After injuries spelled doom for the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of this year's playoffs, changes needed to be made. I don't think anyone expected those changes to be quite this wholesale, but the Lakers have completely remade their team into... something!
They traded Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two three-and-D wings very much of the ilk LeBron James likes to surround himself with, for Russell Westbrook. They brought back Dwight Howard. LeBron finally enticed Banana Boat buddy Carmelo Anthony to come to Los Angeles. Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, and Kent Bazemore all came aboard for depth at forward and guard.
Then you have one signing that doesn't quite fit in with the others. These are all veteran guys, players who have been in the league for a decade (at least) and found various measures of success. They've bounced around and know the cost of sacrificing money for a shot at a title and are willing to do it.
Malik Monk is not like that. Yet he signed with the Lakers on Tuesday. The terms are not yet known, but at most it'll be for the taxpayer mid-level exception, which should be about $6 million annually for the upcoming season. There are rumors floating around that he signed for the minimum, which would be a gigantic win. Regardless, Monk is young (now the youngest player on the roster other than Talen Horton-Tucker and whatever other undrafted rookies the Lakers bring in, if any) and doesn't have the veteran acumen usually required to join a LeBron James-led team. But his signing may be the most important for the Lakers this offseason in the long run.
Part of the reason everyone was confused by the Westbrook trade was that Los Angeles needed more shooting first and foremost. Even more than last season, when the starting five featured three average to above-average three-point shooters around LeBron and Anthony Davis. Westbrook, as we all know, is the most inefficient three-point chucker in league history, a lifetime 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc. His gigantic $44 million salary for next season made it extremely difficult for the Lakers to acquire any other legitimate sharpshooters, like Patty Mills, who signed with the Nets today, or Buddy Hield, who the Lakers were discussing in trade talks before the Brodie trade.
Monk can shoot the rock if anything. He hit an even 40 percent of his tries from three-point land last year for Charlotte on five attempts per game. That attempts number will presumably rise with his new role in Los Angeles, and the percentage will fall accordingly. But if he can keep it above 35 percent, he'll be the best volume three-point shooter on the team. Los Angeles desperately needs that spacing both in the regular season and the playoffs. He'll play an important role, especially since Monk's youth theoretically gives him an edge in staying healthy over the course of a long season plus playoffs as opposed to all his 30-years or older colleagues.
It's not just the shooting, though. Monk is an explosive athlete who showed he could create off the dribble last season when playing off an elite playmaker. The Lakers have two. It'll be easy to pack the paint against this version of the Lakers, but nobody can afford to leave Monk wide-open in the corner and he's the only shooter on the roster who can also make the defense collapse when he has a step on his defender closing out. That opens up the whole floor for LeBron, Westbrook, and Davis to cut or pop or do whatever they want in. Ariza or Bazemore can't really do that. Monk can.
He doesn't offer a lot defensively, and that's part of the reason the Lakers were able to sign him on the cheap. But every little bit of offensive pop is going to help a team that will struggle to space defenses out. Monk certainly isn't going to propel Los Angeles to another title on his own-- but he may play a far bigger role than anyone anticipates.