De'Aaron Fox wants to be an NBA All-Star. He wants to be a great defensive player. He wants to help the Kings end their 15-year playoff drought. He took a big step towards all those objectives with a breakout campaign last season, and got Sacramento within striking distance of the Western Conference play-in tournament.
This season, the Kings are off to a 3-3 start after losing 105-99 to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on Sunday, and surprisingly, Fox hasn't played particularly well in most of the six games.
Fox averaged a career-high 25.2 points per game on 47 percent shooting last season, but after scoring just 14 points against the Mavericks, he's only averaging 18.5 per contest on 37 percent shooting so far this season.
The 23-year-old Fox signed a massive $163 million contract extension with the Kings last year that has a chance to be worth $195.6 million, and he certainly lived up to it last season.
But for the Kings to get where they want to go, the former first-round draft pick needs to take that final step towards stardom. It's still very early in the season, but the results haven't been there for Fox.
On Sunday, the Kings cut the Mavericks' lead to 75-72 on a jumper by rookie Davion Mitchell. But over the final 90 seconds of the period, Dallas went on a 7-0 run and led 82-72 heading into the fourth quarter. Fox missed two shots during that run by the Mavericks, and overall for the game that ultimately was decided by six points, he was a minus-15.
At the moment, Kings coach Luke Walton isn't stressing out about Fox's early-season struggles.
"No. No concern, but you are right," Walton told reporters on a video conference call. "That last ... it was a two or three-point game with a minute-thirty-three to go and then we go into the fourth down 10. So that was a big swing. It was actually what we had done in New Orleans the [game] before. Closing quarters, that's what good teams do. They close quarters. And we've been doing a nice job of closing quarters so far. Tonight, that last stretch really put us in a hole.
"But we still came back in the fourth again. I give our guys a ton of credit for continuing to fight and scrap and find a way to, on an off-shooting night, to have a chance win. But no, I don't have any concern for De'Aaron."
Fox was the head of the snake last season, and everybody expects him to fill the same role this year, including Walton, who has the utmost faith in his young star.
"Look, we all know our team, we're going to continue to play hard, continue to get better, continue to push," Walton told reporters. "For us to take one of the big steps forward, we've got to be able to knock down 3-point shots and big shots. We know De'Aaron can do it. He's done it. Last year, we went on two big win streaks last year where he was putting us on his back for a lot of those [games]. He's a hard worker. He's shown that he's done it before. He's passionate, he cares, he wants to win. There's no doubt in my mind he and us will get there."
Veteran center Tristan Thompson is in his first season with the Kings, but he has played with all-time great LeBron James and other NBA stars, and he knows what Fox means to the team.
"I think D-Fox has been really great for our team," Thompson told reporters. "We're above .500. We beat a really good Phoenix team on the road, beat a New Orleans team that wants to score, so it's been a good trip overall. For D-Fox, it's a long season. In the season, you're going to have your highs and your lows, but I think De'Aaron is playing well for us, very well. He might want to play better and that's OK because great players are always going to challenge themselves and expect more.
"What we can do is do our part, our role and our job just one percent better and make it easier for him. We've got a winning record, we're 2-1 on this road trip right now, so nothing to be panicking about or be all negative about right now."
It's unclear if something is bothering Fox or if he's just trying to get his teammates involved early in the season. He didn't speak to reporters after Sunday's game. But what is clear is that the Kings aren't losing any faith in the dynamic point guard.
It's very possible this is just a blip on the radar for Fox, but when so much is expected of him, stretches like this are magnified. It's a credit to the Kings that they've been able to beat good teams on the road despite Fox's lackluster start. Whenever he figures things out, Sacramento will be a very unpleasant team to face.