How Malik Monk Is Preparing For His First Season With the Lakers

© Provided by Sports Illustrated

The Lakers guard reflects on joining the team and his offseason training regime.

Malik Monk had one thing in mind for his offseason training regimen: Refining his off-the-dribble jumper.

Monk finds himself in a new situation for the first time in his NBA career: New team, new city, and entering a season on a team with actual championship aspirations. Now, sitting in a media room in the Los Angeles Lakers’ El Segundo practice facility, Monk reflects on how he can fit in on a squad with recent championship experience, one littered with future Hall of Famers.

According to Monk, the way to do that is via his off-the-dribble juice. He figures to play a key role as a bench scorer, instant offense who can keep the second unit humming when stars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook take a breather. “I really wanted to work on off-the-dribble, a lot of off-the-dribble shots, because everything else comes kind of naturally to me,” Monk says. “You just got to get a rhythm and get a lot of reps in… My off-the-dribble with my percentages was kind of low last year, so you always want to get your percentages up.”

He’s not wrong—Last year, he shot 36.7% on jumpers off the dribble, per Synergy Sports, well below his 43.6% mark on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Still, Monk is coming off a career-best 11.6 points per game, with his 20.1 points per 36 minutes mark highlighting how effective he was in limited playing time.

While improving his shooting off the bounce is a point of emphasis, Monk’s overall outside shooting could prove to be a bellweather for the Lakers’ championship aspirations. Spacing will be cramped alongside James, Davis and Westbrook; While James shot 36.5% from deep last year, neither Davis nor Westbrook topped 32%. And with sharpshooters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma shipped off to Washington in the Westbrook trade, that leaves an opening for catch-and-shoot types who can help spread the floor alongside L.A.’s trio of stars.

Here, too, Monk may emerge in a key spot. He shot a robust 43.6% on catch-and-shoot threes last year, and a whopping 55.9% from the corners, per NBA Advanced Stats. Knocking down those shots consistently will be the key to whether he’s able to lock down a rotation spot all year, or whether he’ll cede time to other floor spacers, like Carmelo Anthony and Kendrick Nunn. Catch-and-shoot opportunities should be abundant in the Laker offense.

Another reason to expect a sizeable role for Monk this year is a simple one: He brings fresh legs. He, along with the fellow-newly-signed Nunn and incumbent Talen Horton-Tucker, figue to be the Lakers’ only rotation players under age 28. Los Angeles will trot out one of the oldest rosters in the league this year, with James, Westbrook, Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore and Wesley Matthews all angling for rotation minutes—and all over 32 years old. Davis is still in his prime at 28, but he has dealt with injuries throughout his career, including in last year’s first-round loss to the Suns. That should put youthful energy at a premium, whether for a few minutes at a time carrying the second unit, or shouldering a bigger role on nights when the Lakers’ stars are load managing.

Monk’s conditioning routine evolved as he moved West. He says he ran a couple miles nearly every day when he was in Charlotte, though he admits that he “hated” it. (Props for honesty, at least.) Since he’s settled into Los Angeles over the summer, he’s swapped his jogs through the neighborhood for beach workouts, where sometimes he’s joined by his 155-pound Neopolitan Mastiff, Bear.

The proximity to other NBA players in L.A. has helped Monk stay in shape as well. “When I was in Charlotte, I used to run in the morning and at night on top of my workout at 12,” he says. “But here, we do a lot of [scrimmaging] here. So it’s kind of easy to stay in shape and just get up and down because there’s nothing like basketball shape, man, because you can go run a mile and you’re still not going to be ready and be in basketball shape.”

A week before training camp officially opens, Monk is running through station drills with some of his new teammates, though this group is mostly comprised of G Leaguers and training camp invitees. With the Lakers’ elder statesmen not set to report for another week, Monk is the highest-profile member of the team participating in these workouts. Assistant coaches put him through floater drills, batter him with foam pads, and yes, have him put in extra work on off-the-dribble jumpers.

The biggest difference heading into this season, of course, is that Monk is playing on a team with real expectations for the first time in his career. Monk never played in a playoff series with the Hornets, as last year’s play-in game loss was his only taste of the “postseason” as a pro. Meanwhile, the Lakers enter the year among the league’s elite contenders.

Will that increased pressure affect him? Monk’s not sure. “I don’t know, man,” he says. “I can’t tell you the experience or how it’s going to feel, but I’m looking forward to it. Definitely looking forward to it. I like the big lights man.”

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