De’Aaron Fox, the 5th pick of the 2017 draft, was ranked #4 on my 2017 big board. His college scouting report can be found here.
Through 80 NBA games, De’Aaron Fox’s stats are listed below:
However, through 6 games in the 2018-19 season, it’s clear Fox has already taken a step forward in his young NBA career. While these stats may regress, the stats are at least beginning to match the eye test:
18 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 3.1 TOPG on shooting splits of 48.4/23.5/65.3
While his free throw and 3 point shooting are down, he’s making great decisions when driving to the basket, which has helped him approach 50% shooting to start the year.
A big reason as to why Fox’s FG% and overall numbers have improved can easily be traced to the increased speed at which Sacramento is playing- the second highest pace in the NBA. This plays to arguably Fox’s greatest strength, which allows him to run in transition. Fox is one of the fastest players in the NBA, and with the speed of the game accelerating this season, players like Fox are expected to excel. In my scouting report of Fox in 2017, I mentioned that Fox is “very capable of leading an uptempo team” which is exactly what he’s done this year. Fox has a plan when attacking the basket, both in transition and in the half-court. Fox has an incredible feel for the game, which allows him to make great reads and quick decisions while moving at a high speed.
One area that concerned me about Fox was his frame. Fox doesn’t have particularly long arms, which usually bodes poorly for success rate at the rim and sometimes defense. As a player with both finishing at the rim and defensive prowess as primary strengths, this was a major concern for me in the draft process. However, Fox’s motor and instincts have allowed for him to continue to be a pest on the defensive end. He battles through screens well and has excellent recovery skills, largely thanks to his foot speed. Fox is near the league average at finishing at the rim in both the first 6 games of the season and in his rookie season.
One more reason contributing to Fox’s increase in production is having Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica has been an excellent shooter for Sacramento this season, shooting 53% from 3 with 14 PPG. While Fox is not the only player feeding Bjelica and allowing him to get better, Fox runs a solid pick & pop with Bjelica, which was Fox’s greatest skill that didn’t rely on physical traits coming out of Kentucky. I had said in my original scouting report that surrounding Fox with shooters would greatly benefit Fox. Sacramento currently ranks #4 in 3 point shooting, which can largely be traced to Bjelica’s unreal start to the season, as well as Iman Shumpert and Buddy Hield both shooting over 45% from behind the arc. Fox’s numbers should be monitored for when Hield, Shumpert, and Bjelica’s numbers all normalize.
Fox has been just as good as advertised, and he’s already improved on advanced areas of his game for a second year player. As Fox continues to grow comfortable and get stronger, expect his stats to continue to improve. Fox will always command an uptempo offense due to his physical traits and his quick decision making. Fox is proving that he can be effective even without having a reliable jump shot to start the year.
The area that has stood out to me the most of his game is his improvement of decision making. Compare Fox to the other top point guards of the 2017 draft; Lonzo Ball is the only other point guard that is as good as, or better than, Fox in IQ and quick decision making. While Fox still isn’t considered a threat in 3 point shooting, he still has confidence to take 3 point attempts each game, no matter how past attempts pan out.
In a re-rank of the 2017 draft board, Fox likely stays around my original ranking of #4. I had Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum below him, and those are the only two that are locks to be better than him as of right now from the 2017 NBA Draft class.
Fox is doing everything right so far in his NBA career. He’s proving he can be an effective NBA player without a reliable jump shot while adding winning values. Fox is negating the narrative that all point guards must be able to shoot 3s in order to be a good player.
Relevance To Dallas
Dallas never had a chance to draft Fox, which means there’s little reason to fantasize about that or be upset about the decision not to trade up to take Fox. However, Dennis Smith is shooting 28.6% from 3, which means he needs to be elite in a department outside of shooting, similar what Fox has done.
A main area that many Mavs writers and fans have been critical of Smith on is his decision making. Smith has less than a 2:1 assist:turnover ratio, which is significantly less than league average for a starting point guard. A main reason for this is his lack of thinking one step ahead of his defender. Particularly, when driving, he decides to use his elite first step to beat his defender off the dribble, then think about what his next move is. Smith should instead think about how to attack the defense and rim protector before making his first move. I believe that this will likely improve as his career continues- Smith has only played 75 games- but he must get better at split-second decision making in order to reach his upside.
I use Dennis Smith as a comparison because both are supreme athletes that lack a threatening jump shot. Smith is a smart player- however, he needs to use his IQ and athleticism to his advantage, which will help him ultimately achieve his true upside. One quick solution to potentially help Dennis Smith in the short term is for the Mavericks offense to take a slight step away from the 2nd highest 3 point attempts in the NBA, and focus more on giving Dennis Smith drive and kick opportunities and for DeAndre Jordan to roll harder to the rim off of screens, which would give Dennis Smith a chance to show off his playmaking skills in the pick & roll.