Malik Monk perfectly displays unique Kings role in OT win vs. Lakers

Malik Monk perfectly displays unique Kings role in OT win vs. Lakers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SACRAMENTO – Last season, the Kings welcomed Malik Monk to Sacramento for his sixth season in the NBA.

With several new faces and much-needed changes, Mike Brown in his first season as the head coach of the Kings had an important decision to make on whether to start Monk or Kevin Huerter in the two-guard spot.

The two guards competed for the spot all training camp and Brown ultimately went with Huerter, who was a huge part of the Kings’ historically great offense with his lights-out shooting and action-powered DHO game with Domantas Sabonis.

But Brown’s decision didn’t so much come down to which player was better, it was more based on lineups, depth and energy. Heavy emphasis on the energy.

Monk provided a spark off the bench for the Kings in his first season with the team, something so crucial to any squad when its stars need a break or when things are off with the first unit. In 77 games last season, Monk averaged 13.5 points on 44.8 percent shooting, with 2.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 22 minutes.

He finished fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting, an award that honors Boston Celtics Hall of Famer John Havlicek, who excelled off the bench and took pride in bringing some animation onto the court.

That is exactly who Monk is.

An unselfish playmaker who can go and get his own shot at really any given time. But it’s his energy and the way he can turn a dozed-off Golden 1 Center crowd into more than 18,000 people on their feet clapping and cheering.

On Sunday against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s exactly what he did.

It was the De’Aaron Fox Show for most of regulation before the All-Star point guard went down with an apparent ankle injury and briefly exited the game. Fox re-entered the contest shortly after but then sat down for good in overtime. Also out for the Kings was their star center Sabonis, who fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter.

With Sacramento’s star players out and the game on the line, Monk read the room and put the team on his back. And he made it look so easy.

While there’s no replacing Fox, Monk certainly did his best impression in the extra quarter.

Monk had 11 points off the bench in nearly 20 minutes across the four quarters of regulation. In overtime alone, he added 11 more points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 from deep in five minutes. Five minutes.

Roughly 300 seconds is all it took for Monk to help the Kings outscore the Lakers 17-12 in the game-sealing quarter, in which he made up 64.7 percent of the Kings’ fifth-quarter points.

“Malik was huge. We don’t win this game for sure without his play,” Huerter said after Sacramento’s thrilling 132-127 overtime victory. “Especially in that overtime, he made every play of getting to the rim, making big shots, making plays for everybody else. You guys have seen that, we know he’s capable of that, but he was huge.”

Huerter, who had struggled with his shot since Sacramento’s playoff meeting with the Golden State Warriors last season, finally broke out in Sunday’s win and also contributed to the overtime boost.

The sharpshooter entered the game shooting just 10 percent from 3-point range on the season, but he was encouraged by his teammates and coaches to continue to “let that thing fly” if it’s a good look.

While there were questions about whether Brown would mix up the starting lineup amid Huerter’s shooting slump, Brown decided to roll him and keep the same starting five on Sunday – and it paid off.

Second-year forward Keegan Murray, who had his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie, never lost confidence in Huerter. And more importantly, the depth that the Kings have reassures him that if and when players do struggle, the Kings have a lot of guys who can “take over a game” and “step up to the plate.”

For the Kings on Sunday, and likely many other times over the course of the season, that will be Monk.

“It’s important. He’s a really good offensive player for us,” Brown said postgame. “He knows, I know and shoot, everybody in Sacramento knows he can play at a high level on that end of the floor. What he’s got to do is lock-in defensively for us. And when he does, he can be a really good, high-level two-way player that can start at times.

“It would be hard for me to start him just because I love the spark that he gives us and the versatility that he gives us coming off the bench. But it’s all about whether or not he wants to play on the other end of the floor. And if he does, there’s nobody better because he does so much with the basketball.”

Brown didn’t have an update on Fox immediately after the game, and the point guard was unavailable to speak to the media postgame.

Fox played 73 games last season and is just scratching the surface of his NBA star potential in his seventh season with the Kings. This season, he’s already averaging 28.5 points on 43.5 percent shooting, along with 4.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 28.5 minutes.

When he sustained the injury in the fourth quarter, he stayed down near the baseline for about two minutes before being helped up and helped to the locker room while limping. When he returned a few moments later, Huerter revealed that Fox wasn’t supposed to start in overtime but he just walked onto the court and told the coaches he was going to play.

Fox is one of the toughest players in the league and it will take a serious injury to keep him off the court for a long time. It’s too early to know what his status is, but if there’s one thing that could give Kings fans just the slightest glimmer of hope during an uncertain time, it’s Monk and what he showcased Sunday night.

While Monk surely would prefer to have his fellow Kentucky Wildcat teammate by his side, if Fox does need to take a few games off to fully heal, the Kings have just the guy who can provide a spark for the team when they need it.

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