De’Aaron Fox has improved his game each year since he was drafted No. 5 by the Sacramento Kings in 2017. While that growth hasn’t exactly been linear, it’s been a joy to watch Fox progress in different elements of the game each season.
After a subpar rookie season where he had flashes but was mainly an ineffective player, Fox returned for his sophomore year with a vengeance. The Kings’ built a deadly transition heavy offense around Fox and his skills, and as a result Fox saw major improvements to just about every statistical category in his second season.
Entering his third year, he was really given the keys to the offense to a greater degree, and his usage shot up from 24.5% to 29.8%, as he made improvements to his game elsewhere around the margins.
In his fourth year, Fox blew up to an even greater degree, averaging 25.2 points and 7.2 assists per game. Fox became one of the best rim finishers in the NBA, while making improvements to his three-point shot and playmaking.
The five-year, $163 Million contract Fox signed last offseason kicks in this season, meaning expectations are going to ask for even more from him considering the jump in pay.
So, does he have another leap in him?
Let’s take a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for Fox in 2021-22.
Best-case: Fox finally cements himself as an average or better three-point shooter hitting around 36% of three-point attempts on a mix of difficult attempts while also becoming a guy who can make close to 80% of his free throws.
These two improvements are the most obvious swing factors for whether Fox takes another leap this season. There are a few signs from last season that Fox could improve in these areas.
In the first half of the season, Fox shot just 67.2% from the free throw line, a putrid number for someone of his caliber. In the second half of the season however, Fox shot a much improved 77.8% from the line.
Did something change for Fox at the stripe or was this a random statistical occurrence?
Fox is nearly unguardable around the basket, as he shot 76.2% on shots within three feet of the rim. That number only trailed Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lebron James and centers Bam Adebayo and DeAndre Ayton.
If Fox starts knocking down his free throws at a high rate, he’s a different player
Fox’s catch and shoot three point percentage last season was 39.3% a much better number than his overall percentage behind the arc. With the Kings adding another guard in Davion Mitchell in the draft, there could be more opportunities for Fox to catch and shoot more threes playing next to Mitchell or Tyrese Haliburton.
Fox won NBA player of the week two separate times last season, once in Febuary and once in March. Those stretches of basketball were the idealized superstar version of Fox and what he can be at his best. In both of those stretches, Fox was pulling up and making threes with confidence as well as knocking down his free throws.
As simple as it sounds, if Fox can simply just improve his percentages from the line and the arc, he’s a, meaningfully better player and the Kings as a team are a much better team as a result.
Worst-case: Fox replicates his 2020-21 season, putting him tremendous counting stats again, but failing to meaningfully improve his three-point shooting or free throw shooting percentages. As a result, the Kings finish in an all too familiar spot at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
When it comes down to scoring in the half court, Fox really needs to improve his effectiveness if he wants to cement himself as an upper echelon player. Fox’s EFG% of 40.6% in isolation trailed most of his young guard peers including Ja Morant, Shai Gilegous-Alexander and Trae Young in that figure.
When the Kings aren’t able to get out in transition, Fox has to still be a weapon.
If Fox largely has the same season, he had last season, it’s not the worst thing in the world, as he was a clear top 40 guy at minimum in the NBA last season. The avenues for Fox to vault from top 40 guy to top 20 guy are clear. He’s simply got to become a more dangerous guy in the half court and increasing percentages at the line and behind the three point line would go a long way.
Unless the Kings somehow swing a Ben Simmons trade before the season, Fox is the only guy with a chance to make the All-Star team on the roster. Fox has seemed on the cusp of making it the last few years, but with the West so stacked at the guard spot, he’s fallen short. The Kings will actually need to have some on court success in 2021-22 in order for Fox to reach those types of accolades.
As far as Fox goes and so do the Kings. The Kings front office admitted as much when they inked him to a five-year $163 Million contract last offseason, which effectively handed him a boatload of cash but also the keys to the franchise.
Given the financial investment in Fox by the franchise, 2021-22 is sure to be a major season when it comes to Fox’s upside and the Kings’ future as a franchise.