After last Friday night’s loss to the Warriors, in which De’Aaron Fox single handedly shrunk the gap in the fourth quarter to make it a closer game down the stretch, the star point guard declared that he’s got to bring that intensity to the floor much earlier.
“We’ve talked about it before,” he said. “I need to be more aggressive throughout the game.”
This is evidently not a matter that’s new to the discourse surrounding the team. Last season, it was asked a handful of times whether or not Fox’s rotational minutes should be shifted to provide him with a better runway to find a groove early on. In hindsight, this is something more in Fox’s control than anyone’s, but the notion of slow starts, contrasted with the season he was putting together in fourth quarters to earn the first-ever Clutch Player of the year award, generated a topic of interest for those who cover and follow the Kings.
Seeing what he did against the Warriors in the final period, the question rose to the forefront yet again, but it was quickly met with an excellent response.
In the overtime victory over the Lakers on Sunday, Sacramento got off to a 41-21 lead after one quarter with Fox scoring 10. The Kings then lead 66-55 at the half with Fox having 21 in the score column.
Out of the gate, the aggression of the Third Team All-NBA guard was popping off the screen as he continually pushed it and drove into the paint, either finishing at the rim or using a deceleration to get up a sweet floater.
Not only were the Kings winning the paint points differential, they were returning to their kind of ball movement, recording 12 assists in the first quarter as the flow was gliding smoothly.
After the loss to Golden State, Mike Brown’s evaluation of the offense was that the team did not move the basketball the way they’re accustomed to. He commended the Warriors’ ability to collapse and disrupt interior passes, but he added that his guys have got to avoid dribbling “too deep” and have to “get off the ball” (i.e. move it) sooner.
But if anyone has the right to get deep into the lane whenever he wants, it’s Fox, who is special. He has the ability to get by anyone and get into the painted area, and that often helps create open shots, if not for himself, then his teammates. Most of all, it forces the opposing defense to apply an added emphasis to trying to stop the league’s fastest player. That was evident on Sunday.
With a more aggressive Fox, he drew urgent attention to himself from the outset, and as a result, he connected for 3 of his 8 assists in the opening period.
Also, his lone make in the first from outside the paint came when LeBron James sat idly beneath a Sabonis screen to give Fox a ton of space and time, likely expecting the speedy all-star to collapse the defense.
He demonstrated that he is not only elite at closing games, but also at opening them, not just individually, but opening and unlocking so many other things for the rest of the team.
With that start, it’s easy to imagine that the Kings could have had a more convincing victory. In coach Brown’s assessment, the free throw attempts for Los Angeles—23 in the first half—kept them in the game. The Kings held them to just 11 in the second half and overtime, but all the early freebies—products of coming close to playing physically without fouling—helped put LA in a position to take their first lead early in the fourth and ultimately force an extra period of play.
Even still, Fox’s early aggression set the tone, one that could be difficult to overcome for many opponents. As the team’s defensive physicality grows more sound—as one could assume it will—then that would really give Sac a significant leg up in combination with a more assertive start from their best scorer.
Perhaps he doesn’t have to do that every game. The Kings handled Utah on opening night with relative ease despite Fox scoring a total of 18 points. The Jazz—especially with their odd commitment to their zone defense—had little chance to handle Sacramento’s offense, but teams like the Warriors and Lakers are more of a challenge and seem to require this kind of early dominance from the team leader.
The Kings play the Warriors next and that would have offered further insight into how much the point guard’s early aggression can make a difference, but with the sprained right ankle that he suffered in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Fox will not play.
Brown didn’t have an update after the game, but on Monday morning, Shams Charania and Sam Amick reported that the “moderate sprain” will force “to miss some time.” And then later in the day, FOX40’s Sean Cunningham noted that a source indicated that Fox “will certainly miss Wednesday’s game in San Francisco against the Warriors.”
So getting an extended look at just how impactful Fox’s early-game aggression can be for the Kings if carried out more consistently will have to wait for now. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear.