De'Aaron Fox

Kings' De'Aaron Fox vs. Rockets' Russell Westbrook: Who wins 1-on-1?

Kings' De'Aaron Fox vs. Rockets' Russell Westbrook: Who wins 1-on-1?

With the NBA shut down for the foreseeable future, basketball junkies could use a fix. If the league isn’t going to return to full blown competition, maybe there is a chance they could run out a series of promotional one-on-one games to help wet the appetite of thirsty fans.

As chronicled in NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh latest piece, power agent Leonard Armato attempted to pull this off in 1995 with Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Shaquille O'Neal as his headliners with an undercard that included Joe Smith, Kevin Garnett, Nick Van Axel and Kenny Anderson before an injury derailed the event. Maybe it's an idea that needs more exploring now.

Who wouldn’t pay to see LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard go toe-to-toe? How about Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis in a battle of former Wildcats? Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving throwing up 35-footers? Sign me up.

For Kings fans, there are a couple of matchups that would be fun to watch. If Klay Thompson was 100-percent healthy, he and Buddy Hield would compare well in a battle of marksmen. A Montrezl Harrell vs. Richaun Holmes low post brawl would be crazy physical and likely lead to fisticuffs.

Perhaps the most intriguing of all mano-y-mano matchups would involve De’Aaron Fox vs. Russell Westbrook, who Fox says was his favorite player growing up, not his childhood hero.

Would Westbrook be able to stay in front of Fox and his lightning-quick first step? Could Fox slow the powerful bull rush of one of the most physical guards in the league?

Both listed at 6-foot-3, Westbrook would come in with a 15-pound weight advantage and an inch and a half in wingspan. Fox is nine years younger, but Westbrook has all the hardware, including nine All-Star appearances and one league MVP award.

Westbrook shoots with his right hand, but does most other things better with his left. Fox is a natural lefty.

A deep dive into the two players shows remarkable similarities. In his third NBA season, Fox was posting 20.4 points, 6.8 assists, four rebounds and 1.4 steals in 31.7 minutes per game. When the hiatus began, Fox was shooting 47.5 percent from the field, 30.7 percent from 3-point range and getting to the line 6.8 times per game.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

In Westbrook’s third year, he posted 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 34.7 minutes. Westbrook shot 44.2 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range and 7.7 free throw attempts.

When these numbers are compared through the lens of per 36 minutes they are almost identical.

There is no way to play third-year Fox versus third-year Westbrook, but at the time at the shutdown, the difference between the two point guards wasn’t that great when adjusted for per 36.

Westbrook averaged more points per game, but Fox shot better from the perimeter, has the ability to agitate on the defensive end and is a far superior shot blocker.

[RELATED: Kings 20 questions: Will Buddy Hield trade happen this offseason?]

Fox is coming on strong, but there is a good chance that Westbrook’s experience would win out in a one-on-one setting. Given another year, the outcome might be different, especially if Fox is able to add to his 185-pound frame.

Either way, this would be a marquee matchup that plenty of NBA fans would pay good money to watch. The up and comer from Sacramento versus the veteran superstar from Houston.

Kings 20 questions: Will Buddy Hield trade happen this offseason?

Kings 20 questions: Will Buddy Hield trade happen this offseason?

Editor's note: This is the seventh installment of NBC Sports California's "20 questions facing Kings" series that will look into pressing matters for the team once the NBA returns.

Buddy Hield walked into the 2019-20 season with a new contract and plenty still to prove. But even before the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown, the year had not gone as planned for the Kings’ flashy shooting guard.

After signing a huge contract extension in the offseason, Hield struggled to start the season. He looked more like himself late in the year, but not before he already had lost his starting job and a little bit of the moxie that had made him so good the season before.

General manager Vlade Divac has stated publicly that he believes his squad is better than their record, but he’ll need to get creative to keep the team together.

With other pressing needs, is there a chance the Kings look to trade Hield?

Nuts and Bolts

Hield got his payday in October. He’ll start a fresh, four-year, $86 million contract next season, with a starting salary around $26.4 million and incentives that can push the contract well over the $100 million mark overall.

