This piece will focus on Malik Monk and at least a few of the several reasons why he might be different from his fellow masters of the jumpshot.
Many of you have perhaps already read this very solid piece by Dean Demakis. It addresses head on just how good Malik Monk is. Or at the very least, how good he’s been. And therefore, how good he might become in the NBA.
Not that you likely need a reminder, but here’s the highlights for Ole Miss game.
Like JJ Redick or Klay Thompson, Monk has every off-ball skill a shooter might need. The ability to spot shoot. to get his shot off quickly, to make his shot in close quarters. Plus he can shoot off movement in both directions. We even get to see clean off-the-dribble shooting.
When you add in Monk’s quickness and overall athleticism, the factors that really separate Monk from guys like Devin Booker or Jamal Murray, we begin to realize Monk might indeed be a rare combination of overall tools and skills that makes him, as shooters go, a unique player.
Freshman Monk Compared to Early Davidson Steph Curry or Two Guys Who Shoot the Ball Really Fucking Well
Now let’s look at Malik Monk against one of the players most offensively similar this stage of their careers. That player, Stephen Curry. Crazy right? But so far Monk has been as good as Freshman Curry and against better competition.
(Stats from DraftExpress & pace adjusted.)
To see that similarity is not just statistical, but holds up to a great deal stylistically as well, here’s a highlight video of Curry vs. Gonzaga in the 2008 NCAA tournament. His sophomore year.
Of course, we do see Curry make some plays off the dribble. (As we do for Monk, who has decent vision.) Once or twice for himself. A couple of times for his teammates. However, what we mostly see is Curry shooting the ball and making off-the-catch. Over and over again. To the tune of 40 points. And for the first two years of Curry’s career, that was in many ways his game.
Very similar to that of Malik Monk now. That’s not to say Monk will undergo the same transformation Curry did. As there’s only one other player that comes to mind to have done so. Steve Nash. Who just happens to be the historical NBA player perhaps most similar to Curry. Worth noting, but probably just a coincidence.
So What Does This Mean For Monk?
Nothinnnng! Absolutely nothing!!! Or perhaps more to the point, we don’t really know. Not as of now. But it would probably be unwise not to at least hold such examples in the back of our minds.
Yet, Monk’s most likely pathway to NBA success is as an off-the-catch volume shooter from distance. So I’d like to focus on the obvious question as regards Monk’s likely future role, just how valuable are off-the-catch jump shooters to an NBA offense?
Elite NBA Jump Shooters and Their Impact on Offense
So how valuable are such players to an offense? Well, if we merely looked at advanced metrics, we’d probably answer, “Not all that valuable.” Their best seasons in recent history topping out at +3 or +4 depending on the metric. With Klay Thompson perhaps the most consistent high performer.
+3 or +4 is certainly good. But it’s nowhere close to the impact such metrics give primary initiators like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Lebron James, etc . . . +6, +7, +8 guys. Sometimes even better.
Yet, I think there’s some pretty compelling evidence, looking at On/Off data, that the One-Size-Fits-All advanced metrics are wrong. Wrong, particularly because they don’t properly take into account that the effect that all shooters have on the game is not the same.
Indeed, let me ask you a question: Might it be that the attention that defenses need to pay to the best shooters in the game that their mere presence on the court may create opportunities for their teammates in much the same way a Point Guard does? Or if not the same way, at least to similar effect? To similar utility?
It was last year’s playoffs that got me thinking about this. In particular, Golden State’s series with Portland and the few games they played against Houston, sans Curry. Yet even without Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors’ offense as a whole seemed every bit as good as they were with him. In a couple of the games, they seemed even better.
And I’m not sure if the difference could be entirely explained away by the fact that Houston and Portland were admittedly poor defensive teams and OKC and Cleveland were very good ones.
Take Me To The River
Looking at this table below, we could at the very least begin to make an argument that we are indeed underrating the offensive effect of the game’s best jump shooters.
