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Player Grades: De’Aaron Fox

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Our rookie point guard did just fine.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Grading anything as subjective as an entire NBA season is always a tough gig. Different people have different goals for an individual as well as different techniques for assessing a seven month long journey. To keep things moderately simple, I will be using the expectations we had heading into the season for each player as the barometer for how well their season went. These grades won’t necessarily tell us where they rank among their fellow NBA players or what their career trajectory may be, but rather it will help assess where we stand with that prospect today compared to where we stood in October.

Player: De’Aaron Fox

Grade: B-

Reasoning: De’Aaron Fox had the up and down rookie season anyone might expect out of a 19-year old. There were flashes of brilliance, a hot shooting streak, a couple of slumps, and multiple game-winning shots. The raw talent of our young prospect was on display most nights and he did nothing to disprove the notion of a sky-high ceiling. Back in June, two questions nagged at many of our minds: could Vlade’s most important pick yet show his potential as a franchise cornerstone, and would we regret taking Fox over the other point guards available in the lottery?

Areas of Strength

De’Aaron Fox is clutch. You can tell me that “clutch” isn’t a real thing, and I’m going to instruct you to watch the video below:

Of course, cool montages don’t always correlate with metrics, but in this case the statistics back up the eye-test. Our rookie was the most efficient player in the NBA in close game situations. With a point differential of three or less and with less than 30 seconds ticks left on the clock, Fox made 6 out of 7 shots this season (86%). Only two other players made more field goals in that situation, but it took Russell Westbrook 26 attempts to get to 9 made field goals (35% FG), and DeMar DeRozan 26 attempts to get to 7 made shots (33% FG), not quite as impressive.

In the context of first year players, our former Kentucky star also blows out his competition. Outside of Swipa, rookies took 65 field goal attempts in the situation described above, hitting only 18, resulting in a less than optimal 28% accuracy from the floor.

In an even tighter scenario, less than 10 seconds remaining and less than three points separating opponents, Fox scored buckets on all three of his attempts. Russell Westbrook once again beats him in total makes (4), but took 13 shots to get there, ending with an accuracy of only 31%. Fellow rookies once again were embarrassed by Fox, sinking only 8 out of their 45 attempts on the year, good for just 18%.

De’Aaron Fox is clutch, folks.

When the Kings jumped to the fifth pick in the draft last May, their world of options opened up for their point guard of the future. Many correctly believed that Lonzo Ball would be gone by the time Sacramento got around to making their selection, but three dynamic, different players were still available: De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr, and Frank Ntilikina.

As a franchise that chose Freddette over Thompson, Robinson over Lillard, McLemore over McCollum, Stauskas over Saric, and Papa G over anyone with an ounce of NBA talent, a true fear permeated Kings fans psyches: we were sure to pick the wrong guy. De’Aaron Fox justifying his position as the fifth overall pick, above Smith Jr. or Ntilikina, was a huge concern heading into the season.

Thankfully, Fox hung just fine with his fellow guards. Ball was the best defender and passer, Fox was the quickest and most clutch, Smith Jr. was the most aggressive, while Ntilikina fell a bit behind his counterparts:

Rookie Comps

Player G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Player G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Lonzo Ball 52 50 34.2 3.9 10.8 0.36 1.7 5.7 0.305 2.2 5.2 0.42 0.44 0.6 1.4 0.451 6.9 7.2 1.7 0.8 2.6 2.3 10.2
De'Aaron Fox 73 60 27.8 4.5 10.9 0.412 0.6 2.1 0.307 3.8 8.8 0.436 0.441 1.9 2.7 0.723 2.8 4.4 1 0.3 2.4 2.2 11.6
Frank Ntilikina 78 9 21.9 2.3 6.4 0.364 0.6 2 0.318 1.7 4.4 0.385 0.414 0.6 0.9 0.721 2.3 3.2 0.8 0.2 1.7 2.3 5.9
Dennis Smith 69 69 29.7 5.9 14.8 0.395 1.5 4.9 0.313 4.3 9.9 0.436 0.447 1.9 2.8 0.694 3.8 5.2 1 0.3 2.8 2.2 15.2

Different strengths and weaknesses were on display for each of the four players, and while none played up to the the level of Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, or Jayson Tatum, the Kings seem extremely satisfied with taking Fox fifth overall. There’s a fine debate to be had between Smith Jr. and Fox, but neither franchise would likely trade one for the other.

The final compliment to Fox comes in the way of his natural abilities: speed and quickness. While those two descriptions are commonly swapped in and out for one another, there are key differences between them. The good news? Fox has both. His speed in the open court is something to behold, although his efficiency in transition needs to improve in his sophomore year, and his quickness on both ends of the court makes him a potential lock-down defender and versatile offensive threat. His innate gifts combined with additional experience and increased strength are a scary combination moving forward.

Areas of Opportunity

The biggest knock for De’Aaron Fox coming out of college was his inability to consistently hit jumpers outside of the paint, and while he did shoot the ball better than many expected, it was still a hindrance to his effectiveness as our floor general. He was below league average in just about every basic and advanced shooting metric:

Subpar Shooting

Metric League Average Fox
Metric League Average Fox
FG% 46% 41%
2P% 50% 43%
3P% 36% 31%
FT% 77% 72%
eFG% 52% 44%

One adjustment that Fox can make to improve his shooting efficiency is a concentrated push to the polar ends of the offensive side of the court, layups and three-pointers, and a reduced dependence on mid-range jump shots. As with almost any other player in the modern NBA, his tendency to settle for 10 - 16 footers is severely limiting his impact as a threat to opposing defenses.

