A culture change doesn’t happen overnight in the NBA. But through smart vetting and careful consideration in the draft, the one person that changes everything can reveal himself. For the Sacramento Kings, De’Aaron Fox is that man, and the Kings are in desperate need of his talents.
Coming out of Kentucky, Fox was one of the most NBA-ready prospects in this past year’s draft. His speed, athleticism, ability to get to rim were at an elite NBA level. But there was a reason he fell in the draft, and that was due to his shaky outside jump shot. On 69 attempts, he shot 24% from three, very discouraging for a point guard prospect.
In draft’s past, we’ve seen that players with all the tools like Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Dante Exum flame out because of the outside shot. So far in the early NBA season, Fox has turned his greatest weakness into a valuable tool.
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27% shooting from the great beyond is nothing to go crazy over but it’s the confidence that he carries when he shoots, when he passes, when he dribbles the ball up the floor, that has separated him from his handicapped contemporaries. Unlike Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons, he doesn’t know that he can’t shoot, which prevents him from trying to do too much, something rookie point guards have fallen into the trap of doing.
The Kings haven’t had much success at the point guard position lately. In fact, the Kings have started 11 different starting point guards on opening night the past 11 years. The last time the Kings opened the season with the same starting point guard two years in a row Mike Bibby was the last man standing (from their Rick Adelman 2000’s team). That trend will continue due to the likely one-year rental at starter that is George Hill and the coronation of De’Aaron Fox as the full-time starter next opening night.
The Kings have missed on point guards because they have never wanted to build their team around them. They have envisioned their point guard as being a 5th starter instead of an essential part of their future. The curious case of Tyreke Evans still baffles Kings fans as to why they couldn’t make it work with him and DeMarcus Cousins.
Then, the short-lived emergence of Isaiah Thomas came to a halt due to the tension he had with, guess who, DeMarcus Cousins. Rajon Rondo was a nice pickup for stability, but he limited the team with his ball dominant style and lack of outside shooting. Sacramento has moved on from Cousins, Evans, and Rondo, with Fox having the franchise to himself.
In limited action, Fox has shown much of what we saw in college.
His per 36-minute numbers of 16-6-5 nearly match his collegiate numbers of 16-4-4. When he’s on the court, he gives a different feel than Garrett Temple and George Hill. The pace quickens when he’s on the floor as he uses his bowling ball speed to get into the paint in transition. In the half court, he plays a lot faster than everyone else, making defenders play him from behind instead of face to face. Although it’s hard to see his impact since the Kings rank 29th in pace, that trend would differ if Fox was a regular in the starting lineup.
Though most of his work has come against second units, he is remarkably composed for someone as fast as he is. In a stacked rookie point guard class, he leads all rookies in assist to turnover ratio (2.70) and points scored in transition per game (3.8). Very rarely will rookie point guards enter the league and be willing to take over the offense but he already ranks 4th in usage (26.9) among rookie point guards.
The way Fox seamlessly checks the boxes of a team that boasted one of the slowest paces and sloppiest offenses last season is encouraging not only for him but the Sacramento front office. The Kings hesitancy to select a franchise point guard stems from the risk that goes with taking a young point guard.
Especially in today’s NBA, how much do you want to invest in someone that has to learn not to get buried by screens while Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Damian Lillard are hoisting threes over their head? How many teams have a good enough shooting coach to fix a broken jump shot coming out of college?
However, Fox was one of the more ready NBA prospects, just by his physical tools that would allow him to become a good defender at point guard, and his competitive spirit should make him elite. Most NBA scouts have prospects figured out by the NCAA tournament, but the fact that Fox cried after losing in the Elite Eight to North Carolina showed that he cares about winning.
Playing Steph Curry and Patrick Beverley eight times won’t make the tears go away, but it will make him better. Not to mention reigniting his blood feud with Lonzo Ball another four times. It should build his confidence. As he continues to fill out his game and his body, Sacramento will look back on Fox five years down the line and remember the one they got right. Now all they have to do is ease up on their point guard trigger finger and allow this one to develop.
photo via llananba