When Kings general manager Vlade Divac selected De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, he was all in on the point guard out of Kentucky. Divac is looking like a genius just two years into Fox's career.
Fox took a massive leap in his sophomore season, and his improvement helped lead the Kings to their best win total in more than a decade.
Even more exciting for Kings fans is that Fox isn’t even close to his ceiling, and he could jump into the upper echelon of NBA point guards after another summer of growth.
Expectations remain high for Fox. He quickly is becoming the floor general that the team has been searching for, and his potential is off the charts.
Fox is the fastest player in the league, and there is no question that then-Kings coach Dave Joerger designed his entire offense around the 6-foot-3 guard last season. Joerger is gone, but Fox is still the centerpiece to what the Kings hope to accomplish. New coach Luke Walton has an offense tailor-made for Fox and a fleet of shooters to surround him.
When Fox is at his best, he’s running downhill and attacking the defense. Opponents slowly adjusted to the Kings’ hurry-up offense last season, but Fox still managed huge statistical increases across the board. In his second NBA season, he posted 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 31.4 minutes per game.
A slasher by nature, Fox shot an impressive 68.7 percent at the rim, and that was four percentage points better than his rookie campaign. In fact, Fox improved his shooting percentage from every area on the floor. That included a 37.1 percent rate from beyond the 3-point line, up from his 30.7 percent he shot the year before.
As a passer, Fox posted a 7.3-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, a huge improvement over the 4.4-to-2.4 he posted in his first season. Fox’s assist percentage jumped from 24.6 as a rookie to 33.2 in year two, while his usage rate barely spiked from 23.4 to 24.5.
In short, Fox improved on the offensive end in almost every conceivable way in year two. Still just 21 years old, there is no reason to believe he won’t take another stride forward in year three.
Fox made strides on the defensive end as well, although he still has occasional lapses. When he’s locked in, Fox has the ability to stay in front of any player in the league. He has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help him fight through screens and hold his position.
He plays the passing lanes well, and Fox finished ninth in the league in steals at 1.6 per game last year. He even managed to block 45 shots last season from the point-guard position.
In year two, Fox took a hammer to his weaknesses from his rookie campaign. He clearly was stronger in his second season, and he had a much better gameplan coming into each contest. Fox also improved his assist-to-turnover rate and, he found his range from long distance.
While he took strides, his shot chart still looks like a shotgun spray pattern. This is an issue common with young players that should improve with time.
One of the glaring issues he had on the floor was from three-to-10 feet of the basket where he took 280 attempts. Fox hit just 35.7 percent of those shots. That was his lowest percentage from any spot, but the area accounted for his second-most attempts. He could use a floater in this range, or just lower his volume.
While Fox did greatly improve on offense, he still needs to be more aggressive and perhaps even a little more selfish. He has an opportunity to be an elite scorer and distributor, but he needs to break down his opponent more often to collapse the defense and create easier opportunities for his teammates.
Fox increased his free-throw attempts from 195 to 417, but still shot just 72.7 percent from the line. As he gets established in the league, he is going to get a lot more attempts based on his style of play and overall improvement. Fox needs to capitalize on those chances.
As a defender, Fox has moments where he lets off the gas, which is understandable when you consider the pace that he plays on the offensive end. He needs to continue to build strength to fight through screens and he’ll need to use his length and quickness in Walton’s switching defense this season.
Fox took a huge leap on the defensive end, but there is another step he can take as an on-ball defender. Learning from a veteran like Cory Joseph might help him develop even further.
Path to Improvement
To steal a line from last season’s profile, “pick a spot, any spot.” Fox slightly refined his shooting areas on the floor, but still needs to hone in on three or four hot spots on the floor to rely on. At the rim, a floater in the lane, a pull up 17-18-foot jumper on the left side and the elbow 3-pointer are good places to start.
Fox is continuing to get stronger and grow into his role as a leader. With USA Basketball this summer, he played at roughly 10 pounds heavier than last season, but Fox needs to find a way to maintain his body throughout the rigors of an 82-game schedule.
His spike in 3-point percentage last season was remarkable, but Fox needs to continue to refine his perimeter shot to keep defenses honest. If he can knock down 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc, he can become an elite offensive player.
There is a very good chance that Fox will see a major uptick in foul calls this season just from the officials learning his game and his added weight and strength. Fox needs to continue to attack the rim, but also improve his free throw shooting. If he knocked down 83 percent instead of 73 percent from the stripe last year, it would have equated to an additional half-a-point per game.
A look into Fox’s field goal percentages showed a fourth-quarter dip and also a slump in January and February building up to the All-Star break. Added strength and stamina should help with both of these issues. Playing in the same up-tempo style for a second season should allow him to better pace himself as well.
Willie Cauley-Stein was a major target for Fox in the pick-and-roll during the last two seasons, but he now is a member of the Warriors. Fox needs to quickly build a rapport with newcomers Dewayne Dedmon, Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley III, who will see an increased role this season.
Fox looks like a budding star, and he has the potential to be a top-three point guard in the NBA. How long it takes him to achieve his potential is up to him.
The Kings have surrounded Fox with shooters and an elite post scorer in Bagley. Fox should have plenty of running lanes to break down the defense and create for others.
Expect Fox to take another substantial leap in his third NBA season. He has improved his jumper, worked on his strength and spent time with the national team, having legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich demand that the budding star attacks the basket.
In his third season, Fox has the potential to jump into the 20-point, nine-assists, five-rebound range, which is in line with his per-36 minute numbers from last season. He likely will get more calls from the officials, and another summer of preparation should help his fourth-quarter numbers.