Situational Analysis: De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk
"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect's success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk formed the starting backcourt for the Kentucky Internship Program in 2016-17. Both guards are 19 years old and measure roughly 6-foot-4 in shoes. Fox (UK's point guard) averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 4 rebounds, while Monk (UK's go-to scorer) tallied 19.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Their freshman seasons ended in a 2-point loss to eventual NCAA Tournament champs North Carolina in the Elite 8. Both Fox and Monk declared for the draft shortly after and project as likely top-10 picks. NBADraft.net currently has Fox positioned at No. 4 and Monk at No. 8.
We at "Situational Analysis" HQ typically break down one prospect at a time, but it's impossible to discuss Fox's situation without Monk (and vice versa). Each player's path to the NBA highlights the unique benefits and drawbacks of the Kentucky Internship Program.
Let's start with Fox, who played his way into no-doubt-about-it lottery contention with a stellar freshman season in Lexington. Out of all the top prospects in this year's draft, it's Fox who stands out athletically. In terms of raw tools — speed, instincts, fast-twitch muscle movement, vertical leaping ability, lateral quickness, deceleration, toughness — Fox has no peer. The point guard position is deeper than its ever been in the NBA, and Fox will be able to hang athletically with the sport's elite from day one.
His pass-first mentality and floor generalship are enticing, but it's on the defensive end where Fox truly shines. Much like Avery Bradley or Patrick Beverly, Fox seems to relish getting under his opponent's skin, picking him up full court, hounding his dribble, getting into his jersey. He'll gamble and find himself out of position at the next level (as most young guards tend to do), but he projects as a possible All-NBA-level defender, should he receive the proper coaching/tutoring.
Monk? He gets buckets.
At his best, Monk was college basketball's premier heat-check shooter, pulling up from Steph Curry range without hesitation. He connected on 40-percent of his 3s on 7 attempts per game — many of which came with a high degree of difficulty. Monk can shoot it from any angle and from any situation — pull-up, off the dribble, catch-and-shoot. He also shows a knack for attacking close-outs and getting to the rim (4.7 free-throw attempts per game).
Both Monk and Fox complemented each other's skillsets exceptionally well, and both thrived in big games and big moments. The things they do well will translate to the NBA.
On a scale from 1 (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's handles) to 10 (Kyle Korver shooting 3s off flare screens in 2015), Fox's defensive tenacity rates at a 9 and Monk's scoring ability is an 8. If nothing else, those skills alone should result in both players cashing NBA checks for a long time.
Flip it around. Monk's strength is Fox's weakness (and vice versa).
If his shot isn't falling, Monk's concentration can drift. He can either drop 47 on North Carolina or a combined 8 points in a two-game stretch versus Texas A&M and Georgia. In 20 games, Monk grabbed 2 rebounds or less. He wasn't asked to pilot the offense, as that was Fox's primary responsibility. Some scouts question his playmaking ability and defensive intensity.
Fox, meanwhile, is a subpar shooter, especially from outside of 18 feet. It's almost impossible to contend in today's NBA when a team's lead guard can't hit at least one-third of his 3s. Fox shot only 24.6 percent from the college line. That's abysmal.
His free-throw percentage (nearly 74 percent on 6 attempts per game) suggests he can improve upon his 3-point stroke, but there is likely a ceiling on how effective of a shooter he will be. If Fox can't crack 30 percent from the NBA distance, he will likely fill a bench role, where his vision, athleticism, and tenacity will still serve as assets. However, if that number creeps closer to 35 percent (and, more importantly, teams decide they have to guard him 24 feet from the hoop instead of sagging off), Fox can be an All Star. John Wall willed himself into becoming a passable perimeter shooter. Emmanuel Mudiay hasn't yet, and it's entirely possible that he never will. Fox's NBA future will depend entirely on which end of this spectrum he finds himself.
A pessimist would see Monk as a one-dimensional undersized combo guard who will give up as many points as he creates and can't run an NBA offense. That same pessimist would see Fox as a shorter Michael Carter-Williams.
On a scale from 1 (Jamal Crawford's handles) to 10 (Jamal Crawford's defense), Monk's fatal flaw rates at a 7 and Fox's is an 8.
This is where it gets interesting.
For the record, I fully support John Calipari and the Kentucky Internship Program (KIP). If the goal is to teach elite basketball prospects what it takes to maximize their earning potential, Calipari's results are impossible to argue. Coach Cal is fully committed to seeing his recruits make as much money as possible, while preparing them for what life as a professional basketball player will entail.
But since so many talented prospects come through his program, it's difficult for each of them to showcase their entire array of skills in those six short months.
For example, few people seemed to have any idea how dynamic of a perimeter scorer Karl Anthony-Towns would turn out to be. Next to nobody knew what kind of creator Devin Booker could be on the pick and roll. Scouts knocked Jamal Murray's playmaking ability and Eric Bledsoe's court vision. Heck, some basketball decision-makers projected Anthony Davis's ceiling as Marcus Camby.
In other words, the Kentucky Internship Program often doesn't give scouts, general managers, or fans the full view of what a prospect can do. It's traditionally smarter to assume the best about KIP products instead of fixating on their weaknesses.
Can Monk transition to more of a lead guard in the NBA — a scoring threat who can also run high screen and rolls and set the table, a la Kyrie Irving? I say yes. With Fox assuming so much of the point guard duties, it was easy to pigeonhole Monk as a gunner.
Conversely, can Fox increase his shooting percentages with NBA coaching and a few more spot-up opportunities, where he's not asked to run every set?
Both players will enter the league prepared and aware. Kentucky kids know how to handle themselves at the next level. And if recent history is any indication, Fox and Monk may each have certain hidden skillsets that are waiting to be cultivated.
On a scale from 1 (the way 5-star Baylor recruits never seem to get better during their college careers) to 10 (the Kentucky Internship Program), Fox and Monk get a 10. They may have slightly hurt themselves in the short term — at least in terms of how scouts view their overall games — but both players will be able to handle life in the NBA.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Perhaps my favorite prospect-fit scenario in the entire draft is Monk ending up with the Philadelphia 76ers.
"The Process" has yet to include a guard who can shoot, which seems insane, given how guard- and shooting-driven today's NBA has become. With Ben Simmons slated to make his first NBA start next season, Monk should be allowed to step in and bomb away from 3-point range with little hesitation, providing much-needed spacing for Simmons and a healthy (?) Joel Embiid to operate.
Fox, meanwhile, could step into a number of teams and contribute on defense right away. The Kings have needed a player with Fox's mental makeup for years now. Even if his shooting stroke isn't there yet, he's worth the gamble. Orlando already has Fox's worst-case scenario in Elfrid Payton. Ideally, Fox ends up playing behind Eric Bledsoe for a year in Phoenix and then assumes the PG reins alongside fellow KIP graduate Devin Booker.
On a scale from 1 (whatever the Kings are doing) to 10 (the way seemingly every player fits into the Spurs), Fox's need to find the right fit is a 7, while Monk's is an 8. Both players project as solid NBA contributors no matter where they go, but each could become All Stars in the right spot.