De’Aaron Fox took his game to new heights in Year 6, but all eyes will be on what he can accomplish during the 2023-24 NBA season.
After carrying the weight of a playoff drought for five straight seasons, the Kings' star point guard checked a number of things off his to-do list last season, with the help of a new coach, revamped roster and admirable team culture.
Make the playoffs. Check. Become an All-Star. Check. Make an All-NBA team. Check. Win the league’s first Clutch Player of the Year Award. Check. So, what’s next for the 25-year-old?
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Fox’s primary goal, of course, is to build upon last season’s success and eventually win an NBA championship. But can Fox’s first All-Star season lead to an NBA MVP campaign in 2023-24?
Theoretically, yes. Realistically, no.
A big part of it has little to do with Fox himself and more about the team he plays for. The last five awards have been issued to Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets (2021, 2022) and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (2019, 2020).
Since 2010, four players have won the award more than once: LeBron James, Steph Curry, Antetokounmpo and Jokić. All four of those same players have a real shot at winning it again next season.
Last season, Embiid averaged a league-high 33.1 points on 54.8-percent shooting, with 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. The 76ers won 54 games, clinched the No. 3 playoff seed and took the Boston Celtics to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He’s a career 27-point, 11-rebound player since entering the league in 2014.
Many believed Jokić, the winner of the award in 2021 and 2022, should have won his third consecutive NBA MVP award last season. The Serbian superstar’s incredible 26-10-8 2020-21 season was eclipsed by his 27-13-8 season the following year. Over the last three seasons, the Nuggets have won 47 or more games and locked up at least the Western Conference’s No. 2 playoff seed. They’re fresh off winning their first championship in franchise history, and by the looks of it, continue to be the biggest threat in the West with a fair shot at contending for the title next season.
Antetokounmpo won his first NBA MVP award after helping lead Milwaukee to a 60-22 record during the 2018-19 season. The Greek machine finished with career highs across the board that season, averaging 27.7 points on an efficient 57.8-percent shooting from the field, topped off with 12.5 boards and 5.9 assists. The Bucks' season ended in an Eastern Conference finals loss. The next season, Antetokounmpo averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, but he and the team had to watch the rest of the postseason from home after getting booted in the second round. In 2021, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks finally won a championship on the backs of yet another impressive season from “The Greek Freak.”
The point is that these players have had big seasons over and over again, and so have their respective teams.
Until the Kings establish themselves as a serious playoff team and even championship contenders, the league’s top award will be given to a player whose team is.
The good news for Sacramento is that Fox and the Kings are on the right track.
Fox had the best showing of his career last season, averaging 25 points on a career-high 51.2-percent shooting from the field, along with a career-best 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 33.4 minutes played.
He was dubbed “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to put the team on his back and ball out in the fourth quarter, specifically in crunch-time moments. Fox led the NBA in clutch scoring with 194 total points, and his late-game heroics paid off in huge moments throughout the season.
"You can't be afraid to fail," Fox said on TNT after winning the Clutch Player of the Year Award. "Obviously, you're not going to make every shot, but my teammates, my coaches, they put me in position to succeed. So the least I can do is have confidence in myself to take good shots."
Still, some weren’t convinced. They wanted to see Fox’s success transfer over onto the big stage when the Kings secured the No. 3 playoff seed and a first-round meeting with the then-defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In his playoff debut, Fox dropped 38 points on 48.1-percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, with five assists and three steals in the huge series-opening win at Golden 1 Center. He continued to deliver for his team until he fractured the index finger of his left shooting hand. Fox played through the injury, but it became evident that it was bothering him later in the series loss.
Sacramento’s storybook season was over, but through Fox and the rest of his team’s demeanor, there was confidence that the Kings would be back. And it wasn't a feeling solely within the 916 -- the rest of the league was put on notice and is aware that there's something special lying within the Beam Team.
NBA champion-turned-ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, for one, is all-in on the Fox train. Back in July, Perkins listed Fox as one of his five candidates who could take home the NBA MVP award in 2024, alongside Jayson Tatum, Jokić, Anthony Davis and Antetokounmpo.
That take later was backed up by Fox's teammate, fellow Kings point guard Davion Mitchell.
"Man, De'Aaron. I seen something like he was a top-five MVP candidate. I think it's definitely true," Mitchell told NBC Sports California's Morgan Ragan and Deuce Mason on the "Deuce and Mo" podcast. "He's running the team, he's talking more. My rookie year, he kind of didn't really know because the coaching changes, trades, so he wasn't really talking as much. I mean you could see it a little bit, but he wasn't really talking much. Then he was injured, so it was tricky.
"But now, he's talking more. He's being a leader. We already know what he can do on the floor, he's playing defense more, he's guarding the best players, he's doing that type of stuff. And when you got a player like that at that level, playing a lot of minutes, a young player, I think we're going to be tough to beat. He's shooting the ball really well, little things like that that he's added to his game that makes him a top player in our league."
While Fox took a big leap last year, there are areas of his game that he can improve on next season.Defense is one of them, although he made steady defensive strides over the course of last season. Plus, having Mike Brown as your coach should make those efforts slightly easier.
Fox's shooting from behind the arc and at the charity stripe could get better, too. He's a career 32.1-percent 3-point shooter and 73.6-percent free-throw shooter. Fox doesn't need to be lights out from deep every night -- the Kings already have sharpshooters who can do that -- but if he can see an uptick in those departments, he will put both himself and the Kings in a better position to succeed next season. A boost in rebounds surely couldn't hurt, either.
Fox finished last season averaging 25-4-6. If he can maintain his shooting numbers while maybe improving his rebounds and assists to two or three more a game, he could have a real shot at winning the Kings' first NBA MVP award since the team moved to Sacramento in 1985.
The 25-year-old finished 11th in 2023 NBA MVP voting last season, receiving two fifth-place votes. Kings All-Star center Domantas Sabonis finished seventh, with 24 fifth-place votes and one fourth-place vote. The duo helped put the Kings back on the NBA map, but they must continue to push for team greatness -- and the individual accolades will follow.
Politics aside, Fox absolutely has the skill set to be an MVP in this league. His time should come, but it's just not now.