De’Aaron Fox is considered the head of the snake in Sacramento, but he’s becoming even more than that. He’s becoming a star for the Kings, and his ceiling as a player still has not been established.
In the waning moments of the Kings’ 121-119 win over the Washington Wizards, it was all Fox every time down the court, including the game-winner with 0.7 seconds remaining.
“The first shot is always to get to the basket,” Fox said of the final play. “He jumped on that and that’s when I pulled back. That’s the time that we had. That’s the things that you work on as a basketball player. In one-on-one situations, you can’t get to the basket every time. So when I pulled back, I was ready to shoot the ball.”
Fox was the catalyst for the Kings all the way down the stretch. He scored the team’s final nine points and it was fitting that he was the player to finish the game off with a win.
These are important moments for the Kings. Despite their 16-24 record, it is situations like this that help with development, especially for a player like Fox, who is a major part of the future of the Kings’ franchise.
“De’Aaron having that shot and hitting the stepback, that’s how you grow in this game,” Luke Walton.
For Walton, he’s watched the steady improvement of his star point guard over the last season and a half. He asks a lot of Fox, but only because he is confident the 23-year-old can handle it.
“He doesn’t panic in the moment, the moment never gets too big for him,” Walton said. “He might not make a shot or he might make a mistake, but it’s not because he’s nervous in that moment. When you have that type of mindset, then you have the potential to be a very elite closer.”
Fox has made mistakes in big moments in the past. He’s missed free throws in crunch time, turned the ball over and missed big shots. Against the Wizards, he finished 11-for-13 from the stripe, including a perfect five-for-five from the line in the final minutes.
“The last few games, I’ve been able to make em’,” Fox said of his foul shooting. “For me to become that player that I want to be, I have to be someone who can get to the line and make free throws.”
It’s all a process, but Fox is quickly turning his incredible potential into production on the court. Coming into Wednesday’s game, he was averaging 26.2 points and nine assists over his previous 20 contests. He backed that up with a 28-point, seven-assist, five-steal performance in the victory over the Wizards and he’s showing an ability to go head-to-head against a former MVP like Russell Westbrook and come out on top.
“De’Aaron Fox is amazing, he’s a great player,” Justin James said. “The scariest part is how much room he has to grow and how good he’s going to be.”
The keys moving forward are clear. Fox needs to continue to develop as a leader. He also has to improve his 3-point and free-throw shooting. Despite his hefty numbers, he’s still leaving plenty of points on the floor in every contest.
“The growth he’s having more so than anything this season is really kinda understanding and going through and feeling what it’s like to be an elite player, an elite leader,” Walton said. “And now he’s got to get a lot better in those areas, but he’s had some really nice moments and you can see it.”
Elite players are consistent every night, which Fox is starting to show. They also make their teammates better, which Fox is beginning to excel at.
Fox might have received a blessing in disguise with the insertion of Tyrese Haliburton into the starting lineup. Haliburton is a knockdown 3-point shooter, but he’s also a player that can take some of the playmaking duties off of Fox’s hands for stretches and allow him to play off the ball.
The duo might need time to develop their chemistry, but Haliburton’s presence should help with floor spacing and also allow Fox to keep something in reserve for the fourth quarter when the Kings need to close out games like they did in Washington.
While the wins haven’t come, the development of Fox might make all of the trouble worth it for the Kings this season. He is proving that he is a star-level player and he continues to get better.
With a little luck, Sacramento can hopefully build a squad around Fox in the coming seasons and allow him to take the next step, which is putting up these numbers on a winning team.