De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

De'Aaron Fox's development silver lining in disappointing Kings season

The 2019-20 season hasn’t gone the way the Kings envisioned, but there is still time for the team to assess the players they have and monitor the growth of some of their young core.

One of those players is becoming what Sacramento hoped he would develop into when they selected him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

De’Aaron Fox has missed time due to injury, but since his return, we are starting to see potential turn into production. Over his last seven games, Fox is averaging 24.1 points, 8.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, two steals and a block in 34.6 minutes.

“It’s stuff that I knew I could always do, it’s just being more consistent,” Fox said earlier this week. “Continuing to make shots, get to the basket, get to the free throw line, things of that nature. Just trying to help my team win ball games.”

This is the silver lining for the Sacramento Kings in an otherwise disappointing first half to the 2019-20 season. Fox is beginning to take another leap in his development and it’s out of necessity.

Fox looks angry on the court and he’s fed up with losing. He even picked up a technical foul in his last game out trying to plead his case with the officials.

“Occasionally it’s good to get T’d up, it’s good for your team, especially when it’s someone like De’Aaron that gets T’d up, I think it motivates the group,” coach Luke Walton said of Fox. “Occasionally we’ll take it, but it’s a fine line of playing with that passion, but also being level headed and cool so you can make the proper decisions while you’re on the floor.”

Fox is doing everything in his power to turn the Kings season around and it appears he’s stepping into the leadership role the team is desperate to fill. He’s becoming more vocal on the court and he’s demanding accountability.

There is a sense of urgency to Fox’s game. He’s using his tremendous speed and getting downhill on his opponents. He’s also saving some fuel for the fourth quarter where he’s beginning to thrive.

“The last couple of games, I’ve felt great going into fourth quarters,” Fox said. “I don’t want to say I’m easing into games, but I’ve just been able to finish games pretty well for myself.”

Unfortunately, the scoring bump late in games hasn’t equated to wins. Against Orlando, Fox scored 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including a runner with 15.8 seconds remaining where he drew a foul and gave the Kings a one-point lead.

On the final defensive possession, Fox even went to the coaching staff and demanded he guard Evan Fournier. Fox stayed in front of the Magic’s leading scorer, forcing him to make a last-second pass, which unfortunately led to an Aaron Gordon game-winning bucket.

Wednesday against the Mavericks, Fox posted six points and three assists in the final nine minutes. He helped the Kings rally from a big deficit and make it a game in the final minute.

“I just try to put my team in the best position to win and for me and for us right now, it’s been me doing a lot of scoring in the fourth quarter,” Fox said. “If that’s how it needs to be, that’s how it needs to be. With doing that, I want to be able to close games out and actually win games.”

In his third NBA season, Fox is figuring out how to pick his spots. He focuses on setting up his teammates early and getting everyone involved. When the Kings need for him to take over, he’s able to go into attack mode.

After missing 17 games with a grade 3 ankle sprain, Fox looks like he is finally 100 percent healthy. He has a spring in his step that was missing initially and he’s regained a lot of his explosiveness.

With his body right and his numbers starting to spike, you can see the confidence growing in the Kings’ point guard.

“He seems to have his legs and his wind, from the injury,” Walton said. “With that, I think he’s getting more comfortable and confident in being vocal out there, being vocal in shootaround, embracing that leader role.”

If Fox can continue to take another huge leap in his development, it could lessen the blow of what looks like another tough season in Sacramento.

[RELATED: Kings must be held accountable]

At 22-years-old, Fox is still a work in progress. He has moments where he isn’t impactful during games, but those are becoming fewer and fewer. His turnovers are up, but he’s trying to put the team on his shoulders.

The team is hoping to bounce back in the second half of the season and make a run. If that is going to happen, the Kings need Fox to continue his strong play and a few of his teammates to get on board.

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

Ever since the Kings signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract in the 2018 offseason, it quietly has been a great deal for Sacramento. 

Bjelica averaged career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (5.8) for the Kings last season, and he has been ever better in Year 2 with the Kings. 

The 31-year-old is averaging 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over 54 games this season. He also is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range, both career-bests. 

For his ability to give the Kings quality minutes at center, Bjelica landed on Zach Lowe of ESPN's latest "Ten things I like and don't like." 

"The Kings needed something to fill the void after injuries to Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes -- who had been killing it as their starter -- and whatever the hell happened with Dewayne Dedmon," Lowe wrote. "Credit Bjelica for stepping up.

Lowe notes that per Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have outscored opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Bjelica as a small-ball center. 

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has only played 13 games this season and isn't sure if he will suit up again this year after aggravating his sprained left foot

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes 'definitely ready to get back' after setback]

The Kings traded Dedmon back to the Atlanta Hawks months after signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason. 

In what feels like yet another lost season in Sacramento, Bjelica has been a bright spot the Kings can count on.

Kings' Buddy Hield admits he went out night before 3-Point Contest win

Kings' Buddy Hield admits he went out night before 3-Point Contest win

Buddy Hield played a different kind of "flu game" in his NBA 3-Point Contest win Saturday night. 

The Kings sharpshooter admitted to reporters in Chicago for All-Star Saturday Night that he enjoyed all the Windy City had to offer the night before his victory. 

"I had no routine this morning. I went out last night," Hield said after his down-to-the-wire win over Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker on Saturday. "So I was just chilling. It was All-Star Weekend. You got to have fun, too. So it was cool. I was just relaxing. I came in, and I just locked in."

Hield diligently reported to his 9:15 a.m. CT media availability Saturday morning "clearly hurting," according to The Athletic's Joe Vardon. 

Whatever Hield did to recover between then and the 3-Point Contest worked. Hield posted back-to-back 27-point rounds, nailing each of his last six shots in the first and seven of his last eight as he tried to surpass Booker. 

The 27-year-old needed to make his final shot -- worth two points from his "money ball" rack -- to beat Booker, and he was ice-cold from the left corner. 

"I think I heard the guy on the PA, the announcer, and I had [25 or] something like that," Hield told reporters in Chicago. "I know Devin had 26, so I knew I had to make one more to top him. I was focused. I was locked in on that part."

[RELATED: Hield's dramatic 3-point contest win had fellow Kings hyped]

Hield enjoyed the win Saturday night and what it would mean to people in his hometown, using his press conference to dedicate his win to those affected by Hurricane Dorian. The storm struck his native Bahamas over the summer with sustained winds of over 185 mph, officially killing 70. Over 600 others might have drowned and been washed out to sea, officials said. 

"I dedicate it to them because, like I say, I represent my country to the fullest," Hield said. "When I say that, I really mean it because without my upbringing, I'm nothing. I know what it's like to be in a hurricane. I haven't been in a Category 5, but, no, this goes to them for sure.