LeBron James’ Admission About Malik Monk Shows the King Might Have a Knack for Scouting After All

After going 20-19 to start the year, few would consider this Los Angeles Lakers season a success. Yet for all of the negatives, there are at least two giant positives. One, LeBron James is playing as strong as ever despite being the ripe age of 37. And two, Malik Monk is giving LA way more than what they’re paying for.

With big money going out to James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook, Monk has been a bright spot for the Lakers at a fraction of the cost. While his season has been a surprise to many, count LeBron as one of the people who believed in Monk well before the two joined forces.

Malik Monk has been a huge addition to the Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers came into the season with an overhauled roster. Westbrook captured most of the headlines, as did former All-Stars like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. But in the middle of LA’s long list of new acquisitions was Monk, who signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal worth $1.78 million.

Monk had a couple of early breakout games when LeBron sat due to injury. The 2017 first-round pick of the Charlotte Hornets scored 17 points in LA’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. A couple of weeks later, he dropped a season-high 27 points in an overtime victory against the Miami Heat. But even when James returned to the lineup, the 23-year-old carved out a role as one of the Lakers’ top scorers.

Over his last six games, Monk has scored 20 or more points. In each game, five of which were starts, the fifth-year vet has shot at least 50.0% from the field and 40.0% from three. The recent surge has propelled him to 11.6 points per game for the season on a career-high 47.7% from the field. The largest improvement is his efficiency inside the arc, where the guard has gone from 47.1% shooting on twos last year to 60.6% in 2021-22.

“He can do it all offensively,” head coach Frank Vogel told SB Nation after Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. “That’s what we love about Malik. We can put the ball in his hands and he can make plays.”

LeBron James reveals how long he’s had his eye on Malik Monk

LeBron has had a lot of success over his 19-year NBA career. Though some would point out how “LeGM” hasn’t always been spot on when it comes to player evaluation.

James has been involved with several pitches for superstars over the years. He played a role in LA trading for Davis, which ended in the Purple and Gold adding title number 17 to the rafters. However, he also forced the Lakers’ hand in going after Westbrook last summer, a move that by all accounts looks like a whiff.

Though James has attempted to pair up with other superstars like Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard, he hasn’t ignored the role players by any means. One of the players LBJ kept tabs on over the last year or so was Monk, as he shared after LA’s win on Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings (h/t: Lakers Nation).

“Me and [former assistant coach Jason Kidd], we talked a lot last year. We wanted [Malik Monk] last year. When Charlotte stopped playing him, or they would play him and then sit him for five or six games, and then they would play him. … J-Kidd would talk all the time like, ‘Is there a way we can snatch this guy from their roster?’ So through patience and through timing, we were able to get him this summer, which still kind of doesn’t make sense to me. But we’re happy to have him, he’s a dynamic player.”

LeBron James

After four years coming off the bench in Charlotte, Monk became a surprise free agent after the Hornets declined to extend him a qualifying offer. But their loss is LA’s gain, and now he’s making the most of his opportunities.

Malik Monk has earned a starting spot alongside LeBron moving forward

When the Lakers took a chance on Monk, they were hoping to see a decent shooter able to provide some offensive pop off the bench. Instead, they’ve gotten a starting-caliber player motivated by a lack of interest from other teams.

“It was crazy for me because … you never see that many lottery picks that get to be unrestricted [free agents],” Monk told Lakers Nation after Monday’s practice. “And it kind of hit me hard when nobody really wanted me beside the Lakers. So I just put fuel in my tank and just hold it in until I get time to play and prove I belong for long periods of time. And that’s what I’m doing right now.”

Fittingly, Monk and James are flourishing together. As Alex Regla of SB Nation pointed out ahead of Tuesday’s win over the Kings, the two players are responsible for huge improvements to LA’s offensive and defensive ratings, as well as the team’s effective field-goal percentage. And with Monk now seemingly locked into one of Vogel’s starting spots, expect the chemistry to continue to build.

With all the negativity surrounding the Lakers this season, Monk has been a true revelation. Should he continue to prove doubters wrong, he could be playing himself into a sizable contract this summer, which LeBron is certainly hoping is with LA.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

RELATED: LeBron James Has Already Set a Precedent That Could Lead to a Fast and Furious NBA Trade Deadline for the Los Angeles Lakers