Malik Monk turns from past trade target to Knicks tormentor

There was a time when Malik Monk was linked to the New York Knicks as a hot trade target. But it cooled down after the organizational shakeup that saw Leon Rose take over from Steve Mills as team president.

Monk, the 11th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, never found his solid footing in his first four years in the NBA after a college career in Kentucky that saw him form a two-headed monster with reportedly Knicks trade target De’Aaron Fox.

Despite averaging a career-high 11.7 points during his last year with the Charlotte Hornets, Monk was shocked to see his stock drop to its lowest during the offseason. He settled for the veteran’s minimum despite only being 23 years old and just entering his fifth year in the league.

“It was crazy for me because … you never see that many lottery picks that get to be unrestricted,” Monk revealed last month. “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 held 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.”

Monk continued his breakout season on Saturday night and reminded the Knicks what they missed in the offseason. He torched the Knicks with 29 points, with 24 in the second half to fuel the Lakers’ furious second-half rally.

Monk was unstoppable in the third quarter. The former Wildcat outscored the entire Knicks, 18-13, as the Lakers stunningly came back from a 21-point first-half deficit.

Monk is proving to be the biggest bargain signing in the offseason. He’s fast becoming the Laker’s third scoring punch behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis as Russell Westbrook struggles to fit.

Over his last 21 games dating back to Christmas Day, Monk is averaging 16.5 points on 49.2 percent field goal shooting and 44.9 percent clip from behind the arc. Also proving to be a solid defender, Monk has been one of the Lakers’ bright spots. He was plus-60 during that stretch for the Lakers.

For the season, he is averaging career-highs across the board (13.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists). He has become a reliable three-point shooter topping the 40-percent clip for the second straight season on a career-high 5.6 attempts.

Monk should set himself up for a big payday in the offseason, which the Lakers couldn’t afford. There’s no reported renewed interest from the Knicks on Monk, but his performance last night against them should be noteworthy as they reshape their flailing roster.

The Lakers could offer him their mid-level exception, but a non-taxpayer mid-level exception could entice Monk to sign elsewhere. The Knicks should take a flier on him. He would fit perfectly to their young core’s timeline as a microwave scorer off the bench, especially if they successfully unload some of their veterans reportedly on the trade block.

Monk is much cheaper, younger, and more athletic than Burks and Fournier as the Knicks prepare to  allocate a big chunk of their cap space to Barrett’s looming extension and their search for a starting-caliber point guard.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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