Kings

Kings season in review: Breaking down De'Aaron Fox's sophomore campaign

Kings season in review: Breaking down De'Aaron Fox's sophomore campaign

You can hope that young players will take a leap forward in their production, but you can’t count on it.

De’Aaron Fox looked like a completely different player in his sophomore season. Taken with the Nol. 5 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fox’s talent has never been in question. The only real quandary was how long it was going to take for him to reach his potential.

If the 2018-19 season was any barometer, the answer is pretty clear. Fox is a player on the rise. If he takes another jump forward as he did in year two, the Kings have a star on their hands.

Offense

Stats: 17.3 points, 7.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 45.8% FG, 37.1% 3pt, 31.4 minutes

Fox took an incredible step forward as a floor general in his second professional season. With the Kings offense built around the 21-year-old point guard, a tremendous amount of pressure was put on his to push the tempo.

Sacramento ranked 30th in the league in pace during the 2017-18 season. After leading the NBA for much of the season, the Kings finished the 2018-19 season ranked fifth in pace. It’s not often you see a team increase their number of possessions per 48 minutes by 8.2 from one season to the next.

It’s a remarkable improvement and much of the reason can be squarely played on Fox’s play. In addition to cranking up the speed of the offense, Fox showed an ability to play under control. On the season, the former Kentucky star posted a 7.3-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranked in the top 10 for starting NBA point guards.

There were three key factors that led to Fox’s 6.7 points per game scoring improvement from year one to year two. He spent the summer working on his 3-point shot which led to an increase in percentage from 30.7 as a rookie to 37.1 as a sophomore. Fox also attacked the rim at a higher clip, improving his percentage from 64.7 to 68.7 percent while taking 117 more attempts at the rim. Lastly, Fox increased his free throw attempts from 2.7 as a rookie to 5.1 in year two.

As Fox becomes more comfortable behind the arc, his attempts should rise. As he gets stronger, he'll get more opportunities at the rim. As he gains respect around the league, he'll get more free throw attempts. All of these items combined open the door for another massive step forward in offensive production.

Defense

Fox improved greatly as a defender in year two and has even more room to improve in the future. Fox finished in the top 10 in the league in steals per game at 1.6 and he ranked behind only Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook amongst starting point guards. He also ranked in the top five in blocks per game amongst starting point guards at .6 per contest.

As a rookie, he ran a +.8 field goal percentage against overall. Fox improved to a -.6 percent against as a sophomore. Most of the improvement came on the perimeter where he held his opponents to 32.7 percent (-2.9 percent) from behind the arc and 34.1 percent (-2.8 percent) from outside of 15 feet.

He struggled to defend inside of 10 feet, but a lot of that has to do with inexperienced help defenders and the team’s lack of a natural shot blocker. If Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles can improve on their help defense and general manager Vlade Divac can add a rim protector in free agency, Fox could take huge strides forward in his overall defensive numbers.

Fox expends plenty on the offensive, which takes away from his ability to be a lockdown defender for his entire stretch on the floor. He’s capable of taking another huge leap forward on the defensive end, especially as he continues to get stronger.

Overall

Fox made an incredible leap in year two and shows flashes of being a star. He’s improved in almost every facet of the game and with another summer to add muscle and continue to refine his shooting touch, there is hope that he can take another step forward in year three.

In addition to improving his game on both ends to the court, Fox has also shown that he is ready to take a step into a leadership role moving forward. Another year in a similar system should help Fox build momentum and begin to expand on his production.

Fox averaged 31.4 minutes per game this season and he played in all but one of the Kings’ 82 contests. He’s proven to be durable and he’s ready to take on even a heavier burden in this third season.  

[RELATED: How Kings can use Nuggets' path as road map to playoffs]

Sacramento drafted Fox for his elite speed, but he’s developing into much more than just a tempo setter. He’s expanded his game and the next step is for him to figure out how to make his teammates better.

If Luke Walton hands the keys to the Kings' car to Fox as Dave Joerger did, the sky is the limit.

Kings player profile: Can Nemanja Bjelica be effective in reduced role?

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Kings player profile: Can Nemanja Bjelica be effective in reduced role?

Nemanja Bjelica was on his way back to Europe when he got the call from fellow Serbians Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic last summer. After three seasons in Minnesota, the sharpshooting big joined the Kings on a three-year, $20.5 million contract and instantly stepped into Sacramento’s starting lineup. 

While he struggled for a stretch in the middle of the season, Bjelica became a valuable member of the rotation and posted career-high numbers across the board for the Kings. 

His ability to create space and spread the floor opened up the Kings’ offense. His high basketball IQ made the players around him better.

Bjelica’s role is likely to change dramatically in Year No. 2 in Sacramento, but his ability to hit the 3-ball and impact the game in multiple ways will earn him minutes during the season. 

Strengths

Before a midseason slump, Bjelica was one of the Kings’ most efficient players. He started 70 games for Dave Joerger at power forward and he figured out ways to impact the game on a nightly basis. 

Through the first two months of the season, Bjelica knocked down 51.5 percent (35-for-68) from 3-point range. He finished the season at 40.1 percent from long distance on 257 attempts, providing some much needed spacing from an unlikely spot on the floor. 

Bjelica was particularly deadly from the top of the key as a trailer in the Kings’ uptempo offense. As the season wore on, he continued to attempt shots from further and further out, which hurt his 3-point percentage, but allowed gaps for De’Aaron Fox to work with

Not known as a leaper, Bjelica is crafty around the rim, hitting 63.5 percent on 189 attempts inside of three feet. He also was efficient from three to 10 feet, knocking down 52-for-118 for 44.1 percent. Bjelica took just 29 shots from 10 feet out to the 3-point line, showing nice shot discipline. On the offensive side of the ball, he knows who he is and plays to his strengths.

Despite limited athleticism, Bjelica averaged 5.8 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per. His 12.8 percent rebound percentage was fifth on the Kings last season and his per-36-minute average of 8.9 isn’t bad for a player who plays heavy minutes away from the rim.

Bjelica is a smart player who rarely gets out position. His opponents ran a -1.6 field goal percentage against, including a -5.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. He also blocked 0.7 shots per game, which ranked second on the team last season.

Weaknesses

Bjelica is who he is, which is a solid NBA stretch four. While he is an intelligent player, he lacks elite athleticism and quickness, which limits his ability to play multiple positions. 

The rigors of an 82-game schedule appeared to wear down Bjelica, especially with the pace the Kings play at. He needs to come into camp in great shape and ready to run, even if it’s as a trailer in the uptempo offense.

While he’s passable on the boards, second-year big man Marvin Bagley projects as a very good to excellent rebounder at the same position. With starting center Dewayne Dedmon more of a perimeter player, it’s unlikely the two play minutes together. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Bjelica is more of a stretch four/five than a three/four. His inability to guard small forwards will hurt him when Luke Walton goes to switching defenses.

Path to Improvement

It’s possible that playing deep into the summer with the Serbian national team will help the 31-year-old come into camp in prime shape. With the pace the Kings play at, it’s a must for everyone on the roster, but specifically for a player like Bjelica, who plays a different speed than most of his teammates.

There is a very good chance that Bjelica will see reduced minutes, which might be a good thing. If he can continue to be extremely effective in a reserve role, he can carve out a niche as a floor spacer alongside young bigs like Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes.

Projection

Bjelica was a quiet difference-maker for the Kings during the 2018-19 season, but he might get lost in the shuffle in head coach Luke Walton’s uptempo offense. 

Bagley is going to play 30-plus minutes per game at the power forward spot. Harrison Barnes will steal minutes at the four as well. Bjelica’s shooting is an elite skill that will keep him in the rotation, but he’s in a dog fight for minutes.

[RELATED: Is Ariza lost in Kings' shuffle?]

Walton is going to need a floor spacer to play alongside Giles and Holmes, but as the season develops, he might have other options. 

A conservative projection has Bjelica averaging 5.5-6.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and an assist in 12-14 minutes per game off the Kings’ bench. He’ll shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range, but it’s likely he’ll lose minutes to more versatile players.

Kings player profile: How good can Marvin Bagley be in sophomore season?

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Kings player profile: How good can Marvin Bagley be in sophomore season?

Vlade Divac took a huge gamble when he passed on Luka Doncic to draft Marvin Bagley with the second overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Doncic went on to win the Rookie of the Year award, but Bagley showed flashes of brilliance, as well.

The final grade on this move will likely take years to resolve, but the Sacramento Kings feel very confident in their decision. Bagley is a perfect fit for the Kings' style of play and his potential is through the roof.

The 20-year-old will be asked to do a lot more in year two, although he’ll also need to show that he can stay healthy throughout an 82-game schedule. He has elite scoring and rebounding skills and an advanced game for a player moving into his sophomore season.

Can he lead the Kings in scoring? Can he be a perennial 20-10 player? Can he be a star? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

Strengths

Seldom does a one-and-done college player walk into the league with an advanced offensive game like Bagley. At 6-foot-11, 235 pounds, he runs the floor like a gazelle and he has low post moves of a 10-year vet.

He favors his left hand, but there are plenty of successful players with a dominant side. He has a half hook, a power move off the dribble and when he elevates in the lane, there isn’t a player in the league that can stop him.

