Pre-game media sessions with head coaches usually don’t go on very long.
Their main purpose is to provide updates specific to the game being played that night—who’s injured, who’s starting, who’s matching up with who.
But as soon as Dave Joerger gave out that information prior to his Sacramento Kings taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, he wasn’t finished with what he had to say.
“No De’Aaron Fox questions?” a facetious Joerger pleaded to the media gathering.
Fox, of course, was the fifth overall draft pick this past summer in a loaded class of rookies, and the soon-to-be 20-year-old is pegged to be the Kings next superstar point guard.
Since Joerger wanted to talk about the up-and-comer so badly, Basketball Insiders went ahead and granted his wish to talk about the development process.
“I think he’s doing great,” the Kings head coach said, raving over Fox. “He’s fast, quick. He’s got a charm and a moxie about him that you enjoy being around and coaching every day.”
Coming from Fox himself, the first-year experience has been pretty much as expected.
“I mean I didn’t think I was gonna come in and be like, hard,” Fox told Basketball Insiders. “You’re still playing basketball, but I mean, it’s been challenging.”
A quarter of the way through the season, the speedy 6-foot-4 guard has picked up on things much more naturally than most players with as little experience as he has. Joerger sees the mental side of his game maturing at a rapid pace.
“He’s seeing a different scheme every night—which kind of pick and rolls he’s playing against, which kind of pick and rolls he’s having to defend against, different players every night,” Joerger said. “It’s a huge education.”
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“People talk about it’s difficult, but I think I learn fast,” Fox told Basketball Insiders of studying plays and scouting his competition. “I understand ‘em and if I have a question I can ask coach, ask one of my teammates. But for the most part, I get most of that stuff.”
The transition from college to pro hasn’t been difficult for Fox as far as the speed of the game goes, but when it comes to scheduling, that’s a different story. In fact, Joerger has had conversations with his other rookie point guard about that exact subject.
“Frank [Mason III] and I were talking about it,” Joerger said. “It’s 20-something games already, where they would’ve been in their college at this point a year ago. Frank, having played several years in college, it goes fast. All of a sudden, it’ll be 40 games and then we’ll be at the break and away you go.”
For Fox, he told Basketball Insiders that the change he’s felt most has been the effect on his body.
“I mean, of course, the amount of games, just the physical toll that it takes on you,” Fox said. “Play a game, fly out, go play another game. In college, it was a little play a game, go back to school and have three, four days until we played the next game so that of course is probably the biggest adjustment.”
Another media member suggested to Joerger on Wednesday that it’s tougher on younger guys to bounce back quickly from bad performances due to a smaller time frame in the pros as opposed to multiple days in between at the collegiate level. While he agreed with the notion, Sacramento’s coach played devil’s advocate with a grin.
“I don’t think that’s as much of an issue as the number of games can just beat you down,” Joerger said. “It kinda goes the other way if you have a good game. You’re like, ‘Man, can I just chill on this for a little while and have five, six days to relax and listen to all my family how great I am?’ You know, you gotta go on to the next one whether you were good or not.
“We’ve taken some losses, but we’re feeling like the young guys are getting better and we keep plugging away.”
Fox’s rapport with Joerger has been progressing as the year has gone by. The no-nonsense rookie is the last person to be involved in any type of drama, and he hopes their bond continues to grow further down the road.
“It’s been great,” he told Basketball Insiders of working with Joerger. “I mean I’ve never really bumped heads with anybody, if it’s a player, coach, ref or anything like that. Just trying to develop a better relationship with him.
“I’m a rookie right now, but I’m looking long term to be a point guard here and looking long term for that to be my coach, so just being able to develop a great relationship with the head coach, it’d be great for me.”
After a tight loss in Cleveland, the Kings are 7-17. To make matters tougher, they’ll head on another four-game road trip once again after returning home for a brief two games. It looks bleak judging off of record and team statistics, but these players are competing. Over the last two weeks, they’ve been in all but one game. Three of the seven games in that span have resulted in victory. Three of those losses have come by less than six points.
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By no means does this indicate they are a finished product, but it’s a mixed group starting to get used to being on the court with each other.
“I think we’re jelling together and jelling together well,” Fox told Basketball Insiders. “We brought a lot of new guys in—as far as a rookie or a vet—and we just haven’t played together a lot. But I feel like we’re jelling together well.”
Here are some fun facts: When Vince Carter made his debut in 1999, Fox was literally a baby. When Zach Randolph made his debut two seasons later, Fox was three. While most players from their era have decided to hang up the sneakers, the two veterans still aren’t done with the game they love.
Over the summer, Sacramento brought those two in to be veteran presences in the locker room and help guide the younger guys as they take in life in the NBA.
With that being said, did Fox ever imagine sharing the floor with them donning the same colors?
“Nah, not at all,” he told Basketball Insiders. “That’s crazy. I mean, I watched Z-Bo in Memphis a lot. Just watched him in the playoffs a lot. [Russell] Westbrook’s my favorite player, so I saw him in those series against OKC and against the Clippers. We all know what Vince Carter did. It’s weird just being able to say Vince Carter’s my teammate.”
“They’ve helped me tremendously,” Fox continued. “They both played with good PGs. They played with Mike [Conley] for so many years. Vince played with guys like Jason Kidd. They just—they know the game. It doesn’t always have to be a guy at your position to help you with basketball.”
Thanks to the talent level of this year’s rookie class and being a top-five pick, the outside expectations of Fox are high. He’s got elite skills that work perfectly in this league. All he has to do is harness those on a nightly basis and in a consistent manner.
Whatever lies ahead is unknown, but with the work Fox is putting in, it should come together with time, and one thing’s for sure—he’s going to do it his way.
“I ain’t worried about nothing,” Fox told Basketball Insiders. “Nah, I just go out and play basketball.”
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