It’s a weird sort of compliment that is sports-centric: The better you become at your craft, the more determined and focused opponents become at attempting to make you look bad.
Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk looked bad during the recent three-game road trip, averaging 7.3 points and shooting 7-of-37 from the field and 2-of-21 from 3-point range.
Those games in Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland followed a four-game span that were as promising as any time in Monk’s brief NBA career: In consecutive home games against Miami, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Atlanta, Monk averaged 17.5 points. In those games, he made 26 of his 50 shots from the field, including 11-of-27 from 3-point range.
Monk has emerged in his second NBA season as one of the top off-the-bench scorers in the Eastern Conference. He believes that is drawing attention from opposing teams he didn’t encounter last season as a rookie.
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“I’m on the scouting report now. I know I’m on the other team’s scouting report,” Monk said. “I put up some good numbers at the beginning of the season and I know they’re locked in on me.”
“That’s just (on) me to be a pro and take my job seriously, to watch film and see how they’re playing me.”
By and large, the Hornets have been good offensively this season in a 7-7 start. They are fifth among 30 teams in offensive efficiency, averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions.
However, they are heavily dependent on point guard Kemba Walker, the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer at 26.4 points per game. On those few occasions when Walker hasn’t been on his game - he went 2-of-16 for seven points in the Hornets’ 113-89 loss in Cleveland Tuesday - it’s hard for them to compete.
Developing a reliable second scoring option, particularly in clutch time (the Hornets are 1-5 in games decided by four points or less), is key to them progressing this season. Monk is the best candidate to be that player. It was promising to see him hit two big shots in the fourth quarter of a one-point victory in Miami.
His strong performance in the four-game home stand seemed to validate that progress. The three-game road trip that followed it looked like a setback.
“For Malik, that’s a mark of respect,” said teammate Nic Batum of the attention he’s drawing from defenses. “That means you’re dangerous. You’re a problem for them, you’re a target. So they’re trying to contain your strengths.
“They pursue your weakness, so that’s why you’ve got to work on your weakness.””
Monk said following practice Thursday a lot of his misses of late were of the in-and-out-of-the-rim variety: high-quality shots he just missed, rather than bad looks. To that end, he’s been coming back to the practice gym at night for extra shooting.
Beyond that, it’s about not just recognizing opposing defenses are more focused on him, but diagnosing what they are doing and coming prepared with counter-measures to that.
‘You’ve got to study it in film sessions,” Batum said. “Like in my case, I was more one-handed (with his dribble) with the Blazers, so they would push me left in pick-and-rolls. You have to figure where you can pass the ball, where you can do something different.”
Power forward Marvin Williams said learning through film is crucial because it’s not realistic for a young NBA player to immediately recognize new defensive tactics in games and know how to counter them.
“When you’re playing out there it looks very different, as opposed to watching it on tape,” said Williams, a 14-season veteran.
“Let’s use Philly, for example: They might have played him a certain way he had never seen before. Now, if he goes back and looks at that old Philly game (the Hornets play the 76ers again Saturday), he’s going to know.
“He’ll have better ways to get to his spots because he’ll better know what they do.”
Williams said the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ last home game, a victory over the Atlanta Hawks Nov. 6, should serve as a template for Monk. He made four of his seven shots in that quarter, but he also had five assists, exploiting the various ways the Hawks tried to guard him.
Williams isn’t the only Hornets veteran reminding Monk that the best way to defeat defensive attention is to find an open teammate.
“Kemba and TP (Tony Parker) are both letting me know what else I can do,” said Monk.
Some of this is preparation. Some is experimentation. It’s all that next move as a known NBA quantity.