When general manager Vlade Divac selected De'Aaron Fox with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, he was all in on the 19-year-old point guard. Just two seasons into Fox's career and Divac is looking like a genius.
The former Kentucky star took a massive leap from his freshman to sophomore season and his improvement helped lead the Sacramento 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 another summer of growth could have Fox jump into the upper echelon of NBA point guards.
Like last season, expectations are high for Fox coming into the season. He is quickly 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 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 head coach Luke Walton has an offense taylor 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 to post huge 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, a four percent increase over his rookie campaign. In fact, Fox improved his shooting percentage from every area on the floor, including the 3-point line where he shot 37.1 percent, 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 from his first to his second season and at 21-years-old, there is no reason to believe he won't take another stride forward in year three.
On the defensive end, Fox made strides as well, although he has occasional lapses. When he's locked in, Fox has the ability to stay in front of any player in the league. He's gotten bigger and stronger, which will help him fight through screens and hold his position.
Fox plays the passing lanes well, finishing ninth in the league in steals at 1.6 per game and 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 was clearly stronger in his second season and had a much better game plan coming into each game. He 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 a young player issue that should improve with time.
One of the glaring issues he had on the floor was from 3-10 feet where he took 280 attempts. Fox hit just 35.7 percent from this area, which was his lowest percentage from any spot, but accounted for his second most attempts. He could use a floater in this range or just decrease his shots from this area.
While Fox showed improvements, he still needs to be more aggressive and maybe even a little more selfish. He has an opportunity to be an elite scorer and distributor, but he needs to breakdown 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. He 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 refined his shooting areas on the floor slightly, 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-footer 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. At Team USA he played at roughly 10-pounds heavier than his previous playing weight, but he needs to find a way to maintain his body throughout the rigors of an 82-game schedule.
His spike in 3-point percentage was remarkable, but he 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 the added weight/strength. He 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 .5 points per game.
A look into Fox's field goal percentages showed a fourth quarter dip and also a slump in Jan. and Feb. building up to the All-Star break. Added strength and stamina should help with both of these issues. Playing in the same uptempo 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 is now a member of the Golden State Warriors. Fox needs to quickly build a rapport with newcomers Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes, as well as Marvin Bagley, 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 scoring post player in Bagley. He 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's improved his jumper, worked on his strength and spent time with Team USA having Gregg Popovich demand that he attacks the basket.
In his third season, Fox has the potential to jump into the 20-point, nine-assists, five-rebound range, which is inline with his per 36 minute numbers from last season. He'll likely get more calls from the officials and another summer of preparation should help his fourth quarter numbers.