Hiatus, over. The last player I covered was Luka Doncic, on Nov. 17th. In it, I predicted the following:
"Where He'll Be in 5 Years
If they get the right team around him, or the team around him gets better from a flow standpoint, he could challenge for the MVP. LeBron-like stat lines with better shooting splits are entirely in play. Barring injury and with some fine-tuning to his body, he should at least be challenging for 1st-2nd team All-NBA every year."
Should I revise that to "Where He'll Be in 5 Months"? Because, not that he wasn't already balling, his next six weeks went something like this:
Whiffed on the nickname, though. Anyways, here's a refresher on Next Gen:
As the NBA's pantheon of top players evolves, longstanding greats fall off and the most driven challengers ascend. The last of the 90's all-timers are nearly gone—hyperlink tribute to Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter must be given. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have gone from we-got-next to top-of-the-mountain to hitting their twilight (LeBron excluded).
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid are breaking the doors to the pantheon down. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are well-established neighbors of King James. So, it's time to start identifying who's next, to evaluate the rookies and sophomores who could one day have an argument as a top 10 player in the NBA. As the Dubs go through the season, we'll look at their opponents and pick out potential candidates for greatness. We'll evaluate these Next Gen-ers so far and compare their game to past players, prognosticate how they'll fare against the Warriors, and offer projections on where they'll be in 5 years.
De'Aaron Fox (Sophomore)
18.1/3.6/7.6 on 47/39/71 shooting splits
Who He Plays Like
The spindly-ness, wingspan and speed remind me of Allen Iverson. But his style is less about a one-on-one crossover and more about going coast-to-coast at the speed of light—think Westbrook, or John Wall if his teammates liked him. It may sound crazy, but I think Fox is already a headier player and better leader on the floor than any of those guys (2 Hall of Famers included) were in their second year.
One-Word Description of His Game
New Nickname Pitch
Tough, he's already got a sick regular name. I'll go with Space Ghost (new school version), but Basketball Reference also has another cartoon credited as a nickname: The dude's rocking Dora the Explorer.
My guy is simply much faster than this Hamburglar-Fox thing. But Swipa makes sense.
All-NBA First Team (high), Multi-All-Star (medium), Fourth best player on a championship team (low)
When We'll See Him
Saturday, 1/4 at 7:30pm (PST)
How He's Playing Right Now
The Kings are still .500, but they've lost 4 of their last 5. Fox has kept to his standard numbers in those games, but the shooting from distance is particularly rough (18%) and his Free Throw attempts are about half his season average (2.6). They've played some of the West's best though, including Denver, Portland, and both L.A. Teams. Overall, Fox's 3PT shooting has improved by more than 8 percentage points and his average Free Throw Attempts have doubled in his sophomore campaign. While he'll have (barring injury) a fairly long stretch of freakish athleticism, the fact that he's improved so drastically in two of the most important areas in modern basketball is a testament to work ethic and just a no B.S. approach.
During that rookie campaign, Fox melded the eye-popping athletic plays...
...with the eye-popping athletic plays in the clutch:
Fox had 6 game-winning or game-tying shots in his rookie year. On a pretty bad team. At 19. In his second year, the dude is the unquestioned number 1 and they have an outside shot at the 8th seed (looking more and more like an outside shot, but still). The hyper-speed highlights are still there this year, but it's in the context of Coach Dave Joeger's revamped offensive system—essentially PUSH IT, after a made basket or not (i.e. no matter what). And it's not out of control:
Simple cross. Simple spin. Simple lay-in. He has a LOT of these quasi to semi to full-blown fast break highlights. And he also has the defensive instincts to create fast break opportunities in a flash:
You can actually see how quick his reaction speed is—almost preternaturally quick—in this Sports Science clip, where his hands move significantly faster than a high-level professional boxer's:
Put simply: he has all of the physical talent in the world. But, he's not sitting on his laurels. Development is evident not just in long-range shooting or free throw attempts, but in the precision of his passes as well. Watch how he utilizes his speed to put pressure on the defense and lob to Willie Cauley-Stein with ease. It's not at all in that frenzied, early-Westbrook vein of assists:
Although his last 5 games have been up and down, he raised his game in a back-to-back with the Lakers, something he's not a stranger to—and something that will continue to endear him to Kings' fans. He showed the floater game (LeBron onlooking in Charlie Brown garb):
And, he's really showed impressive flashes as a floor general. Exhibit A:
Shumpert makes probably 1 out of 15 of those, but still, that's a perfect sling pass to the corner.
Exhibit B shows the mix of quick twitch reaction with teammate chemistry:
His patience was really on display in this game, see Exhibit C:
You know how they say you have to pick up Steph at 35 feet? Swipa has his own twist on that, reaching into the nitrous tank and such:
5 people died in the making of that GIF. That's worth a second look:
Even when he's being dared to shoot the 3, he makes something happen:
That's really bad defense, but still.
So, how is he playing? Really well. Even in a middling stretch. And, he's hella young and right next door—the Warriors are going to have a lot of De'Aaron Fox anxiety for the next decade. They've had a fair amount his year already (foreshadowing).
How He Matches Up Against the Warriors
Um, pretty well. Case in point, December 14th, 2018:
Quick breakdown: 1) he crossed KD so bad, the dude looked like he just got off Drop Zone. 2) The hesitation he gave Draymond looked like a rip in spacetime. 3) He goes inside-out with the left then between-the-legs to his right on Steph, makes him spin like a top, and Doug Christie has to just go NSFW on the call (start at 0:43).
Look, the Warriors don't have anybody quick enough to guard him, that's clear. Klay is always the go-to with the hyper-fast guys and Andre is kind of Weapon X, but while Klay's D has remained solid this year, Iggy is starting to see Father Time. Steph is solid as a team defender, but he doesn't have the foot speed, nor should he be asked to be the primary with how much he shoulders on offense. So, the Warriors will go to their bread and butter for non-shooting, athletic primary ball handlers: play him to shoot, throw waves of long arms at him, and mitigate fast-break points by keeping turnovers on the offensive end under control. Still, De'Aaron will probably have a big night. The Warriors aren't reeling, but they're weird right now.
Where He'll Be in 5 Years
I like him as the leader of a perennial playoff team, and someone who's always challenging for All-NBA. I don't see MVP in his future, or any statistical crowns. But I see a lot of winning—and a lot of highlights.
And...Revisiting The Nickname Pitch
Space Ghost is going through the motions. He's De'aaron Fox or Swipa for the next 15.