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Don’t Sleep on De’Aaron Fox’s Defense

Sacramento’s point guard has been one of the league’s best defenders over the last few months.

Kimani Okearah -

De’Aaron Fox is making a name for himself in his second NBA season. He has left a rocky freshman campaign behind him and is now creating some early All-Star buzz.

His 17.9 points per game make him a top-50 scorer in the league, and his 7.3 assists per contest rank in the top-10. He has been a key factor in taking the Sacramento Kings from the bottom of the league all the way into the playoff hunt.

But what is sometimes lost in all that success has been his breakout on the defensive side of the ball.

When watching Fox speed down the court with the ball in his hands, it’s easy to forget about defensive upside. Yet, that was a major part of what made him a top-5 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Dennis Smith Jr., for example, was projected to have a similar offensive game, but lacked the size to present the matchup problems that Fox could.

Since the start of last month, those defensive expectations have become a reality.

NBA steals leaders since December 1st

Player Steals Blocks
Player Steals Blocks
Russell Westbrook 55 9
De'Aaron Fox 48 11
Marcus Smart 43 2
Paul George 39 4
Trevor Ariza 38 1
Via as of 1/10/18

Fox has the second most steals across the entire NBA since December 1st. He also has more blocks than most of his pick-pocketing peers across that span of games.

His per game averages since that date come in at 2.4 steals and 0.6 blocks — a truly elite stretch.

For reference, the last player to finish a season with those defensive averages (or better) was Gerald Wallace in 2005-06. Metta World Peace is the only other player to hit that mark since the turn of the century.

Team leaders in defensive FG%

Player Defensive FG%
Player Defensive FG%
Frank Mason 38.4
De'Aaron Fox 44.8
Nemanja Bjelica 44.9
Iman Shumpert 45.6
Buddy Hield 45.9
Via as of 1/10/18

But the box score doesn’t tell the full story. Fox’s impact is felt in other ways as well. His defensive FG% ranks second on the team, and first among Sacramento’s starters.

He also leads the team in defensive win shares — a stat that deals in net ratings and the margins of a team’s wins.

Team leaders in defensive win shares

Player Defensive Win Shares
Player Defensive Win Shares
De'Aaron Fox 0.089
Buddy Hield 0.084
Willie Cauley-Stein 0.080
Bogdan Bogdanovic 0.078
Justin Jackson 0.067
Via as of 1/10/18

The Kings aren’t known for their defense, and rightfully so. Sacramento’s focus this season has been on pace and volume scoring. But every time they score, the other team still gets the ball. And as obvious as it seems, defense is still half of the game. It’s just the less flashy, less talked about half in Sacramento.

That may change soon however, if De’Aaron Fox continues to perform like this. Whether measuring by box scores, through efficiency, or using on/off metrics, it’s clear that he is now leading his team on both sides of the ball.