How De’Aaron Fox’s clutch performance has pushed the Kings to another level

Sacramento Kings defenseman De Aaron Fox (5) during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, February 26, 2023, in Oklahoma City.  (AP Photo/Sue Ogrotsky)
Sacramento Kings defenseman De’Aaron Fox was special when possession mattered the most. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrotsky)

When news first broke last February that the Kings and Pacers had agreed to a deal that would see Domantas Sabonis go to Sacramento and Tyrese Haliburton go to Indianapolis, many pundits shared the same reflex response: Kings Traded Wrong Point Guard.

You could understand why. Halliburton hit the ground running as an effective attacking machine as soon as he entered the league, shooting over 40% of his 3-pointers with an impeccable pass-to-assist ratio; in his brief ability to run the Sacramento offense on his own, he showed enough brilliance to make you think he could be an All-Star for years to come. On the other hand, his backcourt partner, De’Aaron Fox—who was selected in the top five three drafts ahead of Halliburton—was somewhat stalled in the first half of his fifth season, missing three-quarters of his three-point shots while alternating between a disappointing game and at times looking like a future All-Star himself.

Is Sacramento’s choice at the 2022 deal deadline an acknowledgment of market reality (the younger, bigger, better-shooting Haliburton was seen as the more attractive player, and the one Indiana really wanted to kick-start a recovery), a declaration of unshakable faith in Fox’s ability to fulfill his five-year a contract with a maximum of $163 million or a bit of both, the result was the same. The ball will be in Fox’s hands and on his court; it’s time to turn those stretches into steady, stable glory.

So far, so good. While Haliburton lived up to forecasters’ high expectations by vying for leads the league in assists and earning an All-Star honor in Indiana, Fox also had his best pro season. The Kentucky product is averaging 25.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game en route to his first place in the All-Star Game, helping propel the Kings, who go into an important national televised game against the equally amazing Knicks on Thursday, to a 38-26 record that puts them in second place in the Western Conference.

The dramatic changes in Sacramento – especially in attack – were obvious at the very beginning of the season and are directly related to the big shake-ups last season. Asked recently by Jason Buford of GQ To determine the difference between this year’s Kings and other versions, Fox offered a fact: “Well, [Sabonis] I only came here a year ago.”

Massacre of Sabonis after the game and the playful panache certainly helped; big guy 12th in the league in assistsWith highest passing rate of any center in the 3-point era beyond the permanent exception of Nikola Jokic. The same can be said for the offseason arrivals of Malik Monk free agent Kevin Huerter and No. 4 pick Keegan Murray, who combined 421 3-pointers. 25th in triplets made per game and 24th in the team 3-point accuracy last season before seventh And 10threspectively, this season.

Surrounded by a Fox-Sabonis two-player game that have already begun to bear fruit Last spring in a limited number of minutes, with knockdowns that could also evade the ball, new head coach Mike Brown had a plethora of options to rethink the Kings’ offense. It turned what was at times an aimless attack into a monster of speed and space, an ever-buzzing mix of dribbling, off-the-ball screening, backdoor shots, quick decisions and even faster buckets – and, at the time of publishing, most efficient scoring unit in league history.

However, it was not only the surrounding circumstances that improved; Fox does too. And nowhere was this more evident than in close and later situations. When the blender stops pulsing and the Kings need a bucket, they turn to Fox, who has produced more often than not — and, in fact, more than any other player in the NBA.

Nobody scored more points during the “clutch” than Fox. When the score is within 5 points in the last five minutes, he scored 165 points on 63 shots out of 114 (55.3%), according to Extended NBA statistics. When the difference is 3 points or less in the last three minutes, he scored 87 33 out of 61 (54.1%) from the field.

Such efficiency with such a heavy workload – he made 23 more shots in situations in the last five minutes than Donovan Mitchell, who placed second, despite playing fewer minutes of “coupling” overall – very hard to find. Fox’s ability to consistently score in such tense situations highlights the improvements he’s made since leaving Kentucky, becoming a fully formed three-level scorer who can take down defense no matter how he’s played.

