De'Aaron Fox is arriving
Early in the season, the Sacramento Kings have shown more signs of life than they have since trading away DeMarcus Cousins, and if you ask some people they would say you’d have to go even further back. The Kings are a young team with a nice core, and they are without their first round pick this season so there is no reason for them to tank. However, simply starting off 3-3 is not really the good news for the Kings.
The Kings sport one of several “promising young cores” in the NBA. 11 of the 13 players who have seen the floor this season for the Kings are 25 or under. Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, and De’Aaron Fox are 19, 20, and 21 respectively. Scal Labissiere may still become something, Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein are not so young anymore but both (especially Hield) have become nice players. Bogdan Bogdanovic is old for a second year player but he also had a promising rookie season last year, and the Kings eagerly await his season debut.
The problem however, is that, despite obviously having some nice pieces on the roster, it was not yet clear that the Kings had a truly foundational star on the roster. No matter how many nice young players you may acquire, just ask the Magic how it turns out without that super-star type.
That is where the real best news for the Kings is. It is obviously too early to proclaim Fox the savior of the franchise, but the early results are great and show that the Kings may have finally nailed a lottery pick.
To start with, just look at Fox’s per game numbers: 17.7 points, 7 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 32.5 minutes per game. And his efficiency on those numbers are solid as well, his 17.7 points are scored with a true shooting percentage of 54.4% and those 7 assists are against just 2.7 turnovers per game.
The only downside to his start is that his long-ball is still very poor, having hit just 20% (3/15) from deep in the early going of the season.
Beyond his simple box-score, the Kings have been a completely different team when Fox is on the floor. Per 100 possessions, the Kings score 115.4 points and allow 105.4 (+10 overall) and when he is off the floor they score 89.4 and allow 119.8 (-30.5), which for those not keeping track, is a swing of 40.5(!!!) points per 100 possessions. Overall, when Fox is on the floor the Kings are +41, and when he’s off they are -61.
Once again, those numbers will get less drastic as the season goes on, but Fox looks like he has really made an improvement to being the real deal.
One of the biggest improvements to Fox’s game was not even an improvement he himself made, but rather a change by head coach Dave Joerger. After spending last season plodding along at the literal slowest pace in the entire NBA, the Kings have come out and played at a super-charged speed that currently puts them 3rd in the NBA in pace.
This has had a hugely positive impact on Fox, who was built to get out in transition. His combination of end to end speed and explosive leaping were always one of his biggest strengths as a prospect, pushing in transition also helps to mitigate his shooting deficiencies.
Once again, the biggest thing that stands out about Fox on the floor is his sheer speed with the ball in his hands. He is the type of fast where he can get the ball and create a fast-break out of nothing by simply out-running everyone.
Also, compare that fast-break with this one.
Fox shoots with his left hand, but if you watch the above two clips, it really highlights just how comfortable he is at finishing with either hand. He’s also comfortable even if he can’t quite get all the way to the hoop to lay it off the glass. He can jump so high and has such nice touch that his finger-roll is absolute money.
One thing that really stands out about Fox along with his speed, is the control with which he plays the game. Most point guards who come into the league with his kind of athletic abilities, think John Wall or Russell Westbrook as recent examples, have severe issues with control. They fly around making the spectacular plays but also make it clear that their understanding of the game is not as fast as their legs.
Even in an up and down rookie season Fox nearly had a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio (4.4 assists against 2.4 turnovers) and even then looked fairly in control of his own game more often than not. And once again, make no mistake, Fox is fully capable of unloading into supreme athleticism.
Dude has legit bounce.
But Fox is not just a fastbreak wonder who breaks down in the half-court. Until he finds a consistent shooting stroke from deep his half-court offense will be limited a bit, but he has really good feel and skills for the half-court. Once again, he is not just a speed-demon.
Fox has is very comfortable putting up floaters, ranking in the 44th percentile this season per synergy sports, and it looks sustainable. Big men often give him extra space to keep him from getting around him, and he is able to stop so quickly to get the floater off that they have little chance to really contest.
Once again, the control he shows on these plays is great. He isn’t wild, he isn’t trying to force anything. He just see’s the opening and lets a floater go. He still has room to improve on those, but it is a shot that most young guys struggle with and he’s already solid at it.
After all of that, he still has the super-quick first step and great explosion to simply go around and over guys.
His pullup jumper is still coming along but he at least has some comfort and confidence in it and has done a decent job on hitting them.
All in all, Fox is off to a great start and he has shown that he could perhaps lift the Kings this season. The West is almost certainly far too congested for the Kings to make any sort of a meaningful playoff race, but especially if Bogdanovic can return at the level of last season, the Kings could have a good chance to be a competitive team and have more hope going into next season than they have had in a long time. Exactly how good De’Aron Fox ends up being is still a mystery, but he may be the player that the Kings have been waiting for.