The consensus around the basketball world was that Hield’s contract was a good deal when he signed it, especially since it declines in value by eight percent per year.

But the NBA has been turned on its head due to the coronavirus. No one will know the true impact on basketball-related income until much later in the year.

Why would the Kings consider trading Hield?

This is complicated. First and foremost, Hield lost his starting job to Bogdan Bogdanovic midway through the season. While Bogdanovic didn’t set the world on fire as a starter, the Kings finished 13-7 in the 20 games with him in the starting five before the shutdown.

If the move is permanent, paying a player $26.4 million to come off the bench is a steep price, especially with the salary cap potentially crashing and the need to pay both Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox this summer.

In addition to his salary, Hield might also have ruffled some feathers around the organization over the last year. He was boisterous and became a distraction during his contract negotiations in training camp, and Hield has not been shy when it comes to being disgruntled about his move to the bench.

Lastly, while Hield is an elite 3-point shooter, he struggles with other aspects of the game. He’s improved as a defender, but still has moments where he struggles. He doesn’t create for others like Bogdanovic does, and his penchant for mistakes at inopportune moments drew the ire of coach Luke Walton on multiple occasions.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Can Hield regain his starting spot?

Hield and Bogdanovic are two of the closest players on the Kings’ roster. They vacationed together in Serbia two summers ago and Hield has credited Bogdanovic with helping him take huge strides as a player.

Walton repeatedly has said that a significant reason he made the move with Hield heading to the bench and Bogdanovic sliding into the starting lineup was due to the continuity between Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, who played together on the Serbian National team during the offseason.

With Marvin Bagley likely moving back into the starting lineup to start the 2020-21 season, there is potential for both Bogdanovic and Bjelica to pair up with the second unit next year.

Bogdanovic’s free-agent status could play a role in this decision as well, but the third-year guard is a top priority for the Kings when free agency begins. The league has been turned upside down, but that likely won’t change the Kings’ intention to retain the versatile wing.

Would there be a taker for Hield’s contract?

Hield has made 846 career 3-pointers through 308 games, which is an NBA record. He boasts a career shooting percentage of 41.1 percent from 3-point range and he is one of the top perimeter shooters in a league that currently values the triple over everything else.

If the Kings were to consider dealing the 27-year-old shooting guard, there will be takers. They would have to take back multiple contracts, but they should be able to find value if they choose to put him on the block.

The brilliance of a declining scale contract will help the Kings as well. Hield makes plenty of money, but his contract was not outlandish for a player with his skillset before the global pandemic shook the basketball world.

Prediction

This is a tough one.

Hield is well-liked amongst his teammates, and his work ethic is legendary. But his penchant for making noise when he doesn’t get his way complicates matters.

[RELATED: Mermuys shares Kings' secrets in video coaching series]

The league is about to go through the most difficult stretch of its existence. A team like the Kings already has lost millions in gate revenue and missed concert and event opportunities. There is no guarantee that the season or any sort of normalcy can be saved in the 2020 calendar year.

Hield should be a perfect backcourt fit with Fox, and the Kings have plenty invested in his development. There is a good chance that the Kings give this version of the team one more season to develop with the hopes that a core of Fox, Bogdanovic, Hield, Bagley, Harrison Barnes and Richauan Holmes is better than their 2019-20 showing through 64 games.

Hield’s ability to shoot is not easily replaced, even in a guard and wing-heavy draft. At a minimum, Hield should get another season to make it all work, but nothing is guaranteed with the current state of the league.

Kings 20 questions: Does De'Aaron Fox get max extension this summer?

Kings 20 questions: Does De'Aaron Fox get max extension this summer?

Editor's note: This is the sixth installment of NBC Sports California's "20 questions facing Kings" series that will look into pressing matters for the team once the NBA returns.

The Kings have drafted in the lottery every year since 2007 except the 2019 NBA draft where they had already traded their pick. Tyreke Evans won the Rookie of the Year during that span, DeMarcus Cousins became a multi-time All-Star and Jason Thompson set the franchise record for games played.

