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We Watched It So You Didn’t Have To

Malik Monk’s Hornets outlast Trae Young and the Hawks

Trae Young does his best Kemba Walker impression, but Malik Monk takes over late as the Hornets win

It was a busy Tuesday night around the nation, with Election Day results coming in as the college basketball season got officially underway. But the NBA chugged along with four games, one featuring the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets, two of my favorite under-the-radar League Pass teams this season.

It was a sloppy game, high-paced but with no real flow to it. The game was close until the 4th quarter when the Hornets pulled away for a 113–102 victory. Atlanta was missing Taurean Waller-Prince and John Collins, so they started their trio of 2018 first-round picks for the first time. Trae Young had his ups and downs but gave a nice Kemba Walker impression, while Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman didn’t feature as much, and Malik Monk stole the show late for Charlotte.

Every game is a data point, even the ones that happen while no one’s watching. We watched it so you didn’t have to, and here’s what we saw from the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets…

Trae Young does his best Kemba impression

Trae Young was my second favorite prospect in the 2018 draft behind Luka Doncic, and this was my first chance to watch a full NBA game from him. Tonight was a mixed bag. Young finished with 18 points and 10 assists but also had 6 turnovers and a team worst -15 on the court. He went 0-for-7 on threes but made 8-of-12 twos.

The shot selection was disappointing. Young took two really bad three pointers in the opening minutes, both early in the shot clock from several feet behind the arc, missing them badly. He never really found his shot against the Hornets. Young is hitting just 29% of his threes, and I’m not sure the deep threes are really drawing the defense out to open everything up when he’s not hitting them. Young attempted seven threes, and I thought only one of them was a good look — and even that one was two feet behind the arc off the dribble. Atlanta isn’t getting him anything off the ball.

Having said all that, putting up 18 and 10 night as a 20-year-old point guard when you can’t get your main weapon firing means something else is going right, and a lot of “else” was working. As poor as Trae shot behind the arc, he showed off a much improved arsenal inside of it. Young has gotten a lot better at using his body to shield off defenders and finish at the rim, a skill he wasn’t so good at in college (though it helps that Charlotte’s guards are so small).

Young is making a more-than-acceptable 54% of his twos — for reference, that would match Kemba’s career-high this year — including 63% at the rim. Even better, he’s taking more than a quarter of his shots at the rim. That’s huge. He also looks comfortable with the mid-range floater. Those two skills are what helps make Steph Curry so special. Of course the shooting is out of this world, but it’s his ability to drive and finish near the hoop that make him so dangerous with the ball. If Young continues to develop his finishing abilities, he’ll buy himself more space to get the shot off.

The turnovers are a problem he hasn’t solved yet. Young had six turnovers, including two where Kemba just straight up grabbed the ball out from under him mid-dribble. Young is bottom five in the NBA with four turnovers per game, though that number is inflated by his high usage rate. He’s also getting some turnovers because his teammates just aren’t any good. Young is passing guys open but ends up with a couple turnovers because his teammates’ hands are made of stone or because they pull up on a dive. That’s not his fault, and he’ll look better with better teammates.

The defense isn’t good. Young needs to fight harder, especially through screens, and he needs to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep on that end of the court. He’s engaged defensively on the ball, but that’s not enough. The defense and turnovers need to be better, but we already knew that.

But what really stood out more than anything else was Trae’s vision. It’s just next level for a 20-year-old. Point guards are supposed to be terrible their first few seasons. Trae is averaging 19 and 8. Point guard is really hard. Most point guards don’t hit their prime until age 25 or later when the game finally slows down. The game is already slow for Young. He sees everything.

Young’s reading and decision-making skills are off the charts. He’s decisive in the pick-and-roll, and he sees the open look even as he’s driving to the rim from either direction. Unlike Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic, Young isn’t big enough to make every pass. Sometimes he sees guys open but doesn’t have the size to get it to them, and he’ll need to learn that. But most of the time, Young is just out there making plays. He had 10 assists but could have easily had 15+ if his teammates could finish. Young shredded the Hornets repeatedly in semi-transition, making quick reads and keeping them on their heels all game.

Young’s crossover is deadly. He got Cody Zeller on an island a few times and roasted him to the rim for an easy two. If the helper comes, Trae’s eyes are up and he is excellent recognizing the dive man and hitting teammates on lobs. He doesn’t have much to work with by way of big men, but it’s easy to imagine him throwing alley oops to Clint Capela or DeAndre Jordan. Like Kemba, it felt like Trae could get to the rim almost anytime he wanted, and with no real rim protection out there, he hurt the Hornets all game.

