On the one hand, it’s a tremendous personal and organizational accomplishment that Domantas Sabonis becomes the first all-star representing the Kings since DeMarcus Cousins in the 2016-17 season, earning the honor for the third time in his career.
Sabonis is one of the most dynamic big men in the league and deserving of at least being in the mix for the Most Valuable Player conversation. His selection may have been a given, but it’s still a watershed moment overall.
However, on the other hand, it’s a pity that De’Aaron Fox was not included among the reserves. It’s nearly useless elaborating from there on account of the fact that so many—from the fans to his teammates to people around the league—feel the exact same.
It’s true that come the need for injury replacements, Fox may very well be at the top of the list in his conference.
Of course, the idea that a second player from the number-one ranked Nuggets be chosen—most likely an Aaron Gordon or possibly Jamal Murray—because two players were chosen to represent the number-two seed Grizzlies does potentially stand in the way, but aside from James Harden in the East, Sacramento’s point guard seems widely regarded as the biggest snub.
And it’s also true that Jaren Jackson Jr. is a very good player on both ends of the floor that has contributed to the success of Memphis this year. For reference, in 35 games, Jackson Jr. is averaging 16.5 points on 50.1% from the field and 36.3% from deep with 6.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
But it’s genuinely shocking that Fox did not make the cut over him.
Throughout the course of his six seasons in the league, De’Aaron Fox has been a borderline all-star a few times, but the fact the Kings were never successful always hindered his chances. To see him absent from the initial reserves is a shame not just due to his team’s standing but also because of the premium impacts he makes on both ends of the floor, in clutch time, and as a leader.
Fox is averaging 24.3 points on 50.4% shooting from the field and 33.2% from three with 6.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 47 games this season. He also leads the NBA in clutch scoring in far less clutch situation minutes than DeMar DeRozan, who’s in second behind him.
He’s not only been a dangerous scorer that possesses a knack for late-game downpours, he’s an excellent defender, playing with zealous enthusiasm and energy both on-ball and off. Plus, he’s a great facilitator able to reward cutters, sometimes drawing extra defenders because of his merciless speed.
For all the leadership Domantas Sabonis provides, there might be a little more to the point guard’s long-rooted command of this team.
His head coach has taken several moments to point out how Fox does more than take over on the floor.
“And his leadership, too — he took over down the stretch, making the right calls,” Kings head coach Mike Brown said after their win over Memphis in late January. “There were probably three or four times in the second half where, in the huddle, I went in and just said, ‘Foxy, what you want?’ And he took over the huddle and told the guys what to run and all that other stuff.”
Brown has also described how when Fox speaks to his teammates, “you can feel the guys gravitate towards every word he says.”
“Even during the flow of the game, there were times where I called a play and he waved me off,” the coach added after a win in Detroit that capped off a six-game roadtrip in December. “I absolutely love it. That’s what a leader does, and when you have a feel like he does, you have the right to do all of those things.”
Mike Brown is notorious for talking up his guys no matter what and nearly as much as he holds them accountable, but that’s not an understatement. The undeniable effect Fox has on this team is massive.
Other guys point to it, too. It’s well understood that when it’s dire and somebody needs to seize the reigns, guys look to Fox.
“I don’t know what it is. I always tell him, ‘It’s fourth quarter. Come on. Lead us home,'” Sabonis said of his teammate on ESPN last month.
And the team goes as he goes. When he was suffering from his foot bruise, the Kings train slowed a little, but upon Fox’s return, it was running smoothly again.
Though the team may not be first or second in the conference, top-three in the conference rankings (now only 2 games behind Memphis) was not exactly where most people expected the Kings to be. The Nuggets and Grizzlies have been contending for years now, they’re filled with guys with experience winning. Fox as well as Sabonis are pulling a tremendous load leading a team—albeit, talented in its own right—into national prominence.
Again, Fox might end up in Salt Lake City at the end of the day, but there’s a reason such a wide range of people in and around the league shared a feeling of surprise to see him lose out to a player he’s played considerably more games than.