Sacramento Kings: The second year leap of De’Aaron Fox

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

After an underwhelming rookie season, De’Aaron Fox is revamping his game and helping push a young Sacramento Kings to new heights.

The Sacramento Kings have been one of the more unfortunate franchises when it comes to the NBA Draft. Dating back to 2007, the organization has had 11 top-10 draft picks, two of which were in the same year. Other than DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans (at the time), the majority of their picks have been complete misfires.

However, that all looks to be changing now. Willie Cauley-Stein, their sixth overall pick in 2016, looks to be finally coming around with career best averages in points (14.1), rebounds (8.1), steals (1.2) and field goals made per game (6.3). They’ve also hit big on their second pick in this year’s draft, Marvin Bagley III, who I wrote about earlier in the season.

And let’s not forget that they flipped their No.10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Zach Collins, into 20-year-old Harry Giles, who many believe has immense potential if he can stay healthy.

However, the most intriguing and promising player of ALL their draft picks from 2007 to now could very well be De’Aaron Fox. Is this a small sample size overreaction? Maybe. But the leap he’s made in just his second season might make it a necessary overreaction.

At the start of his rookie year, Fox started in only two games for the Kings from opening night on Oct. 18, to Nov. 15. In the 14 games he played in, he averaged 11.1 points and 4.9 assists per game, shooting 39.2 percent from the floor and 19.0 percent from 3. That 3-point percentage is not a typo. Fox only made four of his 21 3-point attempts in that stretch.

After that game on Nov. 15, Fox would get the start the rest of the way, but his numbers never really took off. He finished out the year averaging 11.6 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game, with shooting splits of .412/.307/.723. And he didn’t even make an All-Rookie team.

Fast-forward a year later and De’Aaron Fox has transformed himself into a legit candidate to win Most Improved Player of the Year, and one of the most exciting young point guards in the league, virtually overnight.

Through 26 games this year, Fox is posting 18.1 points, 7.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3 on a healthy 3.2 attempts per game. But how? How does a player go from not even making an All-Rookie team in his first year on a lottery team, to looking like an All-Star on a team that’s currently fighting for a playoff spot the following year?

For starters, playing at the second-fastest pace in the league is a good way to play to the strengths of your point guard of the future.

The Kings played at the slowest pace (95.59) in the league in 2017-18. It didn’t make sense considering how lighting quick Fox is. Having one of the fastest players in the NBA and playing at a snail’s pace was a puzzling coaching strategy. Thankfully, head-coach Dave Joerger realized that walking the ball up the court each possession wouldn’t help the team get the results it was looking for.

The effectiveness of the fast-paced offense is evident Sacramento’s numbers. The Kings were 19th in transition points last season at 16.3 points per game. This year? They’re No. 1 by a comfortable margin, with 32.8 transition points per game.

De’Aaron Fox is largely responsible for this increase. Fox is eighth in the NBA in transition points, averaging 6.2 per game with a field goal percentage of 60.6 percent. It’s a pretty massive jump from when you compare it to last year’s numbers where he scored just 3.2 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting from the field (44th among the rest of the NBA).

Here are few clips of him creating havoc in the open floor this season:

Secondly, if you don’t take care of the ball around Fox, he’s going to make you pay. He’s quickly become one of the best in the game at turning defense into offense. Fox averaged 1.9 points off of turnovers in 2017-18, a number that wasn’t even strong enough to put him in the top 100 among the rest of the league for that department.

This season, though, that number has climbed all the way to 4.5 points per game off turnovers, currently the seventh-most points being scored off turnovers in the association.

Combine his quick hands and tenacious extra effort on defense (tied for seventh in defensive loose balls recovered) along with the hyperactive speed in transition, you get things like this:

It’s easy to see why the Kings are tied for the most points off turnovers in the NBA.

Moreover, Fox has also improved his mid-range game. While it still isn’t perfect by any means, I think it’s safe to say that it’s getting there. At the end of the 2017-18 season, Fox attempted 238 mid-range jumpers, but only made 85 of them (35.7 percent). This season however, he’s 29-for-73 (39.7 percent) in that area.

Part of the reason for the improved efficiency is due to his teammates. In addition to Fox learning how to maneuver around defenders and find higher percentage shots, he’s also creating less of those shots on his own and is instead being put in position to just catch the ball off a pass and then shoot his shot; 21.2 percent of Fox’s made mid-range jumpers last season were unassisted. This season, 24.1 percent of his mid-range field goals have been assisted on.

It’s the little things like moving off the ball and scoring off his teammates’ passes that are going to take Fox’s game to a greater level. If he’s making strides like this in just year two, one can only imagine what his game will look like a few years from now.

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The time to invest in De’Aaron Fox stock is now!