Every NBA player has a moment when they realize they aren’t in high school or college anymore. It’s part of the initiation to the league. Someone blocks your shot in a heinous way or they put you on a poster with an unkind dunk.
For Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, that moment came on Feb. 9, 2018, at Golden 1 Center against one of the game’s premier scorers, which he broke down on the latest edition of the Old Man and the Three podcast.
“Dame [Damian Lillard] is the hardest player I have to guard,” Fox said when asked about his ‘“welcome to the NBA moment.” “He gave us 50 in three quarters.”
Lillard is an incredible scorer and that night in Sacramento, he was particularly hot. He played a total of 29 minutes and 29 seconds through three quarters before sitting out the entire fourth.
During his time on the court, he torched the Kings for an even 50 on 16-of-26 from the field and 8-for-13 from behind the arc.
“Probably like 15-16,” Fox said when asked how many of those points came against him. “He was doing it to everybody.”
Fox is one of those players who usually can remember events with pinpoint accuracy. He was a little off on this one. From the highlights, Lillard dropped at least 20 on Fox and it looked closer to 24 points.
Not all of those looks were completely on the rookie. He had to fight through plenty of screens and the Kings took a while before they started aggressively sending the big out to defend on the perimeter.
By the time adjustments were made, it was too late. Lillard was on fire and there was very little that a 20-year-old Fox could change to impact the outcome of the game.
“I’m like, yo, there is nothing I can do, I don’t know what you want me to do to stop this man,” Fox said. “That for sure was my welcome to the NBA moment.”
Fox isn’t even close to the same player he was three seasons ago. He’s grown in confidence, worked tirelessly on his body and his understanding of the game has increased with each and every season.
He was honest with hosts JJ Redick and Tommy Alter, especially when they asked him about that first season in the NBA.he
“I was terrible, I was terrible my first year,” Fox said.
There is nothing that can truly prepare a player for the jump to the NBA. For Fox, he left one of the best college programs in the country and was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.
But when he stepped on the court at the NBA level, he had to take his lumps, just like every other player going through the process of joining the league.
“Coming into it, obviously I feel like I’m one of the most athletic guys on the court,” Fox said. “But then I step on and I feel like point guard is the hardest position to play and everybody is moving fast as hell. Even the slow dudes are moving fast.”
Fox averaged 11.6 points and 4.4 assists in 27.8 minutes per game during the 2017-18 season. He was rail-thin and just a year out of high school.
“Even the good games I had as a rookie were so hard,” Fox admitted. “I thought I was playing at like 120 percent just to have that good game.”
This is no longer the case for Fox. In his third season, he’s taken another tremendous leap in his production and looks like a player ready for stardom. He finished Year 3 averaging 21.1 points and 6.8 assists for Sacramento and he was even more dominant in the Orlando bubble, despite his team’s lack of success.
Fox has even learned a little bit about defending Lillard and helped the Kings split the season series against Portland this season.