Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox was far from terrible during his rookie campaign, as he averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a steal over 27.8 minutes per game.
However, he wasn’t great either, as evidenced by the fact that he shot 41.2 percent from the floor, 30.7 percent from the 3-point line and 72.3 percent from the free-throw line while posting a minus-5.8 net rating.
But based on his potential and the skill he showed while playing for the University of Kentucky, there remained a whole lot of hope for Fox to become a very good NBA point guard down the line.
Well, apparently, “down the line” meant one year.
Fox has already taken the next step on his way to stardom this season, with the 21-year-old registering 17.5 points, 7.3 assists, 3.7 boards and 1.7 steals across 31.9 minutes a night while making 46.3 percent of his field goal attempts, 37.2 percent of his long-distance tries and 71.5 percent of his foul shots. Oh, and you know that ugly net rating he had last season? He has flipped the script this year, owning a net rating of plus-7.
The question is, is Fox getting enough love in the discussion for the Most Improved Player award?
The problem for Fox is that he is in his second season, and second-year players rarely win the award because, well, you generally always improve in your sophomore year.
Of course, that isn’t to say no second-year guys have ever earned the honor. Just ask Gilbert Arenas and Monta Ellis. But the exception is not the rule, and history is not exactly on Fox’s side.
Comparing Fox with other candidates, you can certainly make a case for the floor general, especially when taking into consideration how much the Kings have improved as a team this season, which is in no small part due to Fox. Other guards in the running include Zach LaVine, Josh Richardson and Buddy Hield, Fox’s own teammate.
Still, the front-runner seems to be Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who has more than doubled his scoring average on good efficiency and has been a terrific two-way player for the contending Raptors all season long.
But let’s keep the focus on Fox.
How much of a beef will he have if he doesn’t finish among the top vote-getters for the award?
Here is what you have to ask yourself: Has he done enough to separate himself from guys like LaVine and Richardson, and is he even the most improved player on his own team?
Let’s take a look at Hield for a second, as he may very well end up being the guy who keeps Fox from ascending into the highest ranks of consideration, ironically enough.
Hield is averaging 21.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists through 32.1 minutes per game while connecting on 46.4 percent of his shots, 43.6 percent of his triples and 87.3 percent of his free throws.
While Hield’s volume of free throws has not been all that great (2.5 attempts per game), he has still been incredibly efficient overall, and his plus-3.3 net rating demonstrates that he doesn’t just post empty numbers.
Here is the thing, though: Hield’s shooting percentages were nearly identical last year (44.6/43.1/87.7). The only difference is that this season, he is getting more touches, which, in turn, is resulting in higher counting numbers.
But Fox? His percentages are noticeably better than a year ago, so one would be remiss to say that Hield has improved more than Fox. Hield has simply been taking five more shots per game, and his uptick in numbers has a lot to do with Fox’s improvement, as well.
And what about LaVine and Richardson?
Let’s start with LaVine, who may have a shot at edging out Fox. He is recording 23.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game this year, shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from deep and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe.
Not previously known for his efficiency, LaVine has actually been a dependable scorer for the Chicago Bulls this season, with his 57.3 percent true shooting percentage demonstrating that he has not just been a mindless chucker.
Remember: LaVine is also just two years removed from a torn ACL and played in just 24 games last season as a result, so this is really the first time the 24-year-old has been healthy in three years.
As for Richardson? Honestly, it’s hard to determine if he has really gotten better. In spite of his scoring increase (12.9 points to 17.2 points per game), his percentages are actually down from a year ago, as his true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent is hardly anything to write home about.
In actuality, Richardson shouldn’t even be a legitimate contender for the award and is likely only being thrown on to lists due to his increase in counting numbers.
So, is Fox being overlooked? Probably not, but if he doesn’t finish in the top three or four in vote-getting, he might have a gripe.