De'Aaron Fox is path forward for Kings, despite early struggles

Fox's shooting woes continue, but patience needed

The Sacramento Kings are facing a very difficult question with an incredibly simple answer. 

De’Aaron Fox is off to a rough start. His shot isn’t falling. His numbers are down across the board. Frustration levels are reaching a boiling point.

When is it time to reduce Fox’s role and go with one of the many other guards the Kings have on the roster?

The honest answer is the same as it has been since Sacramento selected the 6-foot-3 burner out of Kentucky with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft -- this team will only go as far as Fox takes them and that means that they should and will stick with the 23-year-old until he figures it out.

No one is more disappointed with Fox’s current shooting woes than he is. He put in the time this summer to bulk up and get stronger. He worked on his craft like he has every other year and he came into this season with the goal of delivering a playoff berth to the City of Sacramento.

Sometimes shots don’t fall. A shooting slump can come at the beginning of a season, just like it can come in the middle or the end.

“He’s fine, he’s missing some shots, but that’s part of it, we all go through these little slumps, it happens to everybody,” Tyrese Haliburton said of his starting backcourt mate.

After Tuesday’s 119-113 road loss to the Utah Jazz, in which Fox missed his first nine shots from the field, the Kings’ point guard is now shooting just 36.5 percent from the field and 15.4 percent (6-for-39) from 3-point range on the season. 

With the shot offline, opposing defenses are going under screens and daring Fox to shoot. So far, he hasn’t been able to come through.

Fox’s teammates have faith in their floor general. They’ve seen his talent both on the practice floor and during games. They know what he brings to the table and they believe the early alarm bells are unwarranted.

“I think it’s being made a bigger deal than it is,” Haliburton said. “I’m not concerned by any means. It’s just a slump right now and we’re his teammates and we’re going to help him get out of it. ”

Following the game, head coach Luke Walton was clearly frustrated. His team once again hung around against a very good Western Conference opponent until the late fourth quarter, only to come up empty. This was the fourth time in seven games the Kings have had a shot at a victory and couldn’t come through in the clutch.

Sacramento’s biggest issue is closing out the fourth and part of that is due to the team’s closer from last season not finding his rhythm. 

“Until somebody starts making some shots, every team that we play, they’re going to go under every pick-and-roll, the bigs are going to be rolled up because of his speed, they’re already going to wall up in transition,” Walton said. 

The Kings are already facing this issue. With Fox misfiring, opposing defenses are dropping back and daring him to shoot. It takes away his super power, which is using his tremendous speed to get around his man and collapse the defense.

“We trust him and at the end of the day, we have a good team, but we need De’Aaron to make some of those shots,” Walton continued. “So we’re not going to tell him to stop taking them. We’re going to encourage him, but we still need him to get to the rim, we need him to draw two, we need him to create and when they go under (the screen), he’s got to be able to open up the floor for us, because he’s capable of it and he knows he is.”

Walton was pressed on Fox’s struggles and his response was clear for all to hear.

“I love everything about De’Aaron Fox,” Walton responded.

The Kings’ 3-4 record isn’t all on Fox’s play, but he is the straw that stirs the Kings’ drink. In the closing moments of games last season, the team would put the ball in his hands and allow him to own the fourth quarter. He responded by becoming one of the league leaders in fourth quarter scoring. 

He was dominant at times and his ability to break down defenses and create for his teammates in crucial moments kept the Kings in the chase for the play-in tournament until deep into the year.

Despite his shot being on the fritz early in the season, the team is still following Fox’s lead. The Kings are currently third in the league in pace with Fox setting the tempo. If he starts to come around, they have potential to become an elite offensive team.

Sacramento has built their identity around Fox and his ability to get up and down the court. While plenty of players have stepped up to shoulder the load this season, the one missing ingredient is No. 5.

The answer isn’t to reduce Fox’s impact on the team, it is to build his confidence and work harder as a unit to get him through the rough patch.

“De’Aaron’s a very talented player, he knows how important he is to us,” coach Luke Walton said. “When you’re struggling, the best way out of it is -- work harder, grind, grind through it, believe in what you’re doing, believe in your teammates. And I have all the faith in the world that De’Aaron will do that.”

The Kings have plenty of other players struggling to find their role in the rotation, but Fox is the face of the franchise. This is the first season of his rookie scale extension and his contract just jumped from $8.1 million last season to $28.1 million this year. 

While the coaching staff and front office aren’t heaping expectations on their star point guard, there is pressure that comes with having the highest salary in franchise history. 

Fox isn’t the only guard who’s off to a slow start this season. Six-time All-Star Damian Lillard is shooting 23.1 percent from long range through his first seven games and the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell was shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range through five games before back-to-back strong performances.

Walton isn’t going to change the game plan and the team isn’t going to move away from the centerpiece of their franchise. If they want to lend him a hand, they need to set harder screens, hit their open 3-point shots and create more space for Fox to run. 

Every man on the Kings roster should be working to get Fox on the right path. He is an impact player at the NBA level with All-Star talent.

The Kings need Fox to find his way. They have a lot of depth and plenty of talent, but this is the guy that makes it all come together. If they can get him right, they have a shot at snapping the franchise’s 15-year playoff drought. 

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