Michael Jordan has been an NBA owner since 2006, when he bought a minority stake in what was then the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s seen some talented, high-scoring guards come through the franchise in that time, including Jason Richardson, Corey Maggette, Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker. He occasionally dishes advice to his players and has even played a few one-on-one.
Before this week, though, Jordan never had the opportunity to mentor someone who plays like him. That changed Thursday night, when the Charlotte Hornets drafted Lepanto native Malik Monk.
Even when Malik Monk was a sophomore in high school, I pointed out he’s the closest thing Arkansas has ever produced to its own M.J. The rest of the nation began catching on in full this past December after his 47-point explosion against Jordan’s alma mater. In that UNC detonation, broadcaster Bill Raftery compared him to M.J. (and Jerry West, to boot).
Monk finished his only season in college as a 20-point scorer with a devastatingly effective midrange jumper. He doesn’t yet have the fadeaway M.J. developed, but his three-point shot (he made nearly 40% of his nearly 7 attempts per game) is already superior. Many speculated he would be drafted by the New York Knicks with the No. 8 pick of this year’s draft. When he dropped out of the Top 10, his college coach John Calipari said he knew he wouldn’t slide past Charlotte at No. 11. “I knew that he wasn’t going to fall by Michael,” Calipari said. “He plays like Mike.”
As talented, explosive, skilled and fundamentally sound as Malik Monk is on the offensive side of the ball, don’t expect him to evoke M.J.’s otherworldly defense any time soon. For starters, at 6-3, he doesn’t have the length of an M.J., who stood 6-6 and had longer arms. And Monk himself has said he needs to learn to give max effort on that side of the ball each time out.
But, then again, Malik Monk just needs to be a good defender—not a great one—to do what the Hornets will need him to do in order to improve their bottom-of-the-barrell 2018 NBA Championship odds according to major sportsbooks.
In Jordan’s era and earlier in the 21st century, NBA rules allowed more physical contact, which allowed defense-first players who couldn’t shoot well (e.g. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace) to play major roles on championship teams. The modern NBA, however, allows for far less physical contact and puts a premium on players’ ability to create and make shots. The Golden State Warriors, the modern era’s best team, regularly unleash at least four players on the court at the same time who can not only create for themselves, but others.
This has created an evolved style in which great offense tends to beat good-to-great defense on most days. To beat the Warriors, or the Cavaliers or Spurs for that matter, the Hornets “got to put the ball in the basket. That becomes your defense,” Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan’s college teammate, said on the NBA Draft 2017 broadcast. “If [Monk] learns how to score the same the way he did in college, against taller, bigger, faster players, then he is what they needed.”
We’ll see how rapidly Monk can pick up the intricacies of Charlotte’s offense and get the consistency of defensive effort up to an acceptable level. He, for one, shows no lack of confidence involving anything to do with basketball.
After the draft, Monk gushed about the opportunity to learn from Michael Jordan. “I think he’ll teach me a lot and I’ll take an even bigger step each year. Each year I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from him.”
And if he gets the chance to play M.J. one-on-one?.
“I’m going to beat him,” Monk said with a smile.
All-Time Highest Selected Arkansan Guards* In the NBA Draft
1.(t) Eddie Miles (North Little Rock): Pick 4, 1964 Draft
1.(t)Mike Conley (Fayetteville): Pick 4, 2007 Draft
2. Ron Brewer (Fort Smith): Pick 7, 1978 Draft
3. (t) Fat Lever (Pine Bluff): Pick 11, 1982 Draft
3. (t) Malik Monk (Lepanto): Pick 11, 2017 Draft
*I’m looking at players who primarily played guard in both college and the NBA. Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen both were Top 5 draft picks, but the former played more as a forward in college while the latter played forward in the pros.