1) Here we have a table featuring seasonal data from many of the best jump shooters of recent history. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Ray Allen, JJ Redick, Kyle Korver, Rashard Lewis, Danny Green, Wes Matthews, Shane Battier, Harrison Barnes, DeMarre Carroll, and Eric Gordon among them.
2) Now please keep in mind the data is somewhat incomplete, because the Team ORtg component of the offensive data is really important in interpreting just what it means. I really should have included it, since it would help you realize that Eric Gordon’s -7 season really is a byproduct of playing on one of the game’s all-time elite offenses. This year’s Houston Rockets.
There are other effects throughout. The Spurs generally have strong offenses. The Battier Rockets generally weaker. Even without considering a player’s teammates, to which such On/Off numbers are often highly correlated, there are additional factors that could add context to the numbers provided.
3) Still, I think the obvious inference you can draw from Eric Gordon’s rating is the right one. That even though Eric Gordon is in the midst of his best offensive season (60% True Shooting) he’s not remotely one of the prime drivers of Houston’s success. That’s James Harden. (The Rockets are +12.9 on offense when he’s on the court vs. when he’s off.)
4) Just as well I believe that those players with seasons that place consistently at the top of this list are indeed the prime drivers of their respective team’s offensive success. We see Steph Curry of course, who I included to show just how valuable a shoot who also initiates can be.
And as a counterpoint to Klay Thompson’s success. Since one could argue that Klay Thompson’s success within a team context is heavily correlated to the success of Steph Curry, since they share so many minutes. And indeed, Curry is more significant contributor in every season I found.
5) However, I’d argue that instead of riding Curry’s coattails, as we would naturally infer if we believed the findings of the advanced metrics, what we are instead seeing is a sympathetic relationship of pieces that fit exceedingly well together. And one reason I’d argue this is because of Klay Thompson’s affect, not just on the Warriors Effective Field Goal Percentage, but also on his team’s Assist Percentage. The latter, despite the fact that Thompson himself does not make a lot of passes that directly create chances for teammates.
6) This indeed is one of the patterns we can see from many of the strongest seasons on this list. The player’s court presence usually dramatically raises not only his own team’s Effective Field Goal Percentage but also the likelihood of baskets that occur as the result of a pass. And besides Steph Curry and Ray Allen, not because the players in question are particularly strong creators.
7) Of course, one could argue that having such strong finishers on the court might just mean that such chances are more likely to be completed. Thus, more assists.
However, this is hardly an effect we see for all players on this list, no matter how good their shooting. Rashard Lewis is the one player who often produced high value seasons, despite producing a negative effect on his team’s overall assist percentage. Shane Battier, Eric Gordon, Wes Matthews and Danny Green are all no strangers to such seasons, despite having seasons approaching or well exceeding 60% True Shooting.
Considering this list, I think it might be important to note which shooters are more likely to be spot shooters, vs. which shooters are more likely to shoot coming off motion.
8) I’d like to talk about Ray Allen because an interesting thing happens upon going from Seattle to Boston. Allen switches from primary initiator to off-ball shooter. Less shots. Less assists. And yet his positive effect on his team’s offense is never consistently greater.
Of course, this success is correlated very strongly with other strong offensive seasons from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. But one interesting thing, if we look at Effective Field Goal Percentage and Assist Percentage in relationship to these Celtics teams, is that Allen’s presence on the court consistently has the greatest or second greatest effect on the team.
Generally, Allen has a greater effect than Rondo, Garnett or Pierce on the Celtics Assist Percentage. Which is crazy and somewhat counter-intuitive. Especially considering these players often outdistanced him in assists. Rondo often by more than three times.
9) And we similar effects with Kyle Korver in his two best seasons. Klay Thompson, who generally has a similar effect on eFG% as Curry and even once bested Curry in his affect on the Warriors’ Assist Percentage.
Even J.J. Redick, playing with the incomparable Chris Paul. Did you know that Redick was the player whose presence most affected the Clippers Assist Percentage in both 2014-15 and 2015-16? And that he only narrowly trails Chris Paul this season? Surprising to me too.
