Malik Monk and the Knicks were linked due to Kentucky connections long ago, and now the sharpshooting one-time Laker is a free agent once more.
Malik Monk thought it was a done deal. Heading into draft night in 2017, Monk, and anyone within his inner circle, believed he would end the night rocking orange and blue.
“Me, my agent, everybody in my agency, my family—we thought we were going to New York,” Monk said later that summer. The Knicks would instead follow Phil Jackson’s lead and select Frank Ntilikina, who fit the profile of a point guard Jackson preferred in his Triangle Offense. Jackson left shortly after the draft, and Ntilikina never materialized into a lead guard or miniature version of Giannis Antetokounmpo as believers had hoped.
As for Monk, he landed in Charlotte three picks later, never metamorphizing into a piece the Hornets felt was worth keeping around. Monk entered free agency last summer to little fanfare nor interest from many teams. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers bought low on Monk, which ended up being the one good move they made.
Monk made the most of his “prove-it deal” in Los Angeles, enjoying a career-best season as a spark plug scorer. In 76 games, including a career-high 37 starts, Monk averaged a career-high 13.8 points per game with shooting splits of 47/39/80. Microwave scorer has always been the best description for Monk, with consistency being the key to his improvement last season.
In Los Angeles, we started to see the Malik Monk that would create a ruckus at Rupp Arena with explosive dunks…
MALIK MONK SHOT OUT OF A CANNON 💥 pic.twitter.com/5DXehfUPj2
— ESPN (@espn) January 8, 2022
…and clutch shooting.
MALIK MONK CLUTCH pic.twitter.com/dcR9lrS8PM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 4, 2022
With better numbers to tout this free agency period, Monk will look to capitalize with a contract that lasts longer than one season, and more money.
Despite the heavy Kentucky ties, the Knicks never seriously considered signing Monk. The front office opted to add three draft picks and bring back the core from the season prior. While the appetite to add Monk to the mix last summer was low, the Knicks should have a different outlook when free agency opens at the start of July.
The appeal of Monk from the Knicks side is straightforward: they need help scoring. The team ranked 26th in scoring last season, averaging 106.5 points per game. They also did not shoot the ball, ranking near the bottom (27th) in field goal percentage. Adding Monk would instantly change that dynamic, and shore up the team’s one “strength” on offense, three-point shooting.
Envisioning where Monk would fit within the rotation is difficult at the moment. There is no direct swap for Monk to consider him a one-for-one upgrade. Alec Burks should be the odd man out if the team made a move on Monk, although Monk does not defend to the caliber Tom Thibodeau enjoys.
Still, Monk is a true combo guard compared to Burks, who was sadly played out of position as the lead guard for much of last season. And for those who hung tough with the Knicks last season, they will tell you that Thibodeau’s infatuation with keeping Burks out of position at point guard was his defense.
Although he would have to prove himself on the other end to ingratiate himself with Thibodeau, Monk could fill in dutifully as a facilitator. Dating back to Kentucky, Monk showed a strong feel for the floor and has continued into the pros.
Malik Monk does a lot of different things offensively, but his pindown playmaking is a nice combination of Monk's north-south driving + passing vision/creativity. Good chemistry with PJ Washington, especially with Charlotte's wide pindown action, which turns into empty-side PnR pic.twitter.com/mY37RZbRFv
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) July 26, 2021
Given more responsibility, it is plausible that Monk can become an impactful rotation piece, especially for a team that remains without an undisputed lead guard.
Where the Monk to MSG mania would hit the skids is on the money side. At the moment, the Knicks are tied up in cap space, not counting the (increasingly likely) pending Mitchell Robinson extension. The good news is the patented Scott Perry team-friendly deals provide the flexibility needed to offload contracts such as Burks and Nerlens Noel, the biggest money suck on the roster.
Monk could command anywhere from $9-12 million annually, which could be handled with a Mid-Level Exception (MLE). That is operating under the assumption that the market for Monk will once again be small, unlikely after the way he played last season. Should a bidding war ensue, however, the Knicks would have to bow out or seriously consider how big a piece they envision Monk as for the future.
At just 24 years old, it is not crazy to be enamored with him, it would just be a subtle shock to see the team go in that direction after showing little interest last summer. The one variable at play is the draft. By Thursday, the Knicks could swing deals to move up in the draft, freeing up more money to play with in the process. If not, the MLE is a tool at Leon Rose’s disposal.
One thing abundantly clear is that the front office needs to remodel the roster. The playoff season was a nice one-off, and to return to meaningful basketball, adding good players like Monk should be a priority. There is certainly room for Monk in New York if the Knicks want to make it happen. The Kentucky ties will not be enough, money will be a key factor to make this partnership a reality.