Through 10 games, Trae Young is averaging 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists. Per Basketball Reference, only Oscar Robertson has matched those numbers in his first ten games in NBA history. Young is generating 17ppg on assists, so he’s adding 36 points of offense to his team as a rookie point guard.

He’s also drawing a lot of free throws at 4.7 per game and a free-throw rate over 30%. Only three players this season are over 30% FTr and 40% assist rate: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Trae Young. Not bad company, considering that’s the last two MVPs. Only 13 players this decade hit those numbers over a whole season, and that list includes names like CP3, LeBron, Wall, Nash, and Rose.

Trae Young is really good, and he’s only going to get better. If you think Young is just a Steph wannabe that takes too many threes, you’re dead wrong. Only 40% of Trae’s shots are threes, and his average shot distance is just 13.3 feet. Young is getting into the paint and finishing, and he’s creating quality looks for teammates all game. He’s definitely a starting NBA point guard, and a good one. The only question now is whether he’ll be great.

Malik Monk… closer?

The game was close all night, with neither team leading by more than seven until the 4th quarter. That was when Charlotte took over, led by none other than sophomore Malik Monk, one of my favorite 2017 draft prospects. Monk helped lead the Hornets to a 19–4 spurt as Charlotte pulled away late, and it was his explosiveness on offense that put the final nails in Atlanta’s coffin.

Monk was pretty quiet before the 4th quarter. He entered the quarter with just four points and one assist. Most of his minutes were played in conjunction with Tony Parker, which meant a lot of off-ball play. That changed in the 4th. Hornets coach James Borrego put Monk in with the starters in place of Zeller as Charlotte went small as they’ve done successfully at times this season. That put Marvin Williams in the center/dive role to open up the offense, and it repeatedly put the ball in Monk’s hands as a playmaker.

Monk looks like he’s making the transition from shooter to scorer. He is a really quick, explosive athlete and multiple times drove right past defenders slashing to the rim, and he got up for a monster alley oop dunk, too. Monk’s shot got so much deserved praise in the draft that his athletic explosion may have been overlooked. He flies around screens, both on and off the ball, and you get the feeling he will be an absolute devil doing the Reggie Miller thing where he runs around five screens and pops for the jumper.

But it’s not just the pure shot and the athleticism. Monk’s decision making was really impressive, and it was on display over and over in the 4th quarter as Borrego ran a play called Chicago action over and over to help Charlotte pull away. In Chicago action, there’s a screen followed instantly by a dribble hand-off, in this case to Malik Monk sprinting around a screen. Monk gets the ball on the move, the screener dives to the rim, and Atlanta’s defense is completely scrambled time and again. During one stretch of the 4th, Charlotte ran this play eight times in a row. Monk exploded to the rim for a finish himself at times, found the dive man other times, and still other times used the confusion and spacing to hit an open shooter. Here are all eight plays:

This is a big win for Borrego, but it really showed off Monk as a closer for this team. He had nine points and five assists in the 4th quarter alone, making a handful of nifty passes and showing off his quick decision making.

Monk’s 13.4 points per game rank second on the team for the Hornets, and he’s essentially a rookie after injuries cost him most of last season. With so many rookies standing out last year, many pundits have moved on from Monk, but he is showing how good he can be. He’ll need to continue to add strength and improve on his finishing, hitting just 48% on twos. He’ll also need to work on defense, of course. He got caught ball watching a few times, and his size next to Kemba Walker is always going to be a problem defensively.

But if the 4th quarter is any indication, Malik Monk may not be a two. There was some Kemba Walker in what he was doing, too, and you can see a future where he’s an explosive scoring point guard 6th man at least, and maybe a starting point if he continues to develop. For now, he’s a heck of a closer.

10 more parting shots…

1. Kemba Walker, cheat code.

Kemba was so much better than anyone else on the court, and as much as Atlanta stayed close all game, it also felt like Walker could flip the switch at any point and get a bucket or help Charlotte pull away if needed. Walker gets a little better every season. He’s currently averaging 28 points, 4 boards, and 6 assists with 47/40/85 shooting splits.

With apologies to Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker is the best point guard in the East right now. He’s one of only two Hornets playing more than 25 minutes per game, and he is absolutely killing teams right now. He can get to the rim and get a look anytime he wants, and one big difference between him and Trae is that he’s also getting good rhythm looks off the ball, benefiting from scheme and passing around him.

