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Malik Monk “Hurt” By Lack of Free Agency Interest in 2021

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Sacramento Kings reserve shooting guard Malik Monk has emerged as the odds-on favorite to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, following a second straight strong season off the bench for a chippy playoff club. Per FanDuel, Monk has been given -1050 odds of bagging the accolade, far outpacing the next-closest competitor, Minnesota Timberwolves backup big Naz Reid’s +900 odds.

But as he told Anthony Slater of The Athletic in a new wide-ranging story, his journey to being a league mainstay was hardly an easy one.

After being selected with the No. 11 pick near the back of the NBA lottery in 2017, Monk was given short shrift near the periphery of a lottery-bound Charlotte Hornets team’s rotation. He reflected on the feeling to Slater.

“I didn’t get no opportunity, man,” Monk said. “Inconsistent minutes is inconsistent play. Everybody knows that. I’d go 20 games without playing (much), then I’ll play five games and average 15 in 15 minutes or something like that. Then I wouldn’t play for 20 more games. So it was just inconsistent minutes, man. I think it was the organization trying to figure out what next step they wanted to do after [point guard] Kemba [Walker].”

Malik Monk
Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings looks on before the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Golden 1 Center on March 18, 2024 in Sacramento, California. Monk has emerged as a top candidate for…


Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

When he was suspended indefinitely late into his third season due to a violation of the NBA’s drug policy, he had just been finding his rhythm as an outside shooter. The league allowed him to return in August. Charlotte had declined its qualifying offer for the young guard, making him an unrestricted free agent.

“At one point, I was out,” Monk said of the suspension. “I had to do multiple things to get back into the NBA under their rules. But I averaged 12 on 40 percent from 3. I definitely thought I’d have a few calls. But nobody called me man. That s— hurt.”

He eventually latched on with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the rehabilitation of his image began in earnest. In 76 games for LA during its ill-fated 2021-22 season, Monk averaged 13.8 points on .473/.391/.795 shooting splits, along with 3.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 0.8 steals a night.

“I didn’t improve,” Monk said of his year in LA. “[Head coach] Frank [Vogel] just put me out there for 28 minutes and let me have the ball sometimes. Sometimes [LeBron James] was hurt and I had the ball even more. So I thank Frank for that. Every time I see him, I thank him.”

Monk suddenly became a bit of a target in free agency, a versatile scorer who could get hot in short shifts off the bench. He inked a two-year, $19.4 million deal with the Kings in the summer of 2022, and seems likely to get a big raise this summer as a free agent once again.

Mike Brown explained his initial message to light a fire under Monk, per Slater. Like Monk, Brown was embarking on his first head coaching season with Sacramento at the time.

“You’ve played this many minutes,” Brown told Slater of his message at the time. Slater notes that his tally would have crossed into the 1,000-minute threshold by then. “You know how many charges you’ve taken?”

“You have one charge,” Brown had revealed. “And on the one charge you have, you were coming from the weak side to the strong side of the floor and you tripped over somebody’s foot. When you stood up, you got run over and they gave you a charge.”

“In this league, if a guy is not a physical player, it’s hard to get him to become a physical player,” Brown noted. “Just like if a guy isn’t high, high effort, it’s hard to get him to become that.”

“I feel like the organization needed a turnaround,” Monk said of his first year with the Kings. “I feel like they needed new faces here. I feel like I could bring an energy that Sac had been waiting for since (DeMarcus Cousins) left. And my homie is here, my best friend here. Fox. This was going to be the most comfortable fit for me. Because leaving Los Angeles, a big city, coming here slows everything down. Slow pace. Now I can just focus on my craft. It’s been working for me.”

Last year on the 48-34 Kings, Monk finished among the top five in Sixth Man of the Year voting and was No. 11 among vote recipients for Most Improved Player honors. Across 70 contests this season (zero starts), he’s averaging a career-high 15.7 points on .444/.352/.833 shooting splits (that three-point percentage is coming at a high volume six attempts per), 5.2 assists, three rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks a night. He has fully found his rhythm with his new team.

Sporting a 42-29 overall record and the sixth seed in the Western Conference, Sacramento once again appears destined for the postseason. And Monk’s chances of adding some major hardware to his collection are looking pretty good, too.