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2018 has been the year of the Fox

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De’Aaron Fox finally gave us glimpses of stardom in January

Kimani Okearah

De’Aaron Fox had an exhilarating beginning to his rookie campaign. His first seven games featured a player who dazzled crowds with his Flash-like quickness in the open court, while his personality and vibrant smile showed a young man unafraid of the moment. Although his game was far from perfect, the sparks of potential were exciting for a fan base devoid of young talent for so long.

That lively start was followed by a mildly concerning rough patch. Our prized lottery guard seemed to hit a bit of a wall on the court, probably due to the tougher schedule and opposing teams’ developing scouting reports, which caused his effectiveness on the floor to plummet. November was the toughest shooting month for Fox, and he missed or was unable to complete nine games in December. It was a tough stretch for the fifth overall selection.

Monthly Comparison

Month GP MP PTS FGM FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% AST REB STL TOV
Month GP MP PTS FGM FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% AST REB STL TOV
October 7 26.9 13.4 5.7 13.7 41.7 0.4 1.3 33.3 1.6 1.9 84.6 5 4.3 0.7 1.9
November 14 26 8.6 3.4 8.9 37.6 0.4 1.4 25 1.5 2.63 65.6 4.1 2.4 1 2.4
December 8 22.1 7.4 3 6.9 43.6 0.4 1.1 33.3 1 1.9 53.3 2 2.1 0.8 2.4

The month of January has been a completely different experience for Fox. He’s shown an improved shooting touch, solid passing instincts, and he’s begun to refocus on the defensive side of things. The past 30 days have been the best of our rookie’s young career so far.

New Year, New Player

Month GP MP PTS FGM FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% AST REB STL TOV
Month GP MP PTS FGM FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% AST REB STL TOV
January 14 30.2 14.1 5 11.8 42.4 1.2 2.9 42.5 2.9 3.6 80.4 5.2 2.2 1.1 2.5

One of the key ingredients in the recipe of success for Fox is his commitment to pressing opposing defenses. Transition opportunities and a quick pace are often related to the idea of pressing opponents, but the same truth needs to be held in respect to a half-court offense as well.

Although his speed will always be one of the biggest tools of his trade, our rookie forces his team to play 4-on-5 on the offensive side of the court when he’s passive. That passivity leads to fewer and tougher shot attempts, which in turn causes him to be less effective as a player. He needs to stay engaged at all times.

Due to his unreliable jumper, Fox must take every opportunity to score easy and efficient buckets. Three of the best opportunities for those types of baskets are free throws, three pointers, and layups. When opposing defenses manage to force him to stick with midrange shots, they cause one of Sacramento’s most potent weapons to disappear for long stretches.

However as evidenced over the past month, when De’Aaron attacks the rim, draws fouls, and is willing to stretch his shot out to the three-point line, his entire offensive arsenal opens up.

Comparative Aggression

Month FTA/GM FTM/GM Total FTA FT% 3PA/GM 3PM/GM Total 3PA 3P%
Month FTA/GM FTM/GM Total FTA FT% 3PA/GM 3PM/GM Total 3PA 3P%
October 1.6 1.9 13 84.6 0.4 1.3 9 33.3
November 1.5 2.3 32 65.6 0.4 1.4 20 25
December 1 1.9 15 53.3 0.4 1.1 9 33.3
January 2.9 3.6 51 80.4 1.2 2.9 40 42.5

The three-point shots are staggering in both number per game and the percentage at which he sunk long balls over the past four weeks. In just 14 games, Fox more than doubled his previous attempts over the past 29 contests. He also increased his shots at the rim in that same time frame. Over the first two-thirds of the season, Fox attempted just 77 shots at the rim, good for 2.7 per game. In the month of January, he put up 52 shots in the restricted area, equaling 3.7 per game.

Driving into the lane and causing defenses to backtrack and collapse also opens up free throw attempts and assist opportunities for De’Aaron. In November and December, he drew just 2.1 fouls per game, while in January he saw that number go up substantially to 3.4. His passing game also showed similar improvement. Fox’s raw passing numbers look much better over the past few weeks, and the advanced metrics support that same idea. He recorded a 20.5% assist percentage and 1.4 assist/turnover ratio in his worst two months of the year, compared to a 26.9% assist percentage and 2.1 assist/turnover ratio in January.

The increased attempts at the rim, additional fouls drawn and free throws attempted, as well as his increased focus on involving teammates demonstrate a much more aggressive player than in previous months.

Of course, taking more shots doesn’t necessarily equal better offensive production. It’s not uncommon to see young players decrease their efficiency as their burden to score is broadened. For example, although Willie Cauley-Stein is having the best passing year of his career, and he’s showing the most versatile set of post moves we’ve seen, his higher number of attempts have caused a small drop in efficiency. It’s not concerning, it’s normal.

An encouraging aspect of Fox’s production over the past 14 games is the fact that his shooting and passing metrics have increased, alongside his minutes, while his efficiency has actually improved. In a surprising twist, Fox has become the most efficient shooter of the four lottery point guards taken this past June:

Lottery Point Guards

Player GP FG% 3P% TS%
Player GP FG% 3P% TS%
Fox 43 41 35 0.481
Ball 36 35 30 0.436
Smith Jr. 43 35 31 0.478
Ntilikina 48 39 32 0.429

There’s certainly something to be said for a hot shooting streak (going 6 for 6 from three against the Spurs really helped his numbers), and Fox continuing this trend over a couple of months would be very reassuring, but there’s no doubt that he’s growing more comfortable in his NBA role. If he can continue to be aggressive in both transition and in the half-court, opposing teams will struggle to contain his game.

January was by no means a perfect month for the future of the franchise. He still had a negative net rating, but then again, every single player on the Kings had a negative net rating, and Fox’s was actually the fourth best on the squad. His turnovers ticked up, but so did his minutes and his assists per game.

While there are still plenty of areas of opportunity for De’Aaron Fox, and additional struggles will likely rear their ugly head prior to the season’s end, he also showed impressive growth in several important areas for a modern day NBA point guard. His improved shooting stroke, flashes of defensive potential, and determination to involve his teammates all came together to display the immense potential of our prized guard.