Losing five straight games to open the season was not how the Kings drew it up. Packed with talent, Sacramento was supposed to be on the rise, but a brutal travel schedule during the preseason, combined with a new coaching staff and early chemistry issues caught the team off guard.
Maybe the rough start was exactly what the Kings needed long term. Before the team resorted to finger-pointing and allowed the entire season to go up in flames, a few players decided to take it upon themselves to change the trajectory of the early season.
Harrison Barnes has taken over leadership roles behind the scenes and his post-game comments have been sharp and pointed. He’s not holding back and he’s demanding accountability.
On the floor, third-year point guard De’Aaron Fox looks like a different player. Fox is playing with force and truly becoming the head of the snake for the Kings.
In Friday’s win over the Jazz, Fox was the driving force behind the Kings. He attacked the teeth of the Jazz’s defense and showed no fear when the NBA’s two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, stepped up to stop him.
When his shot stopped falling late, Fox motored past Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley and hit his teammates for open looks. It was a stunning glance at what the future might hold for the 21-year-old.
Following the win over Utah, Fox’s backcourt mate, Buddy Hield, chatted with NBC Sports California about the development he is seeing. Hield’s assessment was candid and even a little raw.
“That’s what he’s f---ing supposed to do,” Buddy Hield told NBC Sports California. “He’s supposed to make the right play, we trust him no matter what when he takes the ball in, but that was a good-a-- play.”
In Year 3, the Kings are expecting big things from Fox. Despite his age, he already is showing signs of being both an elite scorer and a very good distributor.
While he is starting to produce, his teammates understand his potential and they are trying to hold him accountable and support his growth as a player and a leader.
“I’m one of the guys that will be on Fox the whole time,” Hield said. “I’m always working with him after. He’s so talented and he has a long way to go, but you can see spurts.”
Hield knows the best is still ahead for Fox. As he grows into his 6-foot-3 frame and begins to gain a better understanding of the game, the sky's the limit.
Everyone would love to see the process go faster, but from management to the coaching staff to the players on the court, there is a long game that is in play.
“I try to teach him, if you get that habit where you can get s--- done now at an early age, you can be so elite when you get to 25-26,” Hield said. “He can be one of the greatest to play this game with his speed when he’s really in his prime and takes off.”
While Hield speaks glowingly of Fox and his development, there also are expectations that have to be met now. Sacramento walked into the season with aspirations of snapping the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought.
In order to accomplish that goal, the team needs Fox to be really good now, with the hopes of even more in the future. Hield, as well as others on the team, are taxed with keeping Fox grounded and on an upward path.
“I never want to give him all the praise and I’m going to stay on him because this is something he’s supposed to do,” Hield said.
Fox hasn’t been perfect early in the season. He’s struggled with his perimeter shot and turned the ball over more than you would like to see. But he’s quickly grasping the team’s new offense and he’s showing signs of defensive improvement as well.
Through seven games, Fox is leading the Kings in scoring at 18.6 points per game and assists at 6.3. More importantly, he seems to have found a sense of urgency with the team starting off on the wrong foot.
“He’s a very confident kid,” Hield said. “He’s a worker. He’s learning each and every day. Every game some team tries to throw a different defense at him and just got to learn how to adjust quickly. He’s making good strides. He just has to stay humble and keep working.”
Head coach Luke Walton and his staff are trying to balance teaching and winning. He’s slowed down the Kings’ offense with the hopes of building a base that is sustainable.
Fox is beginning to flourish. Once a few more of his teammates are on board, Walton likely will loosen the reigns a bit and allow the team to push the pace.
The Kings are taking baby steps. They’ve won two straight and Fox is starting to look like the star that many people thought he would be when the Kings selected him fifth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.