Unfortunately, not one of these players had the ability to snap the team’s 13-year playoff drought. In fact, Evans, Cousins and Thompson all capped out at 33 wins or less during their time in a Kings uniform.

When the Kings were lucky enough to jump to the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, before Philadelphia used a pick swap and dropped them back to No. 5, the target was always Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox.

Three years into his NBA career, the 22-year-old is proving that general manager Vlade Divac was right to select the speedster and he’s quickly developing into a franchise player.

If and when the season returns, Fox will finish out the third year of his rookie-scale contract and become eligible for an extension. The question is, how much is that going to cost the Kings?

Nuts and Bolts

As the No. 5 overall selection, Fox signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Kings. The team picked up his fourth-year option in October, which not only secures him for another season in Sacramento but also carries his rights forward and allows the team to match any offer for Fox heading into his fifth season.

Fox hasn’t been named to an All-NBA team, won the Defensive Player of the Year or been named the MVP of the league, so he can’t receive the “Designated Player” extension, which would allow the Kings to pay up to 30 percent of the salary cap.

The Kings can still offer Fox a “Designated Rookie” rule contract that allows the team to offer an additional season on his deal. That would guarantee Fox a five-year extension worth up to 25 percent of the team’s salary cap.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Is Fox a franchise player?

This is a difficult question to answer, but for Sacramento, everything is leaning that way. He’s taken tremendous leaps forward in his production in each of his three years in the league and there is still no ceiling on his game.

Fox recently tweeted out an interesting statement.

Coming into the draft, Fox, like the rest of his draft class, had nothing but potential. In year one in the NBA, Fox struggled with the transition to the NBA and put up a modest 11.6 points and 4.4 assists.

While he hates the word “potential,” that is really all he was as a player after his first 82 games.

In his second NBA season, Fox made a tremendous jump, posting 17.3 points and 7.3 assists per game for Sacramento. He finished third in the NBA’s Most Improved Player voting and helped lead the Kings to a 39-43 record, which was the franchise’s best showing since the 2005-06 season.

Despite an early-season ankle injury, Fox made another jump in production this season, averaging 20.4 points and 6.8 assists. More important than the stats, Fox had his team in the hunt for the postseason before the league-wide shut down due to the coronavirus.

While Fox still has potential to improve statistically, he is now producing at a level at or above expectations for a top 5 pick.

How much more can Fox improve?

This is always dangerous to predict because there are so many variables to work with. With so many scorers on the Kings’ roster, there is a possibility that he doesn’t show a statistical leap in scoring, although there is still major room to grow.

Fox’s numbers trajectory look strikingly similar to his favorite player growing up in Russell Westbrook. Westbrook posted 21.9 points and 8.2 assists in year three and jumped to 23.6 points with 5.5 assists in his fourth season, and that was while playing alongside both Kevin Durant and James Harden in OKC.

After shooting 37.1 percent from behind the arc last season, Fox’s percentage dropped to 30.7 percent from 3-point range before the season went on hiatus. This is an area where he can take a leap.

While Fox found a way to get to the free-throw line more often this season, he shot just 70.3 percent from the stripe, which is another potential area for improvement.

On the defensive side of the ball, Fox can be dynamic when locked in. He still has more room to grow, but his speed and quickness are elite and he has the opportunity to become a top-flight defender.

Prediction

Fox has started to take ownership of his Kings team. He has an ability to take over, especially in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. He has become the face of the Kings’ franchise and he still has tremendous room to grow.

Even if Fox’s numbers level off somewhat, he is still worth a max extension offer for a team like the Kings who have struck out more times in the draft than anyone would like to recount. Sacramento has invested a ton into his development and they have built their team around him.

[RELATED: Kings 20 questions: What is Marvin Bagley's long-term position in NBA?]

We have no idea if fans will be allowed to walk back through the turnstiles anytime in the near future or what the league work stoppage will do to basketball-related income. That could dramatically change what Fox’s final figure will look like, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Kings are all in on Fox.

We’ll predict that Divac extends a full five year extension offer to Fox this summer for max money and odds are extremely high that he accepts the deal.