SACRAMENTO -- Steph and Klay. Wall and Beal. Lillard and McCollum. Harden and CP3. The NBA is a guard league. The age of the big man is long gone. It’s all about tempo and 3-point shooting and it all starts in the backcourt.
Teams that have a top tier point guard and shooting guard are excelling as the league continues to evolve. The Sacramento Kings came into the 2017-18 season with plenty of uncertainty in their backcourt, but with 20 games remaining, an outline of the future is taking shape.
With George Hill out of the picture, Dave Joerger has turned his team over to De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic and the rookie duo is starting to shine.
Taken with the fifth overall selection in th 2017 NBA Draft, the hope coming into the season was that Fox would develop into a cornerstone for the struggling franchise. The early returns are good for the 20-year-old speedster.
He has the quickness and size to man the position and his basketball IQ is off the charts. Fox makes mistakes and has plenty of room for improvement, but he’s also become a clutch player in big moments for Sacramento.
Since returning from injury to start the 2018 calendar year, Fox is averaging 14 points and 5.2 assists per game. His defensive intensity is steadily increasing and he’s finding his niche on the floor.
The draft rights to Bogdanovic came to Sacramento via a 2016 draft day trade with the Phoenix Suns. Taken with the 27th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Serbian guard was finally talked into coming over to the U.S. by Vlade Divac this past summer.
At age 25, Bogdanovic is a mature, seasoned rookie with years of experience playing overseas. He won a EuroBasket championship last season with Fenerbahce and he took the Serbian national team to the gold medal game at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Like Fox, he’s excelled in the new year, averaging 13.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds since the start of January.
One of the keys to the final stretch run is to build chemistry with the young players, especially the starting backcourt. So far, it appears the duo is meshing on the court and improving as the season winds down.
“Our communication is on a really high level, that’s what’s most important here, especially in a league where you don’t really have so much time practice,” Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California. “You need to have that kind of communication to make the game look easier on both sides of the court.”
It was a challenge early in the season to find minutes together for the pairing. Fox was splitting time with Hill and eventually was inserted into the starting lineup alongside the veteran.
With a lack of experience at the small forward spot, Bogdanovic was asked to play out of position for long stretches. The transition to Fox and Bogdanovic was already in full swing, but the trade that sent Hill to the Cavs at the deadline cleared a path for the tandem to see major courtime together.
“We’re definitely building that chemistry,” Fox told NBC Sports California. “I wouldn’t even say it’s signals anymore. We talk about the way we watch Golden State, the way we watch Cleveland and guys like that, a lot of the things they do, especially in transition, it’s not even a call, it just happens. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
With 20 games remaining, the plan is to get these two acclimated to each other. They have very different play styles, but they appear to compliment each other.
Fox likes to turn up the speed and attack the rim. Bogdanovic has a more methodical approach. Fox is progressing as a playmaker, where Bogdanovic has the experience at creating for others.
“I feel like we’re both point guards on the floor,” Fox said. “He’s 6-foot-6, but he can play the one. It feels like you have two point guards.”
Fox said that he and Bogdanovic study film together. They roll tape of other backcourt duos in an attempt to improve their game. They’ve seen a heavy dose of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the court of late, but also in film study.
“We watch some guys and see their tendencies and see what they do and just try to emulate a little bit of it, but not try to change our game while doing it,” Fox said.
In the end, it’s about finding their own style and chemistry together. They’ll have an opportunity to finish the season as a starting backcourt, and barring a major change in course, they’ll open the 2018-19 season playing alongside each other.
“It’s really fun to play with him,” Bogdanovic said. “He understands the game of basketball, even though he’s a pro for only one year. He’s like a veteran.”
This is a sentiment that Bogdanovic has stated multiple times about Fox. He is mature beyond his years on the court and his understanding of the game is advanced for a player of his age and experience.
Fox has gone on record with similar comments about Bogdanovic as well. He isn’t a typical rookie, which might help this pairing gel faster than your standard NBA situation.
“We want to get better, we really want to succeed together,” Bogdanovic said.
The Kings are hoping they have the next great backcourt and they’ve invested heavily in these two players. They need to continue to construct a core around Fox and Bogdanovic, but there’s no reason these two can’t play alongside each other for the foreseeable future.