2. Kevin Huerter looks like a piece.

At first glance, Kevin Huerter does not look particularly intimidating. A skinny white guy with a red mop, Huerter looks like a guy I’d have watched compete for Mr. Basketball in North Dakota growing up. But looks can be deceiving. Huerter is much more than a spot-up shooter. He’s quite athletic and does a lot of things well. He can dribble for himself and is a good passer for a two, and he’s an excellent rebounder. He needs to fight a little harder on defense, especially chasing guys like Monk around screens, but his hustle led to three steals and a block, and he was second on the team with three assists. Huerter’s advanced numbers pop, an awesome +28 on/off per 36 minutes in an obviously small sample. Atlanta drafted Huerter to be the Klay to Trae’s Steph, and it looks like they found something.

3. The big men in this game left something to be desired.

Cody Zeller is slow and struggled on defense, repeatedly getting roasted on an island against Trae Young and others. He doesn’t look like a starter, let alone a $14 million a year player. Alex Len scored the Hawks’ first four buckets but didn’t do much after. Atlanta’s third first-rounder Omari Spellman looks thick and slow. He started but was a complete non-factor. Dewayne Dedmon was Atlanta’s top-ranked 2K player last year. He looks washed on both ends.

The one big that popped was Charlotte’s Willy Hernangomez, who finished with 9 points and 9 boards in 16 minutes. That included nine straight in the 3rd quarter, and Willy added athleticism and spacing that Zeller doesn’t have, even hitting his fourth three of the season. The Hornets may need to find more playing time for Willy, who sports a nifty 134–103 ortg-drtg differential.

4. Tony Parker forever.

Look, I was ready to be totally out on TP in anything but silver and black, but it’s just good to see him doing Tony things out there. Parker’s got that old man game, pacing the team and hurting Atlanta’s horrible bench unit. His game has aged like a fine wine. He has the up and under, the hesitation dribble, the pump fake… it’s all still there, and we’ll miss it when he’s gone.

5. Jeremy Lin is back.

It’s good to see Lin healthy again after a ruptured patella tendon cost him almost all of last season. Lin scored nine quick points off the bench in the 1st quarter and was hot all night. He still knows his way around a good pick-and-roll and was in attack mode all game. Let’s hope Atlanta finds a way to get Trae Young some time off ball next to Lin at some point, but for now it’s just nice to have Linsanity back in our lives.

6. Vinsanity hasn’t gone anywhere either.

Vince Carter is playing for love of the game, which is really just about the only reason you’d willingly sign in Atlanta these days, but God bless him for it. At age 41 in the 21st season of his career, he’s probably not going to win the dunk contest this year (sorry Rachel Nichols!), but dude can still throw down.

7. Not to be outdone, Miles Bridges had a dunk of the year candidate.

God bless VC, but even he can’t do this no more. Holy cow.

8. Charlotte might be pretty good.

The Hornets are one of four teams in the NBA with both a top-10 offense and defense, ranking 4th on offense and 10th on D. They rank in the top 10 in shooting on twos, threes, and free throws, top 5 in assists, and lead the league in blocks. Charlotte has five double-digit wins, including 29, 32, and 32 point blowouts, and four of their five losses have come down to the final seconds. The Hornets have had a soft schedule so far, but the advanced metrics say they should be an 8–3 team. They’re a playoff team out East.

9. Charlotte’s court is beautiful; its announcers, not so much.

The Hornets home court is just pleasing on the eyes. Maybe it’s 90s nostalgia, but the old color scheme works, Buzz City fits, and the parquet design is *chef’s kiss.* As for Dell Curry and Eric Collins on the mic? Not so much. Just a boring experience. Get Stephanie Ready off the sidelines and back on the call, please and thank you.

10. Five things that make you go “Eww”

  • Atlanta leads the league with 18.7 turnovers per game and had 22 tonight. They forced 21 too in a sloppy game.
  • The Hawks are top five in threes attempted but hitting under 35% of them, ranking 20th in the league. They made 20% against Charlotte, shooting 6-for-30 from deep, while making 35-of-55 twos (64%).
  • Marvin Williams tied Glen Rice for third most threes made all time by a Charlotte Hornet. Nope, can’t do it. Just feels wrong.
  • Tyler Dorsey: not an NBA player.
  • The highest paid Atlanta Hawk this season: Carmelo Anthony, at $25.5 million. Keep gettin’ dem checks, Melo.

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