Christmas music blared out of a speaker in the Sacramento Kings locker room following their 122-117 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. De’Aaron Fox, who takes Christmas seriously, decided he didn’t like the particular song playing and walked across the room over to Iman Shumpert to ask him to put a different one on. Shumpert obliged and Fox sat down to relax in between Shumpert and his backcourt partner Buddy Hield. They were all smiles as they discussed the thrilling comeback win in the fourth quarter they were just a part of.
Fox and Hield led a fourth-quarter charge on Sunday that brought the Kings back from down 10 points in the final 12-minute stretch when the now 18-15 Kings outscored the Pelicans 36-21. Hield finished with 28 points and 6 rebounds, while Fox tallied 19 points, 11 assists, 2 steals and 1 block, all with a sore shoulder.
Fox has made a tremendous jump from his rookie season, and his across-the-board production on offense and his elevated play on defense has him on the star path. Hield has solidified himself this season as not only a starting NBA shooting guard, but also a star who can get 20-plus points a night, grab rebounds and play solid defense.
That is a recipe for a backcourt that is already a problem for the rest of the NBA.
Fox was asked about the potential he sees with both him and Hield over the next couple of years as they gain more experience.
“We’re still young, Buddy is a bit older than me, but not technically in his prime years yet, so I think the sky is the limit for us. I think guys are going to continue to grow, continue to get better,” Fox said. “This is his third year of experience, this is my second year of experience, so there’s a lot of room where we can grow.”
Hield is now averaging 20.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. To put those percentages in perspective, Peja Stojakovic never averaged that high from the field and three at the same time (aside from his two games with the Toronto Raptors in the 2010-11 season. Stojakovic did average 48 percent from the field three straight seasons in a row though).
“He’s one of the best scorers in the league, regardless of who you want to compare him to,” Fox said. “I think the way that we are playing, we’re getting open shots and he’s making tough shots, but we’re still getting a lot of looks that we want and we’re just knocking them down. We both improved as far percentages basically almost all across the board, and just the way that we’re playing – we’re getting up a lot of possessions, getting up and down, just trying to wear teams out. I think we’re doing a much better job than we did last year on both ends of the court.”
Both Fox and Hield have seen statistical increases from last year in points, blocks, assists, rebounds, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. While Fox has the ability now to lock down opposing guards on defense and seems to have at least one amazingly athletic steal or block a game, Hield has improved greatly on defense from the time he arrived in Sacramento. He showed it on Sunday in the second half by fighting through screens and staying in front of Jrue Holiday, who went off for 22 points in the first half, but was slowed down quite a bit and scored just 5 in the second half thanks to Hield and Shumpert’s defense on him.
When you watch Hield, you can see the offensive talent, but what is showing up in the box score is largely correlated to the amount of work he puts in during practice and the offseason. He seems to approach playing in the NBA as a gift, not something he is entitled to. His work ethic and humble nature are reflections of that. Hield doesn’t let any success get to his head, is never satisfied with where things currently stand and usually turns opportunities to compliment himself into praise for his teammates.
“It’s not even me and De’Aaron, it’s [Bogdan] Bogdanovic too, you can’t forget about him. He does a great job, he makes plays for us, especially takes pressure off De’Aaron to make plays for everybody,” Hield said. “It’s special man, it’s special to have a great group of guys like us – young, but we know how to play and we’re figuring it out.”
Bogdanovic, who finished Sunday’s game with 24 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds, expanded on Hield’s work ethic.
“He works hard every day, I know how much he puts in his work and he transfers it on the court. I think for him, the games are easier than his workouts, that’s the main reason why he plays like this,” Bogdanovic said.
Fox said Hield is faster than he gets credit for as well.
“He runs a lot, it’s like he never gets tired,” Fox said.
He never stops wanting to produce for the fans either. Hield believes he and his teammates owe it to Kings fans to put in work and produce an entertaining product.
“We owe them something special,” Hield said. “They fill the arena up and they want to see a show and we come to give them the best show we can give them.”
The Kings didn’t get their 18th win until Feb. 13 last season, and by then they had already lost 38 games as well . With Hield, Fox and the other young Kings blossoming, all that has changed. Something special sure is brewing in Sacramento.