10) What we’re talking about is gravity. How much pull these off-ball shooters have on the defense? Zach Lowe wrote a great piece on it in relationship to Kyle Korver. But I think what we’re seeing here is just how right Zach Lowe is when he says (perhaps paraphrasing Coach Budenholzer), “Korver is almost an offense to himself.”
Beyond that, right in ways he perhaps intuited (since Lowe has an obviously excellent basketball mind) but didn’t explicitly point out. In these On/Off numbers, I believe we see explicit evidence of two or three ways in which a great shooter can positively and significantly affect offense, even beyond their own scoring contributions. (I haven’t pointed it out before, but such shooters also tend to drop their team’s overall turnover numbers. If only slightly.)
11) I’m not going to talk about this list much more. I’ll just wrap up with two points. First, that I included Rashard Lewis, as a reference back to the Jonathan Isaac piece. Lewis represents a realistic best case scenario for Isaac in my opinion. Unless of course, there’s some possible but unanticipated growth, considering where Isaac’s at right now.
12) Second to say, that not all shooters are created equal. It’s difficult for Danny Green to have a huge positive impact on San Antonio’s offense because that offense already hums. Just having any sort of positive impact on such an offense is a big deal, suggesting how good he is. And even being a net negative in some seasons might still suggest he’s a very good player.
However, the Warriors’ offense hums as well. Then compare and contrast Danny Green’s numbers with those of Klay Thompson.
And it’s not a situation like JJ Redick’s, where you could argue that the positive numbers are related to the Clippers bench. Which has been notably horrid for a few years.
The Warriors are not like that. Really excellent NBA players play behind Klay Thompson. So even if you don’t buy it’s because of gravity or just because of the player’s shooting ability, I believe something real is happening here. Something even beyond the fact that all these players at the top are also good ball movers. At the very least having to do with sympathetic effects that such a shooter can have on the games of his fellow teammates. Especially perhaps when surrounded by such great teammates.
As always, context matters.
Monk Vs. Luke Kennard
Context will likely matter to some extent for Monk. At least if he doesn’t eventually show more ability on the ball. He’ll need players that can get him the ball.
Yet, we’re perhaps not doing Monk justice when we call him a “one-skill” shooter on offense. It’s true that scoring the basketball from distance is his primary skill. Maybe his only real skill. But you add the athleticism, Monk’s comfort in catching and shooting off of pretty much any off the ball action one can imagine and the quickness of release, and you have a rare player.
Just compare Malik Monk with Luke Kennard, one of this draft’s other great shooters. Watch this highlight video.
Or this one.
Or even this one.
It’s clear Kennard can shoot off the catch, but look at how uncomfortable Luke Kennard seems just firing cleanly when he gets it. Often needing time to gather and thus lots of space to get his shot off.
By the time the shot is available, there’s often a defender present and thus we see a drive. Even when the defender doesn’t quite make it all the way, it seems like Kennard is sometimes rushed. In some ways, it seems like Kennard is one of those players that seems way more comfortable with a guy on his back then with an open J.
Now let’s remember Monk.
Monk’s only a Freshman. He’s already way beyond Kennard in his ability to shoot the basketball. Are you going to be surprised if he’s eventually going to be the kind of high gravity player that draws lots of attention away from the ball? The kind of attention that leads to possibilities opening up for the rest of an offense?
So perhaps it isn’t fair to call Malik Monk a “one-skill” shooter. Not because his game might develop in some unexpected way. (It might. Who knows?) But rather because that one skill can be hugely more valuable when a player is as good at it as Monk is. It just makes the game easier for everyone on the court.
That means Monk won’t necessarily have to be a great passer. Perhaps all he’ll need to be is the kind of shooter he’s been in college. The kind of shooter Klay Thompson is in the pro game, and, his mere presence on the court will create scoring opportunities and passing chances for his teammates.