With 4:28 left in the third quarter in a three-point game on Friday night, the Sacramento Kings turned the ball over on a bad pass, and the Minnesota Timberwolves looked to push the ball on a fast break. In a lead out attempt, Jimmy Butler threw the ball down the court and De’Aaron Fox read the ball like a corner back, leaping into the air, off balance, to snag the pass attempt. He quickly collected himself enough to stay inbounds, pushed the ball back toward the Kings basket and calmly dumped a shifty pass off to Troy Williams for a dunk.
On two other occasions in the win over the Wolves, Fox stuffed Derrick Rose on drive attempts to the basket to collect his two blocks for the game, to go along with 16 points and 10 assists.
While his speed and court vision can sometimes overshadow what he is doing on the other side of the ball, Fox’s defensive instincts have been on full display.
The tenacity Fox is showing on defense this season is part of a goal he has set for himself.
Following his triple-double performance in Atlanta against the Hawks earlier this month, Fox declared that he wants to make the NBA All-Defensive Team this season. His defensive numbers from his rookie season would certainly be a motivational factor for such a goal. Fox had Defense Win Share (the number of wins a player generates due to their defense) of .046, and a Defensive Rating (the number of points a player allows per 100 possessions) of 111.
After last season, Fox knew he had to get back to playing the way that earned him the nickname “Swipa the Fox” when he was younger. Even if that nickname hints at steals, the second-year Kentucky guard knows defense is about a lot more than one stat category.
“Everybody looks at all the analytics and all that shit, and it is what it is, but I just want to change the game defensively when I’m on the court,” Fox told Sactown Royalty.
The eyeball test would certainly show he is changing the game with defense these days, but those analytics also back it up. We are only 13 games into this season, but his Defensive Rating has jumped to 103 and his Defensive Win Share rank has leaped to .137. That Win Share, according to NBA.com, puts him at 32nd in the league, compared to 375th last season.
Outside of the more dramatic steals and blocks Fox collects in a game, the way he approaches defense shifts on a game-to-game basis depending on the Kings opponent. For example, if they are playing a slower-paced team and their starting point guard isn’t as athletic or as fast as he is, then he will try to speed them up to play at the Kings pace. If it is a team that plays fast, then defensively he attempts to slow the starting point guard down in order to get the team out of sync with what they do. And he’s always trying to get the Kings opponent to use as much of the shot clock as he can.
Thus, the Kings newfound identity of pushing the pace as much as they can provides a baseline for Fox to develop a defensive strategy going into each game.
Part of the Kings defensive strategy as a whole is to keep running all game, and by the third and fourth quarters hopefully start to wear their opponent down. Individually, Fox said the coaching staff is currently working with him on trying to draw fouls on moving screens because as he is playing opposing guards close and trying to make them uncomfortable, the more times he may be getting hit with screens.
When asked what he thinks he needs to show in order to make the All-Defensive Team, Fox responded with this:
“I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you – I’m satisfied with the way I’ve been playing defense and if they aren’t then it is what it is, but I’m going to go out there and play defense how I know I can.”
To view last season’s NBA All-Defensive Team, click here.