The Kings may be 1-4 after DeMarcus Cousins’ record-setting performance in his return to Sacramento, but this is a team worth watching again thanks to rookie De’Aaron Fox. Former King Chris Webber got an eyeful of Sacramento’s young point guard while covering the game for TNT, and saw a player that could soon be keeping East coast NBA fans up past their bedtimes.
“We’re watching Fox grow up in front of our eyes, changing speed, getting other guys involved and finishing strong,” said Webber.
Cousins, who claimed he was nervous before his first game in Sacramento as an opposing player, became the first player in NBA history with a stat line of 41 points, 23 rebounds, six assists and three three-pointers made. Webber in 2001 was the last NBA player with at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and five assists in a game.
Despite Cousins’ heroics with Anthony Davis unable to go due to injury, Fox continues to make a name for himself at the professional level. He entered the game averaging 15 points, tied with Dallas’ Dennis Smith for third among rookies. Against the visiting Pelicans, Fox scored 14 with five assists, a pair of rebounds and no turnovers. He also entered the game trailing only Atlanta’s John Collins in Player Efficiency Rating among rookies. Fox currently leads the Kings with 14.8 points and five assists per game.
Basketball Insiders’ Dennis Chambers has written the definitive early look at what’s shaping up to be a rookie class for the ages. But even among such company, Fox stands out. By now we’re all accustomed to comparisons of Fox to fellow former Kentucky point guard John Wall. Webber took it a step further after seeing Fox turn on the afterburners on this play.
“He has a long way to go and a long way to grow,” said Webber. “But this is reminiscent of John Wall, of [Russell] Westbrook. What I mean is, start at one speed, smart enough to change pace when the defense are on their heels, put them in a tough position where they’re retreating, attack the basket and get a foul.”
While early returns are more than promising for Fox, the Kings still face an uphill battle due to the team’s inexperience. And that’s in spite of an influx of veterans including point guard George Hill and power forward Zach Randolph. On this play, the King’s youngsters flashed their potential as Skal Labissiere passed to Kosta Koufos out of a double team before fellow rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic found Fox with a beautiful diagonal pass across the lane for a layup.
The Kings looked to be on their way to a second win of the season after dropping 70 points in the first half. But the Pelicans stormed back behind an unstoppable Cousins. Fox showed his advanced court vision by finding Willie Cauley-Stein flashing down the lane for an alley-oop layup that briefly put Sacramento back in front 106-105.
Cousins responded with his third three, then took advantage of former teammate Cauley-Stein for a dunk on a beautiful Jameer Nelson assist. Cauley-Stein failed to stay connected to Cousins and reached weakly for the bounce pass before Cousins slammed it home. Cauley-Stein is a veteran by Sacramento standards and should know better, but his defensive struggles are indicative of the development curve his team faces.
“When you heard [Kings coach Dave Joerger] say it takes time and age, he’s so right,” said Webber. “Experience is the biggest difference. And the only way to get experience sometimes is to get embarrassed on the court and figure it out later.”
There will be a lot of those experiences for the Kings, but Fox gives Sacramento a foundational piece to build on. As Cousins learned, Sacramento is a tough place to get noticed with late games on the West coast and far less media attention than the NBA’s glamor franchises.
“It’s early,” said Fox after the game. “[We’re a] young team just trying to find what works. It’s a teaching moment in wins and losses.”
On top of a fairly obscure NBA market, Fox must also fight to get noticed among a spectacular rookie class. It will be interesting to see if Sacramento stays under the radar, or if Fox can change the sleeping habits of NBA fans and make the Kings must-see TV. He’s so good that he might be able to make that happen.
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