Scouting Malik Monk’s potential fit with the Miami Heat

Nov 23, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) goes up for a dunk against the Cleveland State Vikings in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Cleveland State 101-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) goes up for a dunk against the Cleveland State Vikings in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Cleveland State 101-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 23, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) goes up for a dunk against the Cleveland State Vikings in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Cleveland State 101-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Monk is one of the best scorers in college basketball. How would he fit in with the Miami Heat?

Writing about Malik Monk’s fit with the Miami Heat would have been a whole lot easier two weeks ago. You know, before that out-of-nowhere nine-game winning streak that’s caught the basketball world by surprise.

During that span, the Heat are fourth in the league in net-rating, tied with the Golden State Warriors in defensive rating and, perhaps most surprising, first in the NBA in three-point percentage (at 41.7 percent). So talking about Monk, who’s primary asset is his ability to score the basketball, and his fit with Miami’s roster, almost feels superfluous.

But maybe it isn’t. Monk is one of the best freshman scorers in college basketball history. (Not hyperbole.) He arrived in Kentucky with questions about his size for a shooting guard, his lack of point guard skills, and his three-point shooting. Thus far, he has quelled some of those concerns.

Read More: Heat Under Pressure to Deliver in Draft

According to Draft Express, Monk will go ninth overall to the Dallas Mavericks. And the Heat, thanks to all that great winning they’ve been doing, have an 87 percent chance of landing the tenth pick in the draft (via Tankathon). So as of now, there’s a chance Monk will be available when Miami is on the clock. I will hedge by saying Monk has been one of this draft’s risers, and could end up going higher on draft day.

The question is: Are the Heat interested? The team has a couple of combo guards in Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson who fill similar roles. Goran Dragic is their point guard for the foreseeable future. Dion Waiters has been on a tear so fierce that fans are actually entertaining the possibility that he has turned the corner.

So why add Monk? Let’s break down his strengths and weaknesses, and surmise whether there is a potential fit between the two parties.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky

Strengths

When discussing Monk’s strengths as a player, what immediately comes to mind is his expertise in putting the ball through the hoop. Monk, despite being a freshman, is the tenth leading scorer in the country.

And of the 10 players with the highest scoring averages, Monk is one of just two who is both a freshman and playing in a major conference. The other one is that Markelle Fultz guy you may have heard about. (He’s pretty good too.)

On the season, Monk is averaging 22.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He shoots 50 percent from the floor, 41 percent from three, and 83 from the foul line. That is absurd efficiency, and what NBA teams find most appealing about him.

Monk is absolutely deadly from three-point range. He has hit at least four threes in 10 of the 22 games he has played.

Back in December, in the 11th game of his career, Monk put on one of the best freshman performances ever. His Kentucky Wildcats faced off against a loaded (and more experienced) North Carolina Tar Heels team. How did he respond? Simply by scoring 47 points on 18-for-28 shooting, going 8-of-12 from three, and hitting the biggest shot of the night.

Monk can beat you at all three levels (from three, mid-range, and around the basket). He never shies away from a big shot, and is especially fearless when it comes to challenging big men in the paint.

He’s lightning quick, gets down the floor in a hurry (leading to easy buckets in transition), and has serious bounce. On offense, he’s the total package. It’s on the other side of the ball where (some of) his uncertainties as a prospect lie.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky

Weaknesses

Throughout the year, Monk has peaked as high as sixth on Draft Express’ 2017 mock-ups. The reason for his recent plummet to ninth, aside from a rough shooting stretch from three, is his defense. What’s alarming is that it’s not just focus issues, which would be normal for an 18-year-old kid. It’s his limited size and length (6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 wingspan) that really hurt him.

Despite getting a ton of playing time (over 31 minutes per contest), he only averages 1.2 steals. His lack of length doesn’t allow him to get into passing lanes, and when a player shoots over him, they probably don’t notice his contest. For such an explosive offensive weapon, it doesn’t translate when he has to move his feet on defense.

What’s even worse is when he has to switch onto bigger players. Here, observe what happens when he tries to cover Josh Jackson on the block:

Jackson rises above him like he’s not even there and gets a wide-open look at the rim. Whoever drafts Monk may be forced to hide him on spot-up shooters or non-offensive threats, which is what his coach, John Calipari, does very often.

An even bigger red flag in Monk’s game is that he’s a player stuck between positions. A shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He struggles as a creator, and has not shown that he can run a team in college, let alone the next level.

Although Monk is more than just a streak shooter, ultimately, that’s what some NBA execs will see him as. Is he the next JR Smith? He plays with an elite point guard at Kentucky. What would happen if he was forced to be a team’s primary ball-handler? Those are questions scouts will have to answer come draft time.

Jan 21, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) dribbles the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 85-69. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) dribbles the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 85-69. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Monk’s fit with the Heat

Monk is an elite scorer, primarily from three. And Miami has made their incredible run recently thanks to their shooting from deep. Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, Dragic, and Waiters have all been hot. Adding a guy like Monk would bolster the offense, which, despite what recent returns may have led you to believe, still needs help.

The Heat, even with their torrid shooting of the past two weeks, are still just 22nd overall in three-point percentage. Thus, their offensive rating is a paltry 102.1 (fourth-worst in the NBA). For the offense to make a sustainable improvement, they have to acquire better shooters.

It’s fair to say that Monk needs a lot of work defensively, which does make him less appealing. But let’s not forget that Dragic had a similar reputation before arriving in Miami. Now, he’s more than serviceable; he fights hard through screens (formerly a major weakness) and opposing point guards don’t blow by him as easily as they used to. The Heat could get Monk to see similar improvement.

Miami may have an opening at the position after this season anyways. Waiters is playing consistent basketball for the first time in his career and is set to hit the open market. Will Pat Riley break the bank to keep him? I think he’s more likely to cut his losses and replace him through free agency or… well, the draft.

Aside from Monk, it’s a bad year to look for a shooting guard in the draft. So why not Monk? A dynamic scorer, who can both shoot lights out, and finish with explosive dunks. My only concern is the shoes he’ll have to fill.

Replacing the best shooting guard in team history won’t be easy. But I’m sure Monk will be up to the task.

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