaVine and Otto Porter starting on the wing, but they may want more veteran depth behind them. Memphis has the combination of Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen at the two, they may want to add some veteran depth to that mix.

At this point, teams are just starting to accurately assess where they are and where they need help — players they thought would step up didn’t, or there are injuries creating gaps — and that will continue into the first weeks of the season. As that happens, a few of the veterans on the sideline will get picked up (no, probably not Carmelo Anthony, that’s another topic).

Shumpert should be at the front of that line. He’s already got interest.

 

Pacers reportedly testing trade market for Domantas Sabonis

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Two factors are in play here.

First, the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis‘ representatives are reportedly nowhere near an agreement on a contract extension.

Second, there are real questions about how Sabonis and Pacers’ center Myles Turner can play together. If they can’t, then the question becomes how much do the Pacers want to pay Sabonis to be a backup five (because Turner is the better player and a guy they can build their defense around).

That has led to the Pacers exploring possible Sabonis trades, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

…sources say the Pacers have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week about the fourth-year forward. Sabonis, the 23-year-old who arrived with Victor Oladipo in late June 2017 in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City, is clearly on the market.

There is no lack of interest in Sabonis, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as the Pacers — who lost Oladipo to a season-ending ruptured quad injury in a game against Toronto on Jan. 23 — pulled off such a surprising campaign (48-34; lost in the first round to Boston). Thus far, sources say the Pacers’ asking price in talks with several teams has been too high.

Sabonis is a skilled offensive big man who is versatile. That makes him a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who can help create space for the ball handler to find a lane, then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game. He can help a lot of teams. However, two things limit Sabonis: He is not good defensively and he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Sabonis is in the final year of his rookie contract and has a healthy pay raise coming next season, up from the $3.5 million he will make this time around. The Pacers, however, just forked out big cash for Myles Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). They may be a little gun shy about doing that now for Sabonis, and there are other teams interested. That doesn’t even count Victor Oladipo’s payday. All this for a team not likely to venture into the luxury tax.

How much the Pacers can get for Sabonis remains to be seen, but the Pacers may want picks because not much salary needs to be exchanged. Of course right now the Pacers are asking for everything but the GM’s firstborn son from other teams, and of course the other teams are lowballing the Pacers with their first offers. That’s how negotiations work. When things start to evolve to a middle ground, the Pacers may well find a deal because, as much as they like him, it’s hard to make everything fit with Sabonis on the team.