When Vlade Divac selected De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, he hoped Fox would develop into a star. Maybe even a superstar.
We aren’t there yet, but a little over three seasons into his career and Fox has taken a couple of leaps in his development. Now we are watching the next step happen in real time.
"You can tell that's what he wants to be, he wants to be that star and you can see him turning into that in front of our very eyes,” Richaun Holmes said following the Kings’ 118-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night. “It's been very exciting, very humbling to be a part of it."
From the bounce, Fox was on a different level than every other player on the court. It was almost as if he was continuing his performance from the Kings’ 105-104 loss Saturday night when he finished with 30 points, but scored 17 in the fourth quarter.
He couldn’t be stopped Monday. Not even by Eric Bledsoe, who was a second-team All-NBA defender last year and made the first team the year before. Fox routinely blew by his defender and finished at the rim.
Even when things went wrong for Fox, they went right. That’s what happens when you are playing at a different level than those around you.
“I think he’s proven that he’s taken that next step and I think he’s been an All-Star this year,” rookie Tyrese Haliburton said. “He’s playing like one, no question. He’s our leader.”
All of these highlights are impressive, but they all came before the fourth quarter. In the final frame, Fox went from a human highlight reel to a winner.
According to his coach, Fox put the work in during the break after the Orlando bubble and it's starting to pay dividends. While no one knows where his ceiling is this season, the way Fox is playing isn’t a surprise.
“I saw him work every day in Sacramento this offseason and I saw him in the weight room five days a week and I saw him do our workouts and then he was coming back with his fiancé and making a hundred threes every night,” Luke Walton said. “You see that work happening. Now that he’s gaining the confidence and having a stronger body and having a better jump shot, a lot of other things will open up for him.”
Fox was quiet to start the fourth, but once he got going, he put on one of the most impressive shows we’ve seen from the 23-year-old point guard.
In the final 7:07 of the game, he went on a scoring tear, scoring 17 of his game-high 38 with a variety of 3-point makes and video game takes to the rack.
There was no let up. There was no mercy. Fox dominated his opponent. He embarrassed his opponent. He made them look bad and his focus was on one thing -- getting a win to close out the road trip.
“I’m just trying to win the game, man,” Fox said. “It’s been a close game over the last few games and I’m just doing whatever it is, whatever it takes to put us on top and sometimes it’s hitting another gear in the fourth.”
This is the first time Fox has posted back-to-back 30-point performances in his NBA career, but it likely won’t be the last. He’s learning how to be a closer and the Kings are reaping the benefits of his strong play.
Over his last 10 games, Fox is averaging 26.2 points and 7.7 assists per game. He’s shooting 48.5 percent from the field over that stretch and a much improved 38.2 percent from 3-point range.
“I want to continue to grow as a player, be the player that I want to be, be the player I know I can be, be the player that people want me to be,” Fox said. “That’s being able to facilitate when necessary, especially for being a point guard, and being able to put the ball in the basket.”
These are elite numbers, although he needs to continue at a similar pace if he wants to be considered for the All-Star team. He also needs to get the Kings back over the .500 mark and in playoff contention to help bolster his case.
Whether he makes it to All-Star weekend (if there is one) or not, shouldn’t matter. What is crucial for both Fox and the Kings is that he takes the step towards stardom and cements himself as the cornerstone of the franchise worthy of the five-year, $163 million contract extension he signed during the offseason.