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Kings 85, Suns 89: De’Aaron Fox shines in debut

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The Kings guard had 18 points, 4 assists and 5 steals as he showed just why he was considered one of the top PGs in this class.

Garrett Elwood, Getty Images

The Kings fell to the Suns 89 to 85 in their first summer league game, but it wasn’t without its highlights. De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson both scored 18 points for the Kings, and Sacramento played an 8 man rotation that featured only one player that won’t be on the Kings roster next season.

Fox was the highlight of the night, a blur with the ball that made an impact on both ends of the court. Fox showcased nearly everything that people fell in love with leading up to the draft, and also showed that while his outside shot still needs a lot of work (0 for 3 from the arc), his midrange game is already pretty solid, and with his speed and ballhandling, he can get that shot whenever he wants. Fox also showcased some good court vision, finishing with 4 assists to just 1 turnover. Three of Fox’s assists came in the pick and roll, while the other was a lob in transition to Buddy Hield. Fox lived up to his nickname of “Swiper”, snagging 5 steals on the game and generally being a menace to whoever he was guarding. He was matched up against David Stockton on one possession and it was like a reenactment of last year’s season opener with Kawhi Leonard stealing Ben McLemore’s lunch money. All in all, Fox’s debut couldn’t have gone any better. ESPN had him mic’d up and I loved listening to how much he was talking and encouraging his teammates. He’s got the makings of a true leader.

Justin Jackson was the other big positive for the Kings last night, scoring 18 off the bench in 26 minutes. Jackson looked like he belonged out there and it almost felt like he had been in the league a year or two already. He was the only Kings who was reliably hitting their outside jumper (2 for 4 from three) and he also showcased his favorite move, the floater, which provided the majority of his moves. He had one particularly memorable sequence where he pump faked a three and went baseline for a floater off the glass that was really nice. Jackson also played fairly good defense against the other Jackson (Josh), but he clearly needs to put on some weight before he can be a true impact player on that end.

That Kings probably would have won if not for some really poor outside shooting (3 for 17 from three compared) and free throw shooting (18 for 28). Buddy Hield in particular struggled with his outside shot, going 0 for 6 from three, although he did managed to finish with 16 points thanks to some aggressive takes to the basket (seeing him get to the line for five attempts was nice).

In fact, all of Sacramento’s rookies from last season struggled more than I expected. I was particularly disappointed with Skal Labissiere, who scored 10 points but only had 1 rebound and shot just 4 of 9 as he forced the issue a couple times and never utilized his strong mid-range game. The Kings as a whole didn’t really run too many plays for Skal, although he and Fox showcased a fun pick-and-roll game a couple of times that led to a couple of Skal slams.

Malachi Richardson tried to be aggressive, but it was almost to his detriment as he took contested shot after contested shot and he finished with 8 points on 2 for 7 shooting. Richardson started the game at Small Forward and went up against Josh Jackson, and at least was able to stay with him most of the time.

It was not a good start for the slimmed down Georgios Papagiannis either. In 28 minutes, Big Papa was active on the boards with 11 of them (he also had 2 assists and 2 blocks) but he still looked as if the game was too fast for him, especially with Phoenix’s athletic young bigs like Marquese Chriss. Papa also finished with 8 fouls (summer league rules allow 10) and missed all three of his shots (to be fair he should have had at least two points but summer league officials called offensive basket interference incorrectly).

Of this year’s crop of rookies, Frank Mason didn’t provide as steady a hand as I would have liked. He shot just 2 for 9 from the field in 17 minutes and didn’t look particularly enthusiastic out there. Harry Giles also did not play, as the Kings are apparently taking it slow with him and his knees. Per Summer League Coach Jason March, it’s unclear if he’ll play in Summer League at all. In Giles’ place, the Kings played Jack Cooley, a 6’9 forward from Notre Dame. He was very aggressive on the glass, securing 10 boards and quietly scoring 11 points of his own. He was way too slow and short to do much on the other end of the floor though, where the Suns relentlessly attacked him.

All in all it was a fun game, and a matchup against perhaps the best of what Summer League has to offer. Josh Jackson and Marquese Chriss were fantastic for Phoenix on the other end, and if the Kings make it through the tournament, I’d expect these two teams to see each other again.

Sacramento’s next game is this Sunday at 7 p.m. against the Memphis Grizzlies.