De’Aaron Fox, Not Lonzo Ball

While Lonzo Ball (and his outrageous father) were the recipients of extraordinary attention during the NCAA tournament, the point guard at Kentucky was primarily ignored by the collective media and not because of his game. De’Aaron Fox has top of the lottery talent but at Kentucky John Calipari is the blinding light. Fox, a John Wall prototype, fit in perfectly in the Coach Cal universe: speak softly but carry a big stick. Cal is known for mentoring young guards who make an impact in the NBA. Derrick Rose was a Cal product, as was Wall and Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker and Brandon Knight. Calipari knows how to spot play makers that fit into the structure the modern NBA has attached itself to: speed, defense, finishing, transition.

During the NCAA tournament, as LaVar Ball was predicting his son would compete for the title, De’Aaron Fox had an opportunity. His Wildcat team was playing the Bruins on a Friday night in March, a Sweet 16 game that could have been the final but wasn’t. It was a quick glimpse into the games of two freshman who were going to be lottery picks. One with an arrogant and loud father and the other one quiet, respectful but determined.

If any game put Fox on the map, pushing his hype machine into overdrive, it was his matchup against Lonzo Ball who for much of the college season was widely considered to be the best point guard in country. That was fine but what about when Ball had to face someone of equal talent, what then?

This is what. 39 points. 4 assists. 1 turnover. Ball was average or worse with his 10 points and 8 assists and 4 turnovers. He was hardly a factor as the best thing about De’Aaron Fox, his speed and his defensive grit, took over the game. No one is stopping him when he gets to the rim. He finishes with contact. He makes shots in key situations. So why is everyone in love with Lonzo Ball?

Nostalgia. He reminds us of Jason Kidd. He’s 6-6, a big guard. His unselfishness is a throwback to a different before social media time. His court vision alone makes him special and like a neurosurgeon he can see things way before they happen. But he’s an average defender, his funky shot is going to get blocked, and his foot speed isn’t elite. To Ball’s credit, when the Kentucky game ended, after saying his UCLA time was history, he admitted he was outplayed.

True.

As the draft is inching closer and closer, the Fox upside is starting to gain traction. The left-hander is a natural in pick and roll. And he is a relentless attacker, something only quick guards can pull off, and because of it he is a continual presence at the line. He has a lot of dog in him and is a pesky defender, able to stay in front of athletic wings. John Calipari notes, “He’s learned to play through bumps. He’s learned to work.He’s understood the grind now.”

Draft Express says this of Fox:

“Fox’s intrigue at the next level starts with his tremendous size and speed for a point guard. Standing at 6-4, Fox is both taller and stronger than the average point guard selected in the NBA Draft lottery. On top of his size, Fox possesses great explosiveness as a leaper and a degree of speed and quickness that made him next to impossible to stay in front of at the college level with the ball in his hands. He showed the ability to get to his spots on the floor effortlessly. Jet quick with the ball, Fox is a blur in the open floor. Blessed with tremendous burst that makes his hesitation dribbles and quick crossovers all the more effective, Fox was regularly able to step back, measure his defender and find his way deep in the paint off the dribble, even without a ball screen. He figures to rank among the league’s most elusive guards from the moment he checks into his first NBA game.”

Magic Johnson has a choice between the attacking, scoring, defensive Fox and the make everyone better Ball. It comes down to Luke Walton and who he thinks fits better with his offense. If Walton is running compatible Warriors actions than De’Aaron Fox is the man to push the pace, finish in transition and drain midrange shots. Just look at who is in the NBA Finals. Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry.

Speed kills.

 

photo via llananba