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Malik Monk is John Calipari’s most electrifying freshman scorer ever

Malik Monk’s high volume efficiency sets him apart from Kentucky’s other superstar freshmen.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Monk had just put the finishing touches on the most brilliant individual performance of the young college basketball season when he had to hear his coach tell a national TV audience about everything he did wrong. John Calipari’s post-game interview was tinged with frustration after Kentucky let North Carolina take a brief lead in the closing minute of a high-tempo shootout in Las Vegas.

It was a game Kentucky would have lost if not for the fact that Monk simply wouldn’t let it happen. The freshman star hit two three-pointers in the final 80 seconds to cap a spellbinding 47-point performance that lifted the Wildcats to a 103-100 win.

Calipari, meanwhile, just wanted him to drive the ball more.

“In the first half, he was ridiculous,” Calipari said with Monk standing right next to him. “I’m trying to say get to the foul line. Go to the line more, don’t just shoot all perimeter jumpers. He’s such a great athlete and he’s so good with the ball, why settle? I know it’s easier and he goes on a run of making seven in a row. But they can’t guard him when he goes to the basket.”

Calipari’s complaints ring hollow considering Kentucky needed every one of Monk’s eight three-pointers to secure the final margin of victory. You’ll just have to forgive him if his brain was having trouble processing what he just saw. Calipari has had a lot of freshman stars since arriving at Kentucky, but he’s never had a player quite like Monk.

Calipari is right about one thing: very few of Monk’s 18 field goals on 28 attempts came easy. It was a blitzkrieg of pull-up jumpers that included 8-of-12 shooting from three, numerous long twos, and not much coming at the rim outside of transition opportunities. Monk turned in an all-time performance on just about the highest degree of difficulty imaginable.

It’s hard to even characterize this as a coming out party. Monk dropped seven three-pointers on Michigan State in a showcase game on Nov. 15 and entered Saturday scoring 20 points or more in five of his last six games. His effort vs. North Carolina was more of a warning shot -- an emphatic notice to the rest of the country that he can fill it up as quickly and forcefully as any player in America.

Monk’s 47-point special set a Kentucky freshman record and goes down as the sixth-best scoring effort in program history. It’s becoming apparent Monk isn’t a “streaky shooter” as he was often described as a recruit, but rather a cold-blooded marksman whose combination of deep shooting and A+ hops makes him an exceptional talent even within Kentucky’s recent lineage of superstar freshman.

Kentucky freshmen efficiency and usage

Name Offensive rating True shooting percentage Usage rate Points per game
Name Offensive rating True shooting percentage Usage rate Points per game
John Wall 108 56.2 25.7 16.6
DeMarcus Cousins 113.1 57.9 30.5 15.1
Brandon Knight 106.7 55.3 27 17.3
Anthony Davis 133.5 65.7 18.8 14.2
Julius Randle 111.2 56.6 25.5 15
Karl-Anthony Towns 122.7 62.7 23.7 10.3
Jamal Murray 118 59 27.2 20
Malik Monk 125.4 62.7 28.6 21.9

This is how Monk stacks up to Calipari’s best freshman scorers at Kentucky. He has the highest scoring average of anyone on this list, and he trails only Anthony Davis in offensive rating and true shooting percentage. Shockingly, Davis only had the eighth-highest usage rate on his own team when Kentucky won the national title in 2012 as a 38-2 juggernaut. Monk is currently carrying a much more sizable workload.

Monk’s best comparison is Calipari’s top-scoring freshman last year, Jamal Murray. Murray’s 113 threes were the second most in Kentucky history, behind only Jodie Meeks’s standout junior year in 2008-09.

Through 11 games, Monk is besting the pace set by both Murray and Meeks.

Coincidentally, Murray and Meeks also had breakthrough performances in their 11th games, just as Monk did against UNC. Murray went off for 33 points on 7-of-9 shooting from deep when Kentucky lost to Ohio State last year. Meeks hit 9-of-14 threes in his 11th game in a win over Appalachian State.

For all of the parallels with Murray and Meeks — whose 2008-09 season was Kentucky’s last without Calipari — Monk is a better athlete than either of his predecessors. His early high school mixtapes were instant classics, and Kentucky has seen him do highlight-reel stuff when he does decide to drive.

Monk is a flamethrower scorer who can beat you all over the floor. He isn’t Calipari’s best long-term prospect — obviously, that’s Towns or Davis — but he might be go down as the most effective volume scoring freshman of Cal’s run at Kentucky.

Quietly, Monk’s backcourt partner De’Aaron Fox also had a huge game with 24 points, 10 assists, and only two turnovers. The two freshmen complement each other so well — Fox as a defender and creator, Monk as a pure bucket-getter. It’s making Kentucky appointment viewing that will have NBA scouts glued to what’s happening in Lexington for the rest of the year.

In a season full of outstanding freshmen, Monk has gained the nation’s attention. Calipari should learn to love it before long.