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.
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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.
TL sleep? I hate the word potential— De'Aaron Fox (@swipathefox) May 4, 2020
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.
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.
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.