Breaking Down Fox’s Early Season Struggles

At the end of last year, De’Aaron Fox finished with what a consensus would agree are all star caliber stats. Naturally, with that kind of performance accompanied by his year-by-year improvement to prowl up the ranks, expectations for Fox to overcome the hurdle and officially gain league recognition are as palpable as ever.

Many fans envision this year spawning the first Sacramento Kings all star since DeMarcus Cousins. But, so far, Fox has looked like anything but his usual self, bearing low shooting percentages, lower productivity, and the burden of adjusting to a rule change.

Now this is only six games into the season we’re talking about, there is plenty of basketball to be played, and Walton seems unperturbed, but Fox’s glaring issues thus far are nevertheless in plain sight.

Shooting

A major indication of Fox’s struggles has been his poor shooting percentages.

Fox is shooting 37.7% from the field and just 17.1% from deep. This is off a relatively similar number of attempted shots per game as last year, it’s just that now far less are falling his way.

Overall, Fox shot 47.7% from the field last year, and the drop in that number is noticeable, but the law of averages always balances things out as the season unfolds. However, the law of averages does nothing to a surplus of three point attempts. Never having been much of a three point shooter, he was at least knocking in a semi respectable 32.2% of his triples on 5.5 attempts per game last year. This season, though, he’s up to 5.8 attempts on a ghastly percentage.

Although the NBA has been moving away from the rim, closer to the hoop is where Fox is most dangerous, so being smart with the ball behind the arc is vital to maximizing his performance. The truth of that notion expands tenfold if he is hitting a measly 17% of his outside looks, as he is now, and it’s then that he should recognize that shooting six of them a game rather than looking for other opportunities either in the paint or for his teammates is a massive mistake.

Adding to his shooting struggles, Fox is missing far too many opportunities for free points from the charity stripe. Even more so than his outside shooting ability, Fox has been a below-average free throw shooter, sitting around 70% for his career, and in six games this year, he’s making free throws at just a 61.3% clip.

Due to his poor shooting performances, we have seen a dip in his numbers as he’s averaging only 18.5 points per game compared to 25.2 last season, and have seen the Kings drop a couple games they might have otherwise won had Fox been scoring and shooting similarly to last year’s averages.

Finishing

Unlike many guards in the league, it’s not his outside ability, but his ability to finish around the rim that makes De’Aaron Fox great.

Last year, for context, Fox shot 64.9% when less than 5 feet from the basket and 68.9% when in the restricted area. These are phenomenal numbers for a 6’3” guard that indicate his speed, craft, and toughness.

But like his shooting numbers, we are also seeing a dip in his finishing numbers to start the season. In fact, on less than 5 feet from the basket this year, Fox is at a moderate 59.4% and finishing at a 60% clip when in the restricted area.

Though his numbers aren’t down exponentially compared to last season, he isn’t finishing at the usual clips he does when around the rim, hurting his scoring numbers.

Not only has Fox experienced a little more difficulty in finishing at the rim, but he’s struggled at finishing the game. Fans may not have known he even played the final quarter against Dallas on Sunday as Fox finished with zero points in the quarter.

Last season, Fox shot 48.8% in the fourth quarter, with a 65.9% clip from 5 feet or less, and the year prior to that he shot 50.3% total and 57.3% from less than 5 feet. So far in the fourth quarter this season, he’s at a shocking 25.9% from the field and 45.5% from around the basket.

There’s a lot of continuity in good basketball, and whether it’s a single basket or the whole game, finishing is perhaps the most important aspect.

New Rule Change

For the 2021-22 season, the NBA added an interpretive change to the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in their effort to draw contact.

Essentially, referees will no longer reward offensive players who launch themselves into defenders looking to draw a foul.

So far we are seeing this rule have an effect on the likes of James Harden and Trae Young, players who ranked near the top of the 2020-21 season in free throw attempts per game. But are we seeing this rule have an effect more broadly?

Considering scoring is down this year, the answer is very likely yes.

The drop in free throws around the league are likely stemming from the change awarded to three point attempts, but Fox’s numbers might be showing the effect on free throws awarded on the inside as well.

In the case of Fox, he ended last season with the 8th most free throw attempts per game with 7.2. This season he’s down to the 20th spot at 5.2 a contest.

His offensive game is not prone to seek out foul calls, but he has often been rewarded for his quick drives to the basket, and rightfully so. Fox is the fastest player in the game and it’s inherently a challenge for defenders to avoid both contact and free looks, so all eyes turn to the refs.

Last year, Fox averaged 18.4 drives to the basket per game, and 18.3 the season before. This year, he’s got it around 18.3, so the attempts to drive are not down but rather miraculously consistent, pointing to a likely rise in withheld foul calls. Refs don’t seem to be awarding too many free throws, and in turn, are less inclined to give Fox the benefit of the doubt when it comes to contact around the rim.  

So far, we’ve seen Fox get visibly frustrated on multiple occasions due to no-calls around the basket and perhaps the lack of calls near the hoop have played a part in his heavier reliance on jump shots in this young season. We’re already seeing a dip in Fox’s shot attempts within 10 feet of the rim compared to last season.

If Fox realizes he won’t be getting the same calls as he has in seasons passed, he will need to either adjust, improve his jump shooting numbers, or simply continue to watch his scoring numbers sink.

Recap

It may only be six games and there may be plenty of time to shake off the rust, but there are several areas of Fox’s game that stand out as preventing him from taking the leap he’s capable of.

His shooting splits have been abnormally low while his rate of finishing at the rim has taken a plummet as well. This could be due in part to the new rule change as Fox is not seeing fouls being called around the rim when and where they have been called in the past.

De’Aaron Fox is a great player and there is no reason to believe he won’t elevate his game as the season progresses. It may very well be that Fox simply has to learn to adapt to the new rule so that all things can follow.

But until Fox regains form, the Kings won’t be competing at full strength in a tough Western Conference. So if the Kings are to capitalize on their talent and upside, it really comes down to Fox.

In the big picture, maybe this is not a delay in the road to stardom, but a mere stop. Every star, if they expect career success to endure, needs to be able to overcome tough spots and frustration. For Fox, his career has moved along a steady ascent, so a little adversity may be good for him and the team.

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