For a rookie, the former Duke star had a remarkably compact shot chart. Bagley shot 69.1 percent at the rim on 256 shot attempts. From 3-10 feet, he knocked down 43.4 percent while shooting 95-of-219 from the field. Of his 706 shot attempts, 475 came inside of 10 feet.

While he didn’t take a ton of midrange jumpers, Bagley still managed to hit 40 percent on 135 attempts from 10 feet out to the 3-point line. He has a high release on his jumper and a refined shooting stroke.

The sample size was small, but there will come a time in Bagley’s career when he will be able to stretch the floor with a 3-point shot. He knocked down 31.2 percent on 96 attempts, although he was streaky during the season.

Despite his age and inexperience, Bagley still managed to get to the free-throw line 4.2 times per game, which was second on the Kings behind De’Aaron Fox. He has the potential to double that number as he becomes established in the league and gets more calls.

As a rebounder, Bagley crashes the glass and isn’t afraid to go outside of his zone for the board. He has an incredible second leap, which helped him finish the season tied with Kosta Koufos for the best offensive rebounding percentage on the squad.

Bagley averaged 7.6 rebounds per game in 25.3 minutes. That equates to 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a good start for a rookie. As he gets stronger and learns the NBA game, that number has a chance to improve dramatically.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bagley was better than advertised. He has work to do as a team defender and he was vulnerable from the perimeter, but he held his opponent to minus-1.3 percent on 2-point attempts and minus-3.1 percent inside of six feet. He also averaged a block per game. 

Weaknesses

Bagley can’t go right. He’s really good with his left, but his inability to use both hands may limit his ability to reach his highest potential. He also missed 20 games with two separate knee injuries.

As a scorer, Bagley is a force to be reckoned with, but he has plenty of room to grow. If he can extend his range out to the 3-point line, he can open the floor for everyone else. He could also get stronger and do a better job of fighting through contact, but at 20-years-old, it will take time to grow into his body fully.

Sacramento moves the ball around well and everyone has an opportunity to get involved. Of the regulars, Bagley ranked last in assist percentage at just 5.9 percent. In fact, only Troy Williams, Ben McLemore and B.J. Johnson averaged a lower percentage on the team.

Bagley is going to draw double-teams and he needs to do a better job of finding his teammates and not forcing his offensive game. He finished the season with just 62 assists and that isn’t going to cut it. 

While Bagley did a nice job on the offensive glass, he has plenty of room to grow on the defensive side of the court. He posted a defensive rebound percentage of 15.5 percent, which is about half of what elite rebounders average. The Kings need Bagley to post double-figure rebounding numbers on a nightly basis if they are going to move up in the standings.

Like the rest of the young players on the Kings' roster, Bagley needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball. He often gets lost in rotations and is slow as a help defender. The makings of a good defender are there, but it will take time for him to develop.

Path to Improvement

Add minutes.

Bagley is an offensive star in the making, but he needs to get bigger and stronger if he hopes to stay healthy and play 30-35 minutes a game. He’ll likely move into the starting lineup alongside Dewayne Dedmon on the frontline, which should be a solid combination.

He likely spent the offseason further refining his shot, which will help him stretch the floor for Fox and others. It also will help him stay on the court longer as the Kings turn to players like Harry Giles and Richaun Holmes, who have less range.

While he is the focal point of the offense, he needs to move the ball and keep others involved. Averaging just a single assist per game might work in Year 1, but eventually, his teammates will key in on the issue.

Bagley has an incredible motor and the size and athleticism to be an elite rebounder. He needs to hit the defensive glass and impact the game on both ends of the floor.

[RELATED: Bogi named to 2019 FIBA World Cup team]

Projection

The sky’s the limit for Bagley. He was limited in his first season by injury and a lack of minutes, but it’s likely the training wheels are coming off in Year 2.

A perfect fit for the Kings’ style of play, Bagley is expected to take a huge leap. Conservative numbers have him posting 18-19 points and nine rebounds per game as a sophomore, but there is a chance for even bigger numbers than that, especially if he can get to the line more frequently.

Luke Walton will have the Kings flying up and down the court and there will be plenty of touches to go around. Bagley will score on the break due to his speed and athleticism, but he also also be a huge part of the team’s half-court offense.

He’ll need to work on the defensive side of the ball, especially when Walton turns to switching, but he is a high-effort player that should catch on quickly.   

Bagley should lead Sacramento in rebounding and there is a possibility for him to be the top scorer as well. He has All-Star potential and if his first season was any indicator, it won’t take long for him to become a go-to option for the Kings.