April 25, 2018, 5:16 pm
2017-18 averages: 73 G | 60 GS | 27.8 MP | 11.6 PTS | 2.8 REB | 4.4 AST | 1.0 STL | 0.3 BLK | 2.4 TOV | 41.2 FG% | 30.7 3P% | 72.3 FT% |
De’Aaron Fox was considered somewhat of a project out of Kentucky – his elite speed and ability to handle the ball could theoretically give him an early edge in the NBA, but he still had plenty to learn as a shooter and his body was undeveloped. Despite all of that, being the first player selected by the Kings after trading DeMarcus Cousins gave Fox plenty of expectations to live up to early in his career.
His first few performances gave fans plenty to be optimistic about. Fox regularly caused problems with his speed, and flashes of electric ball handling skills, as well as a seemingly workable jumper, showed exactly what he might be capable of in time. After a strong opening to his career, Fox seemed to hit a wall in November. This wasn’t far outside of what could be reasonably expected for a rookie point guard, but it was slightly concerning to see so early in the season.
Not long after going through the first prolonged slump of his professional career, Fox was forced to deal with his first injury. In a mid-December game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Fox was forced to exit in the first quarter after running into Karl-Anthony Towns and did not return to the game. A few days later it was announced that he would miss at least two weeks with a partial tear of his right quad.
Early season injuries are never easy to deal with, but the time off did seem to breathe new life into his game. He showed off more shooting ability than most would have expected heading into the All-Star break, and possibly more importantly he began to build a reputation as a player who could get a basket when his team needed it most.
His season would continue to be up-and-down from there on out, but there was still development in his game. Offensively, Fox did a great job of developing his jumper as the season went along. Shooting just over 30 percent from behind the arc certainly isn’t the long-term goal for him, but there’s no doubt that this number was better than expected.
Not only did he impress with his percentages, but his shot became noticeably smoother as the season went on as well. One of the more impressive performances for him this season was in April against the Spurs. He ended up going 3-for-5 from behind the arc, and even more encouraging was his confidence:
You can see in the video above that not only did he feel comfortable taking that shot, he was actually seeking it out. Fox was clearly viewing his 3-point shot as a weapon at times later in the season, and his development as a shooter was what made that possible. He continually worked to simplify his shooting form and speed up his release, allowing him to become a threat off the dribble as well as in catch and shoot situations.
The other part of his game where this was apparent was late in games. Fox unexpectedly developed a reputation as a clutch player this season after hitting shot after shot in close games throughout the season. Stepping up when the team needs it most requires a certain mental toughness, but his athleticism gives him another edge in these situations.
Ultimately, he may have been even more threatening when he was creating these looks for himself. According to NBA stats, Fox shot 31 percent on pull up 3-pointers this season, a higher number than both Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma. He still needs to work on his touch, but his body control and ability to elevate already make him a threat off the dribble.
There was plenty to be excited about with Fox this season, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game on offense and needs to take advantage of his tools on a more regular basis. In half-court settings, Fox settled far too often for mid-range jumpers and didn’t do a good enough job of finding open looks for his teammates. Without being much of a threat to shoot, Fox will have to work harder than most to find his way to the rim, but being more patient in these situations would help tremendously.
Defense was also an issue for Fox at times, something that most probably wouldn’t have expected after watching him at Kentucky. His effort was lacking a bit at times, but his lack of instincts on that end seemed to be an even bigger issue for him. Fox was regularly caught going the wrong direction when guarding on ball, and his lack of strength made it difficult for him to defend with physicality.
The good news with Fox is that he appears to have a relatively clear path to major improvements. Adding strength should make him a better finisher at the rim, and it should also clear up some of his issues on defense. Adding strength doesn’t happen overnight – or over an offseason – but it’s reasonable to assume that he has plenty of room to grow at just 20 years old.
Generally speaking, resilience was the most prevalent theme for Fox this season. It didn’t matter what slump he was in, what injury he had been dealing with or how big the situation was, Fox was always able to bring effort and focus when his team needed it most. His improvement over the year was encouraging, but it’s the maturity he showed that could eventually allow him to unlock his sky-high potential.