The 2017 NBA draft features one of the better draft classes the league has seen in years, and it's the depth that makes it special. Depth in the lottery, to be specific. Plenty of drafts feature a handful of stars among the top three picks, but this June there are potential All-Stars lurking all over the top 10. Malik Monk is one of them. "Malik is an elite, special athlete," John Calipari said last week. "And when he gets in a zone, you just sit there and say, 'Oh my goodness.' He shoots a three and it goes down, it doesn't even hit the net."
Monk will need to get stronger and diversify his game to succeed in the NBA, but he's the most explosive scorer in the draft. He might be the best shooter available. He's a better athlete than most people realize. And he's hitting the league during an offense-first era that makes his skills more valuable than ever. While teams talk themselves into players like Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson in the top five, someone later in the top 10 will land Monk and be very pleased.
I caught up with Monk on the phone as he toured the country for pre-draft workouts. He was speaking on behalf of JC Penny, the company that will outfit him with a custom-lined JF J. Ferrar suit for Thursday night's festivities. We talked about Kentucky basketball, his NBA future, and obviously, draft night fashion.
SI: What's the best conversation you've had leading up to the draft?
Monk: Probably meeting Kenny the Jet. Kenny Smith. He just mentored us a lot. Telling us about the league, telling us about life, really. It was me and [De'Aaron] Fox together, so that was fun. And he just told us, "Whatever you dream, whatever it is you think can accomplish: put your mind to it, do the work, and you can do it."
SI: What's been the most annoying part of this process?
Monk: Waiting. Waiting on the draft. I'm ready to get on with it.
SI: Everyone has to say they ignore the mock drafts. That's the standard athlete response. But is that true with you?
Monk: I mean, you try to! But on Instagram, Twitter, social media, they tag you in 'em a lot. You'll see a couple. But yeah, I try to block it out. There's just no telling where I'm gonna go, or whoever I'll go to. You really don't know.
SI: Kentucky has a whole mafia in the NBA. How often will catch up with those guys?
Monk: We have our groupchat from this year's Kentucky team, so we say something in there almost every day. I talk to Devin (Booker) and Tyler (Ulis) pretty often, but the other NBA guys I don't really reach out as much.
SI: If there's not already a groupchat for Kentucky NBA guys, there should be.
Monk: (laughs) It's true, we should get that set up. I'll see them all later in the summer [for the alumni game], so maybe we can make that happen.
SI: So let's go back to last season. What did John Calipari tell you when he was recruiting you?
Monk: He told me it's going to be hard. He said, "If you don't want to get pushed, don't come here. If you're willing to get pushed, we can make it work." But, it's not for everybody.
SI: Was Kentucky everything you expected?
Monk: Amazing. It was just amazing. If you want to go to the NBA and you want a career as a basketball player, if you're getting recruited by Kentucky, go there.
SI: One of the most impressive college games I saw last year was that Carolina game in December. You finished with 47, and it looked like anything you put up was going in. Can you feel yourself get in that rhythm as it happens?
Monk: Oh yeah. It happened a lot in AAU and high school, too. And that's exactly how it feels. I try to get the best shot possible, but if I'm on, it's probably going in.
SI: What can a team do to guard you at that point?
Monk: Nothing. The defense doesn't matter. So... I don't know. Have someone pick me up across halfcourt? Or from the other end. Maybe have someone come double me anytime I get the ball.
SI: No Hack-A-Monk.
Monk: Nah, that's not a good idea. I'll drop a thousand then. I'll make those free throws.
SI: There were other nights at Kentucky where you never quite got rolling, couldn't get in a rhythm. How do you explain those games when teams ask about them?
Monk: You know, you can't be on every single night. It's basketball, and a lot of people have those games. And on those nights I'll try to get other people involved. I can contribute to the game more than just scoring. That's something they haven't seen yet. I want people to see that.
SI: Do you think can play some point guard in the NBA?
Monk: For sure. I can play any position. At Kentucky I was off the ball most of the time. Now I might get the chance to be on the ball a little bit, and show what I can do.
SI: So who do you pattern your game after?
SI: OK, that's a good answer. But anyone specific in the league?
Monk: I just try to take bits and pieces from everybody. Stuff I see that I can do. With everybody, there's always something. Even if you're a guard looking at a post player, there's always something you can take that'll make you better.
SI: You've been in New York working out. How would you fit on the Knicks?
Monk: I really haven't thought that far. We've talked about it a little bit, me and my brother, but I think I'll fit pretty good anywhere I go. I'm easy to get along with and I can adjust quick, so I'll be good.
SI: What about the Sixers? Did you spend much time with Embiid at the lottery?
Monk: He was doing interviews and talking to people way more important than us. We couldn't spend that much time with him. But I saw him, yeah. And like I said, I can fit in anywhere and play well.
SI: And then there are the team workouts. Have you gotten any weird interview questions? The draft process is a lot of individual drills. Do you miss playing 5-on-5?
Monk: They haven't asked me anything too strange. It's all based on just what I like doing off the court, and my family. I haven't gotten any of those crazy questions yet. (laughs) Maybe those are on the way. And for sure, I miss 5-on-5. I love playing basketball. But I'm working out and working on my craft, and that's also fun.
SI: Do you feel any extra pressure with a gym full of people watching everything you do?
Monk: I just like being on the basketball court. So pressure, nah. Not really. I mean that's what I want to do in life, with everyone watching, so I better get used to it.
SI: You mentioned your brother, Marcus. He was a star wide receiver at Arkansas, he played in the NFL for a minute. What did you learn watching him as you grew up?
Monk: I couldn't totally appreciate it, because he was so much older than me. 12 years older than me. But I enjoyed it, and I remember some here and there, going to every home game he had. And now, he's helped me the whole way. He's been through everything I'm going through now. So he's been there for me with everything.
SI: He played pro basketball in Germany, too. Who wins one-on-one?
Monk: Oh, me. I'm winning. He'll say that he'd win, but I'm winning that one.
SI: OK. Quick toss-up. Instagram or Twitter?
SI: Lavar Ball or Donald Trump?
Monk: (laughs) Lavar Ball.
SI: Steph or Westbrook?
Monk: Why not?! Did you not see what he did this year? It's a separate category. You can't argue with that.
SI: Jordan or LeBron?
Monk: Ummm.... I'll say Michael Jordan. LeBron's not getting that torch just yet. He's still gotta pass Kobe, too.
SI: When will you be more nervous: draft night, or before your first NBA game?
Monk: Oooh. I don't really get nervous, but probably my first game. I'll probably be a little nervous.
SI: Alright, so draft night. We're talking because JC Penny is helping outfit you on June 22. How far along are you in that process?
Monk: The suit is done. We tailored everything. Got measured, got everything I wanted. I'm just waiting on the final product.
SI: Was there pressure picking out the look? Did you have any trusted advisors?
Monk: Nah, no pressure. I know how to dress a little bit. But Kenny the Jet helped me out, letting me know what to look for. And then just me being me. I like doing it a little different, so I was picking a little different.
SI: Different... So are we talking the all-white Samaki Walker look, or Jalen Rose in the red suit, or...
Monk: But that might give it away. You'll have to wait and see. I can't tell you all that.