CHICAGO — Malik Monk backed out of the NBA Draft Combine last week, but Kentucky coach John Calipari didn’t forget about him while in Chicago to support four other Wildcats there being measured, tested, evaluated and interviewed.
“Malik Monk is special, folks. Special,” Calipari blurted, unprompted, to a horde of reporters who were asking about De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Hamidou Diallo and even draft longshot Isaiah Briscoe. “I mean, there’s stuff that he does — you iso him, he can play a one, a two, head is on the rim, fast, good with the ball, a scorer but can do other things. Defensively, he could be that guy.”
It was as if Calipari wanted to make sure that, while hype is soaring for Fox and there’s some mystery surrounding both Adebayo (will he slip out of the first round?) and Diallo (will he stay in the draft?), people don’t forget about Kentucky’s electric All-American.
You know, Monk, the guy who hung 47 points on North Carolina, smashed the Cats’ freshman scoring record and made the third-most 3-pointers in program history last season? Neither NBA teams nor his former college teammates haven’t forgotten about Monk.
“Don’t let him get hot,” Fox said at the combine. “If he gets hot, it’s over. He’s extremely athletic. They say he’s small to play the two-guard, but there are a lot of twos that are (similar height). The one guy I always use is Avery Bradley.”
Monk’s height — listed at 6-foot-3 on Kentucky’s roster — is one big concern about him at the next level, but Bradley is a 6-2 shooting guard who made the NBA All-Defensive First Team last season for the Boston Celtics.
“So I don’t think Malik will have a problem playing the two,” said Fox, who also noted that most players will take time to adjust to the NBA 3-point line. “Except Malik. Malik shoots it from half court well.”
But where does Monk, who hit 40 percent of his 3-pointers and scored 20-plus points 19 times last season, end up?
After Tuesday night’s lottery locked the 2017 NBA Draft order in place, most mock drafts seem to think Monk will fall between the sixth and eighth overall picks. The Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks are selecting at No. 6, 7 and 8.
Three of five major mock drafts see Monk heading to Orlando, while the most optimistic projection comes from ESPN’s Chad Ford: third overall to the Philadelphia 76ers. Perhaps they’ll heed Calipari’s assessment of Monk’s many gifts.
This time last year, before Kentucky shooting guard Jamal Murray was picked seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets, Calipari was predicting he would lead all NBA rookies in scoring. He didn’t quite, but Murray finished second among rookies in made 3-pointers and third in points.
It’s almost as if the Wildcats’ coach, who has produced 28 draft picks in seven years at UK, knows a good pro prospect when he sees one.