De’Aaron Fox’s breakout is exhilarating to watch. It’s hardly hyperbole to call the Sacramento Kings’ young leader a storm with the basketball; there are a limited number of players with his ball control skills, even fewer with his end-to-end speed, and almost none who can fully optimize those two skills into a functional weapon on the court. In Friday’s contest against the Champion Golden State Warriors, Fox ended the first half of action with back-to-back franchise-level plays that show just how far he’s come since his rookie season.
Fox’s creativity with the ball here is excellent; he changes direction twice, slows down Warriors’ big Kevon Looney with a behind-the-back crossover, and gains just enough hangtime to score over Looney (who is in the 71st percentile for defending the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports). Rookie-season Fox couldn’t make this play with such regularity, but sophomore-season Fox is a different player altogether; his mental speed has caught up with his physical speed, and his physical speed is helping him leap over the “get used to NBA gamespeed” roadblock that stymies so many young guards.
In this half-ending layup, Fox went one-on-one with a generational defender. After Draymond bit on Fox’s hint of a pull-up, De’Aaron easily drove past him, and the spacing provided by Bogdan Bodganovic’s deep threat/Willie Cauley-Stein’s lob threat kept the Warriors from helping in time.
Fox’s improved shooting ability has always been the key to unlocking his offense, but it will never be the defining characteristic of his game. In the play above, Draymond is overly wary about Fox pulling up in his face, and that gives Fox the extra second of time to move and get by him. Fox shot is warping the defense far more than he did a year ago; his off-the-dribble shot jumped from 29.9% at Kentucky, to 34.1% (33rd percentile) his rookie year, and up to 42.9% (76th percentile) this year. But while this off-the-dribble shot is one of the most useful skills a dynamic change-of-pace mover like Fox could have, it was always going to be a secondary skill for De’Aaron. The main benefit is the improved spacing, and scaring defenders into misteps like Green made. It’s opening the court for Fox and giving him more avenues to the basket. It’s letting him unlock his handles, which are quickly reaching insanity levels.
Fox has improved across the board on offense this season. He’s become a better shooter, a MUCH better playmaker, and a better off-ball mover. But everyone of those developments have also helped his driving ability shine, and a 20 year old that already has this level of electricity in his game should terrify the NBA.