SACRAMENTO -- You could see the frustration on the face of Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox following Saturday’s practice. He, like all of his teammates, knows they have an issue on the defensive end and that one practice isn’t going to change it.
With Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans devolving into another shootout, Fox made a clear decision. If his team couldn’t slow New Orleans, he was going to try to outscore them, single-handedly if need-be.
“Fox had a hell of a game tonight,” Marvin Bagley said. “You love to see De’Aaron play like that and be aggressive and attacking. It’s good for all of us.”
Fox put up his best performance as a professional. He dominated the action, scoring a career-high 43 points on 17-of-27 shooting from the field and dishing out 13 assists, two shy of his personal best. He knocked down 3-of-9 from 3-point range and hit 6-for-8 from the free throw line in the 128-123 loss.
But it wasn't enough. Setting a career high is great, but doing it in a loss always takes some of the luster off the accomplishment. It also was a moment of reflection from the 23-year-old guard, who has not gotten off to the start that he or many around the team expected.
At 5-9, his team has struggled. Despite the personal accomplishment, Fox, and the rest of the team is getting tired of getting kicked in the teeth.
"I definitely needed to play better, I don't think I've come out this season playing that well or playing to where anybody here is expecting me to play," Fox said. "I know I need to be a lot better. I think that there is more, both offensively and defensively that I'm able to do."
Fox is his own toughest critic. He's learning what comes with becoming the face of a franchise and that expectations increase when you sign a five-year, $163 million extension, the richest in Kings history.
“Who’s given much, much is required,” Buddy Hield said. “I think he knows he can give more and the past games he’s been showing it and I think the tone he’s been coming out with and setting for the team is great.”
This is all a learning experience. Like so many before him, Fox is starting to understand that winning at the NBA level is difficult. Changing the direction of franchise that has missed the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons doesn't just happen because you're talented.
"It takes a lot, this ain't easy," Fox said. "You can talk about what you did in high school, in college, but this...you have to take it to a totally different level if you want to be one of those guys in this league. Guys ask about leadership -- it's much more than being able to score the ball. It's much more than just being able to get an assist, get guys in the right position."
"I think I struggled with it the first couple of weeks of this year, but it's something you have to learn, it's not something that you're just kinda born with or anything like that," Fox said. "You have to learn how to do that in this league and I think I'm getting better at it."
Fox wants to be a star. He has the potential to be a star. He showed on Sunday night, despite the loss, that he can be a star.
Fox seems to have learned more about himself in a five-point loss that he dominated than in a 38-point loss like the Kings faced on Friday.
In order to become the player he wants to be, Fox has to be the player that torched the Pelicans every night he steps on the floor. He doesn't have to score 43 points, but he does need to play with this type of force on both ends of the court.
Fox has the potential to be great, but like Hield said, "Who’s given much, much is required." If his self-evaluation following Sunday's loss is any indication, this might be a big moment for the face of the Kings' franchise.