SACRAMENTO -- Watching tape of De’Aaron Fox looks like a video stuck on fast forward. The comparisons to John Wall don’t do him justice. Teams deliberately sag off the rookie and dare him to shoot and he still manages to race by them in a blur.
If his opening night performance against the Houston Rockets was any indication, the Kings have landed a special player. From barking orders on the court to his teammates to going at NBA veteran defenders, Fox looked ready for primetime just 24 minutes into his professional career.
“I got to get my first NBA game out the way, I think it went well,” Fox told a huge crowd surrounding his locker. “We played hard. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, we wanted to get the W, but there’s a lot of things we learned out of today.”
Dressed in a burgundy suit and shoes that would have made Omri Casspi blush, the rookie hung around for way too long after the game, giving every camera and microphone a good talking to. He’ll learn quickly that the media is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
His numbers look modest - 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting and five assists. But he was facing a title contender in the Houston Rockets and the moment wasn’t too big for the 19-year-old point guard. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni even showed the rookie respect when he shifted one of his better defenders in Trevor Ariza over to cover the speedster.
“This is game 1, we’re not expecting him to be a Hall of Famer right now,” George Hill said. “It takes steps to do it and baby crawls. But I think he took a huge step today in proving what he can do. He looked good out there.”
Hill started in front of Fox, but the two guards played alongside each other for plenty of minutes. That is the plan this season, although there are plenty of other players vying for minutes in the backcourt.
Everyone in the building seemed impressed by the youngster. He has an ability to drop the pedal down on an opponent and then downshift on the fly to stay under control.
“He’s pretty fast, you know,” Dave Joerger said of his star rookie. “He has a terrific charisma about him and I think he’ll be fun to play with.”
His teammates appeared to have no problems keeping up. They ran the floor and pushed the tempo when Fox was in the game and the team seems to feed off his energy.
“They play hard, man,” Vince Carter said of Fox and team’s other young players players. “They just go for it and that’s all you can ask. It’s just great and it’s going to get better. You can show them all the film you want, but they’re not going to learn until they get thrown into the fire. That’s the best lesson.”
Game 1 is in the books and Fox is already earning a longer look. The team embarks on their first road trip of the season beginning Friday night against the Mavericks. Waiting for them in Dallas is another young point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., setting up the first of many battles between the star-studded draft class of 2017.
OAKLAND -- Derek Carr is going through a rough patch. The beloved Raiders quarterback is being criticized for his part in this prolonged losing skid, a rarity since his rookie year.
Carr is supposedly playing it safe, getting rid of the ball quick, throwing short and avoiding potentially risky deep shots downfield.
That doesn’t sound like someone who wears No. 4 as homage to Brett Favre. Alex Smith comes to mind instead.
The Kansas City signal caller is notoriously known as a game manager, a cautious leader who rarely lets it rip.
Not this year. The former 49ers No. 1 overall pick is killing it in K.C., with career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. The early MVP candidate has 12 touchdowns and no picks despite the fact he’s throwing deep more than ever.
Now that sounds like the Derek Carr we knew last year.
These quarterbacks seem to have reversed roles heading into Thursday’s clash between AFC West rivals. The Raiders are 2-4 and in desperate need of win against the AFC West-leading Chiefs.
Smith and Carr can be truly dynamic downfield. Only one guy’s found that rhythm lately.
That’s crystal clear when examining their deep throws.
Nobody’s better going yard this year than Smith, per analytics site Pro Football Focus – wrap your head around that – who is 13-of-23 for 526 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions on throws beyond 20 yards in the air. Carr is 17th, completing 3-of-10 deep shots – no starter has fewer attempts -- for 109 yards, three touchdowns and a pick.
Last year, Carr ranked fifth in passes over 20 yards in the air, again, using PFF stats, with a 46-percent completion rate, 858 yards and a 117.6 passer rating. Smith was 20th in that category, completing less than a third of his attempt with a 72.8 passer rating.
The Raiders certainly want to push the ball downfield more. Carr has but four explosive plays in nearly three games of the Raiders’ four game losing streak – he missed the Baltimore loss with a fractured in his back – and hasn’t worked short passes consistently enough to score often.
“We definitely want to be able to (create explosive plays),” Carr said. “Now does that mean we’re going to do anything differently or trying to force things? Absolutely not. That’s where you get in trouble. That’s something that I’ve learned in my career. You can’t force it. You just have to work hard and let it happen.”
Some think Smith is letting it fly with a stoked competitive fire because the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid believes a strong supporting cast led by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and rookie running back Kareem Hunt allows him to do big things Carr typically does.
There is, however, one constant heading into Thursday’s matchup. Smith has owned the Raiders. The Chiefs have had Carr’s number.
Smith is 9-1 against Oakland. Carr’s 1-5 against K.C.
Smith has 8.3 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns and just four picks against the Raiders. Carr averages 4.92 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and five interceptions versus the Chiefs.
“These are big games in the division,” Smith said. “You know they’re going to be four quarters. You know they’re going to come down to the end. You just try to go out there every single play and execute. They’re all hard fought and have been close.”
Carr knows Kansas City stands in the way of his ultimate goals. This year, he has to get past them to get the Raiders back on track. That won’t be easy.
“They do a good job of rushing the passer. They do a good job of stopping the run. They do a good job on the coverage end,” Carr said. “They’re sound. They’re really well-coached. (Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton) is a great coach. All the respect for him. So much respect that he even texted me when I got hurt last year. He’s just a good dude. But this week I don’t like him too much. He does a really good job of making sure everyone is locked in. They’re really smart. They’re really smart players. They don’t do a lot so they can see route concepts. They can visualize things and get used to seeing those kind of things.”