Fresh start works won­ders for 2nd-year Hor­nets guard Monk

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY RICK BON­NELL

rbon­nell@char­lot­teob­server.com

Be­fore Char­lotte Hor­nets coach James Bor­rego told Ma­lik Monk what Bor­rego needed, Bor­rego asked Monk what he needed.

That started a valu­able di­a­logue.

“I knew he trusted me from the be­gin­ning,” Monk told the Ob­server Thurs­day. “Ever since then, he’s go­ing to tell me (dif­fi­cult truths). If I’m be­ing lazy, he’s go­ing to let me know right away. If I’m not giv­ing 100 per­cent, he’s go­ing to let me know right away.

“That’s how, with a play­er­coach re­la­tion­ship, it needs to be for me to get bet­ter. And if we want to win, too.”

Monk’s pro­duc­tiv­ity of late is im­pres­sive. Over the past four Hor­nets games (in which they went 3-1), Monk av­er­aged 17.5 points. In that span, he made 26 of 50 shots from the field and 11 of 27 from 3-point range.

Monk’s abil­ity to score has never been in ques­tion. The Hor­nets drafted him 11th over­all in 2017 based on him pro­duc­ing 19.8 points per game in his one col­lege sea­son at Ken­tucky.

The rub through most of Monk’s rookie sea­son in Char­lotte was be­ing com­pe­tent enough in his de­fense and in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing with the ball that he could be trusted on the floor when a game is de­cided.

Then-Hor­nets coach Steve Clif­ford played Monk early last sea­son, saw un­re­li­able re­sults, and then didn’t use him ex­ten­sively again un­til af­ter the Hor­nets were out of play­off con­tention. The can­di­dates who in­ter­viewed to re­place Clif­ford af­ter he was fired were all asked in a pri­or­ity fash­ion how they would get bet­ter re­sults from Monk.

Bor­rego made it clear, in that first meet­ing with him, that they were jointly vested in Monk’s im­prove­ment.

“Soon as he got the job he called me and said, ‘You’re one of the big­gest things I want to

work on in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, other than Kemba’ ” Walker, Monk said.

SAME IS­SUES, FRESH RE­SULTS

Bor­rego’s ar­eas of con­cern re­gard­ing Monk – de­ci­sion-mak­ing and de­fense – are the same ones Clif­ford had. For what­ever rea­sons – pass­ing of time, fresh start, new man­age­ment – Bor­rego seems to be draw­ing im­prove­ment from Monk that wasn’t there last sea­son.

It’s not un­com­mon for a young player to re­flect on his short­com­ings as a rookie and ad­dress those dur­ing the off­sea­son. Per­haps this change seems more dra­matic be­cause Monk was so dis­ap­pointed by last sea­son.

His scor­ing av­er­age has dou­bled (from 6.7 ppg., to 13.4) and more im­por­tantly his field-goal per­cent­age has risen from 36 per­cent to 42 per­cent.

Bor­rego said Monk has in­cre­men­tally in­creased the new coach’s trust in him, and that was re­flected in Tues­day’s home vic­tory over the At­lanta Hawks. The Hor­nets led by only four points head­ing into the fourth quar­ter, and Bor­rego went with Monk, his top re­serve, for all 12 min­utes of the fi­nal pe­riod.

Monk’s sta­tis­tics in that fourth quar­ter: nine points, 4-of-7 shoot­ing and five as­sists.

That means he was ei­ther the scorer or the passer on nine of the Hor­nets’ 14 field goals when they outscored the Hawks 32-25.

That de­fined what Bor­rego meant about de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

“It’s ‘Can I trust you with the ball in your hands to make the right play?’ Not the one-on-one play, the right play,” Bor­rego said. “He’s not just throw­ing the ball all over the place. If he sees two bod­ies, I ex­pect him to kick it (to a team­mate) and he’s do­ing that. He’s not try­ing to make the home-run pass, he’s mak­ing the sim­ple play.”

On de­fense, it’s about be­com­ing fa­mil­iar enough with how teams look to at­tack that he has a plan be­fore he’s beaten.

“Ma­lik is start­ing to fig­ure it out (de­fen­sively) a lit­tle bit. He’s see­ing the pick-and-roll be­fore it hap­pens, he’s see­ing the drive be­fore it hap­pens,” Bor­rego said.

“It’s about ‘Do­ing your work early,’ we call it. He’s got to be in the right po­si­tion, and when he’s in the right po­si­tion usu­ally he makes the right play.”

To Monk, that’s about sur­vival, both in avoid­ing em­bar­rass­ment and get­ting clob­bered by the vi­cious picks vet­eran NBA play­ers set.

“When you’re a rookie, they’re go­ing to come at you ev­ery time,” Monk said. “At some point, you just get tired of get­ting beaten by screens be­cause they hurt. They hurt bad. So I started try­ing to beat them over ev­ery time.”

TRUST AND LEAD­ER­SHIP

Monk’s progress is about bas­ket­ball, but it’s also about com­mu­ni­ca­tion and man­age­ment skills.

Be­fore Bor­rego got his first NBA job as a video as­sis­tant with the San An­to­nio Spurs, he earned a Mas­ter’s de­gree in lead­er­ship stud­ies at the Univer­sity of San Diego.

When Bor­rego took this job, he wasn’t obliv­i­ous to what the Hor­nets were be­fore he ar­rived. For in­stance, he knew they had to av­er­age more as­sists and at­tempt more 3-point­ers, but he ar­rived with an open mind to what the play­ers he in­her­ited were and weren’t.

“I told Ma­lik, ‘I’ll coach you based on what I see. I’m not go­ing to coach you based on what I saw last year or what I heard about you last year,’ ” Bor­rego said. “I think that set­tled him down. He said, ‘All right, I trust you, coach. I’ll do what you ask.’ ”

The foun­da­tion of that was lis­ten­ing, then talk­ing.

“You can say what you’ve got to say. But if you’re wrong, he’s go­ing to tell you,” Monk said

“That’s just how it works, and how I think a player-coach re­la­tion­ship should be.”

Rick Bon­nell: 704-358-5129, @rick­_bon­nell

CHUCK BUR­TON AP

CHUCK BUR­TON AP

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