Fox entered the league as speed demon who was supposed to beat opponents with a flaming first step. He still has those planes, but he also added to his arsenal. Now he is stronger, better able to end contact as soon as he enters the lane. He has also developed fantastic touch with his float, giving him the ability to shoot with confidence when he prefers not to check on a pending blocking shot.

A born left-hander, Fox has gotten better at driving and landing punches with his left hand — and, perhaps most importantly, he paired those jets with anti-lock brakes, allowing him to instantly slow down to make room in tight quarters. . Half a decade of honing and refining this inner game has left Fox shooting glare. 76% inside the restricted area this season is a career take-off and 12th in the NBA out of 136 players with at least 150 close range attempts.. (The top 11 includes all centers and power forwards.)

Given Fox’s incredible explosion after the rebound and his consistently inconsistent jump shot, the book about him has long been about sagging on the perimeter, giving way to the jumper in favor of being in a better position to counter the shot. And honestly, it’s still a smart game: Fox 58.8% of cart hitsaccording to Second Spectrum tracking, up from 32.6% overall and 29.4% at the decisive moment. But Fox is still confidently striding into these 3s and has shown only enough ability to make them at critical moments to force the defense to activate and keep him there… which in turn opens up everything else for him:

The real divider, though, is the off-speed field Fox has given himself to dust off defenders who don’t want to give him daylight on the arc or a clear path to the rim. Its natural quickness, combined with the tight handle and those comfortable brakes, made it absolutely devastating in the midrange—a constant threat to stop a erratic drive in the blink of an eye, back up and up for a rhythmic full line. – extended J.

These shots are the prerogative of the stars of today’s NBA: the look of coaches and front offices is as good as roleplayers who can’t consistently create or cash them, between daggers you need to punish the league’s best defense at the most intense moments of the game. Fox became one of their best practitioners in the NBA: only nine players landed more shots from medium range more than Fox this season, with only Kevin Durant (57.1%) and Devin Booker (48.8%) among them. made them on a higher clip than Fox (48.3%, same as Kawhi Leonard).

A player who can streak past defenders at the point of attack, finish and punch them powerfully at the basket, and drop them to create space and confidently take down jumpers has all the tools needed to deal damage outside of the offensive structure and create something out of nothing. Fox is averaging 1.1 points per possession this season and scoring 51.3% on those plays. Synergy Tracks – both are career tops and they rate him ninth of 43 players who completed at least 100 such plays, just behind the likes of James Harden and Luka Doncic.

This full array of offensive options has made the Fox arguably the best clutch weapon in the league this season, whether you’re using a vision test watching those beautiful retreats, box scoring when calculating total points, or advanced numbers like Added Mike Beuya win probability metricwhere Fox is in the lead. (In second place, unfortunately: his old backcourt buddy Haliburton.) His individual superiority played a huge role in Sacramento’s far V best offense in the NBA this season; The gap between the No. 1 Kings (129.4 points per 100 possessions) and the No. 2 Nets (118.2 points per 100) is the same as the gap between Brooklyn and No. 1. 20 Washington. And as the Kings continue to struggle to tie their feet in Brown’s first year at the helm, the Fox-led offense in the late game is what propelled Sacramento to victory. six games over .500 in clutch — which, in turn, pretty much explains how the Kings team, chosen by few to even finish under .500 this season, enters Thursday 12 games more, just four wins away from their first winning season. franchises. since 2006.

This is also the last time that Sacramento made the playoffs; that the 16-season interregnum, as you may have heard, represents the longest off-season drought in NBA history. It ends in a month. The Kings won’t just make the playoffs; With Memphis in turmoil, the Suns Durant era still in its infancy, and with half of the conference attendees playing musical chairs between fifth and twelfth place, they have a great chance to enter as the second seed with home court advantage beyond the first round. , but also in any match, except for a potential conference…


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