- CLUTCH SUMMARY: Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox enjoyed a breakout second season, and he didn’t receive enough fanfare for it.
- Fox still has several clear areas of improvement, including his defense.
- Fox has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA.
It’s universally known that De’Aaron Fox was one of the most improved players in the NBA last season. He was the literal driving force behind the Sacramento Kings’ evolution into a competitive League Pass favorite, pushing the ball up the floor in a blur at every opportunity while consistently making subtle, nuanced reads of court manipulation reserved for true floor generals. Fox was still more projection than player following his uneven rookie season. Now, he’s the Kings’ unquestioned franchise cornerstone, tasked with leading his long-suffering team to heights it hasn’t reached in well over a decade.
Still, there’s an argument to be made that Fox’s breakout sophomore season didn’t receive the fanfare it should have. He got better in most every significant way possible, through lenses of both analytics and the eye test – as a pull-up shooter, spot-up shooter, pick-and-roll operator, finisher, and defender. Fox upped his usage, efficiency, assist rate, 3-point rate, and free-throw rate in 2018-19, all while lowering his turnover rate. There’s no denying he improved by leaps and bounds, but the true scope of his improvement has nevertheless gone mostly overlooked, in part because Sacramento fell out of the playoff picture in March and he and his team play in relative obscurity.
But just because Fox made more strides last season than anyone could have realistically anticipated and many have failed to realize hardly means he’s a finished product. Here are three areas the Kings’ rising star must get better at this offseason.
Court sense while penetrating
Fox already gets wherever he wants on the floor. He has always been fast enough to beat defenders going under screens to the other side, and it’s only a matter of time until teams start tracking over the top of picks to prevent him from launching 3s off the dribble. But Fox will only be able to take full advantage of his innate ability to put pressure on the rim if he learns to better survey the floor while doing it.
Fox passed out of drives just 33.9 percent of the time last season, well below average among the 68 players who averaged at least eight drives per game, according to NBA.com/stats. To be clear, his forays to the paint were still an overwhelming positive for the Kings, and his assist percentage on drives is actually solid – evidence of Fox routinely creating easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. The next step is finding them with the frequency that makes him even more dangerous while attacking the rim.
Sacramento is a long way from reaching its peak, and Luke Walton’s team will enter this season as postseason long shots due to the depth and overall quality of the Western Conference. But over the next several years, as Fox, Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield, and Harry Giles lift their team back to contention, their ability to function as “16-game players” will decide just how high the Kings rise.
For Fox, that means producing points when Sacramento’s transition game is slowed and playoff defenses take away its favorite actions in the half court. He shot just 35.5 percent in isolation last season, per NBA.com/stats, ranking in the lower half of one-on-one efficiency overall. That’s a perfectly adequate standing at this point in Fox’s career, but it still warrants concern given his playing profile as playmaker first and scorer second.
There will be times on the game’s biggest stage that Fox won’t be able to get to the rim – finishing himself, drawing a foul, or attracking attention that frees up his teammates for easy looks. And when they come, he needs to be able to cook his defender for off-dribble jumpers from deep and mid-range at a rate that keeps the Kings afloat.
With Russell Westbrook aging and John Wall injured, Fox might be the league’s most physically imposing true point guard. He has rare positional length, burgeoning strength, and a world-class combination of speed, quickness, and explosiveness. Fox always puts those attributes on display offensively, but sometimes doesn’t affect the game how his tools suggest on the other end.
This is nitpicking, to be clear. Fox, just 21, is already a positive defender, an extremely encouraging sign for his development. Sacramento defended better with him on the floor last season, and he racked up steals and blocks at a game-changing rate. But he’s prone to getting hung up on screens in the half court, especially away from the ball, and the motor that helps make him an impactful defender all over the floor isn’t always running.
Once it does, De’Aaron Fox will be one of the best two-way players in the league.