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Non-Cavs we love: De’Aaron Fox and watching a young player figure it out

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Watching Fox figure it out has been a delight.

Portland Trail Blazers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

De’Aaron Fox’s rookie year with the Kings was not good — as most rookie seasons are. He was zippy, but not yet dynamic. Players missing games against him was a great joke, but his numbers didn’t scream future All-Star. His year didn’t indicate that would be come the leader of a fun, surprisingly competent Kings team. The last part of the previous sentence seemed impossible on its own merits because, well, Kangz.

But that’s what happened. The Kings are fun and kind of good. In his sophomore year, Fox has made the leap. He’s now smooth in the pick-and-roll a year after being all over the place. Defensively, he looks like a player that got stronger and learned all of the mistakes he made as a rookie. Fox certainly wasn’t making this play as a rookie or even handling that situation calmly.

And a year after the Kings were 30th in pace, they are now third in the league and playing into what might be Fox’s best attribute: his speed. This whole set, starting with the spacing around him, is designed around his ability to beat Josh Richardsonwho is an awesome defender — with his speed and then make a play. This is what a team knowing it has something in its young player just letting it — whatever it is — happen:

Instead of this breakout season, Fox could have taken a mini-leap in 2018-19, getting marginally better in a few areas, but not really clicking all the way and flourishing. It could have been more flashes of his talent, but it not coming all together in a way that means something — the league is full of young guards like this. The 2017 NBA Draft class in particular has a few players who fit that mold.

Instead, Fox’s assists jumped from 4.4 per game to 7.1 with a turnover rate that is only 1.2 points higher than last season, per basketball-reference. His three-point shooting is up too, rising from a basically-useless 30.7 percent to a respectable 36.4 percent on .6 more attempts per game. Perhaps most importantly, Fox has gone form shooting 56.2 percent on shot under five feet to 63.4 percent this season. That’s a leap from around nine percent below league average to league average, per nba.com/stats.

This jump for Fox also matters because it’s major reason why the Kings are good and should be in your League Pass rotation. Harry Giles’ flashes of skill and Buddy Hield being one of the best shooters in the league this year are good reasons to watch Sacramento too. And yes the Kings probably should have picked Luka Doncic, but Marvin Bagley does things that are good and fun. There is something there, a light bulb that has been turned on after years doing nothing to push through the purple-tinted darkness in Sacramento. But Fox is the switch turning the light bulb on — without him, the playoffs (and the NBA’s longest playoff drought) would beyond impossible for the Kings. The odds aren’t in their favor, but this is as close as they’ve been in year. That’s hope.

Fox, for his team and the other 29, serves as a reminder that it takes time for young players to figure things out. It can take a season — or maybe two — for a player to get their wits about them and understand how to implement themself and their game in the NBA. Keep that in mind watching and evaluating Collin Sexton. Sexton, for what it’s worth, is having a similar year to Fox’s rookie season, is playing in a similar-ish situation and is having similar issues, although Sexton is shooting worse on shots under five feet than Fox did as a rookie.

Like Fox, Sexton is playing for one of the league’s slowest teams despite speed being one of his defining attributes. Maybe getting the tempo just right next year — and not rushing or dragging — can unleash the best of Sexton in the same way it unlocked Fox.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen for players, but it is often as clear when it does. It can inject new life into teams that otherwise would be laughed off. Fox is zippy, dynamic proof — he is what hope for young players, and their teams, looks like.