Shooting Choices

Area FGM FGA FG% % of Total Shots
Area FGM FGA FG% % of Total Shots
Restricted Area 133 222 60% 28%
In The Paint (Non-RA) 63 184 34% 23%
Midrange 85 238 30% 30%
Three pointers 47 153 31% 19%

While his best chances to score came right at the bucket or from beyond the arc, De’Aaron often chose to pull up from his least effective spots. Even though he shot rather poorly from the outside, it’s still important for Fox to double or even triple his output from that range next season, and those reasons are twofold: he needs to force the defense to come out and guard him, and he’s much more accurate when he shoots with volume.

Fox only made 47 three-point attempts over the entire season, about one every other game. Meanwhile, less accurate shooters such as Lonzo Ball and Russell Westbrook more than doubled that number, likely due to the understanding that even poor shooting guards still need to put up their fair share of shots. On a positive note, he increased his volume of attempts after coming back from injury in January, and the goal should be for that trend to continue next year.

Monthly 3PA

Month Games Played Total 3PA 3PA/Game
Month Games Played Total 3PA 3PA/Game
October 7 9 1.3
November 14 20 1.4
December 8 9 1.1
January 14 40 2.9
February 10 28 2.8
March 15 29 1.9
April 5 18 3.6

For the most part, each corresponding month of increased attempts also saw an increase in accuracy as well, save for a very rough month of March. That correlation doesn’t just show itself on a month by month basis, but also reflects on a per-game level as well.

3 Point Volume

Per Game 3PM 3PA 3P%
Per Game 3PM 3PA 3P%
> 3 attempts 24 48 50%
3 or fewer 23 105 22%

When De’Aaron Fox commits to making defenses pay for leaving him open, his entire offensive repertoire opens up. When he settles for inefficient jumpers, he unconsciously blunts an extremely effective weapon.

Another area that needs to progress in our lottery pick’s game is his general play-making. Fox is a dynamic player whose natural ability to put defenses on their heels often results in an easy layup, but his passing is a bit behind the curve compared to many guards in the league. At Kentucky, he was only required to make simple passes to run the offense and that tendency displayed itself this season as well. That’s not to say that De’Aaron never threaded the needle or rarely threw a nice pass; it just doesn’t seem to be the first option in his mind the majority of the time.

Among all qualifying NBA players, Fox ranked 58th overall with an assist percentage of 24%, sitting directly behind DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly, he placed 55th best in assists per 36 minutes, and fell quite behind the pack in assist to turnover ratio at 123rd. A player with his quickness can get to the rim almost at will, and Fox needs to learn the art of kicking to open shooters or throwing a lob to his big man when he becomes overwhelmed among the trees.

While he was decent, although not great in transition, a key area of struggle for our fifth overall selection was in the pick and roll. As the ball handler in that situation, the team only scored 0.70 points per possession with Fox at the helm, in the 28th percentile (As a reminder, the higher the percentile, the better at that particular statistic the player is.) A larger issue stemming from his ineffectiveness in that role is the frequency in which our coaching staff had him in that position. Even though he was in the bottom quarter of the league when running that play type, 42.7% of Fox’s time on the floor saw him running the pick and roll, which was the 15th highest in the entire NBA.

All hope shouldn’t be lost for De’Aaron’s future as the manager of a half-court offense. He wasn’t particularly impactful in the situation given above, but no rookie point guard was either:

Rookie P&R

Player Points per Possession Percentile in NBA % of Possessions
Player Points per Possession Percentile in NBA % of Possessions
De'Aaron Fox 0.7 27.4 43%
Dennis Smith Jr. 0.71 30.6 32%
Lonzo Ball 0.63 17.5 29%
Frank Ntilikina 0.67 24.2 40%

That comparison brings me to a final thought before my Final Thoughts: advanced statistics. Looking at De’Aaron Fox’s advanced metrics can initially cause a bit of a sweat to develop on the brow. To put it plainly; they’re not kind. Bu,t numbers are only part of the equation when evaluating players and even more importantly, they must be placed in the proper context.

Almost every single rookie point guard has unfavorable advanced statistics. I decided to go back three years to compare two metrics from the rookie seasons of all point guards taken in the top 10 of the draft.

Rookie Advanced Metrics

Player Draft Year Negative Net Rating Negative +/-
Player Draft Year Negative Net Rating Negative +/-
Emmanuel Mudiay 2015 X X
D'Angelo Russell 2015 X X
Kris Dunn 2016 X X
Lonzo Ball 2017 X X
De'Aaron Fox 2017 X X
Dennis Smith Jr. 2017 X X
Frank Ntilikina 2017 X X

Every single top-10 rookie point guard over the last three seasons has had both a negative net rating and a negative +/-. This isn’t to say that Fox had an incredible rookie season or that his performance isn’t deserving of critique. He wasn’t perfect and there’s still a possibility that he’s more Darren Collison than John Wall, but combining the eye-test with metrics shows a guy brimming with unrefined talent more so than a potential bust.

Final Thoughts: De’Aaron Fox didn’t have the rookie season of Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell or even Jayson Tatum. There was never a strong campaign for the Rookie of the Year Award, but that by no means indicates a failed season for Fox. He’s a raw prospect playing the deepest position in the league who managed to hang with much more experienced players on most nights.

The efficiency needs to come up. The shooting and decision-making needs to improve, but there’s a level of confidence that I have in De’Aaron Fox as the future leader of this franchise that I haven’t had in a very, very long time. We’re likely seven or eight years away before our young stud enters his prime, and he’s going to be a handful once he reaches that almost limitless ceiling.