Karl-Anthony Towns’ knee changed De’Aaron Fox for the better.
That knee led to a partial tear in Fox’s right thigh muscle on Dec. 14, forcing Fox to miss seven of eight games to end December.
Fox is still a rookie, still learning and still has a lot of room to grow, but that knee helped Fox turn his rookie season in a more positive direction.
There was no panic among the Kings about Fox’s development prior to the injury – just nudges to be more aggressive and encouragement to put in extra work before and after practices.
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But the injury forced Fox to sit, watch and figure out how to be a better player. He’s averaging 13.1 points and 5.5 assists in 30.2 minutes in 12 games since his return. For the season, Fox averages 10.5 points and 4.2 assists in 26.6 minutes.
“One, it was a little rest,” Fox said. “I wasn’t tired, but like I always say, I just want to come out and try to make the game easier.”
There were high expectations surrounding Fox after the Kings used a first-round draft pick on a point guard for the first time since Tyreke Evans in 2009. Fox was expected to make the Kings a fast-paced team and help usher in a new, dazzling style of play.
But Fox wasn’t a starter when the season opened, instead backing up George Hill. It’s hard to change things when you’re waiting to start games and being eased into the starting lineup. His role has changed along with his improving play.
And, as Kings coach Dave Joerger said, “there’s so much to learn and so much going through these guys’ brains,” referring to Fox and the team’s other young players.
That’s why Joerger says he can’t wait to see Fox in two years, when the chatter in his head about the NBA is clearer.
Lately, it has helped that Fox is playing around 30 minutes a game.
“First he was coming off the bench, now he’s starting,” Joerger said. “He was starting and we were splitting a lot of minutes, and now with Frank (Mason III) out (injured), there’s not a lot of splitting.”
Fox’s defense was key in the Kings’ win at Miami on Thursday, along with his highlight-reel, putback dunk.
Figuring out how to affect games with aggressive, man-to-man defense is the latest sign Fox is maturing as an NBA player. But after the game, Fox said it’s “hard” to play that way for an entire game.
“I think people say, ‘Why can’t you do that all the time?’ ” Joerger said. “Well there’s times where you’ve got to pick and choose your spots and that mindset is more of a guy that’s going to play 16, 18 minutes, game-changer kind of deal. So there’s points in the game where you’ve got to pick and choose your spots to have that impact.”
Offensively, Fox’s spike in assists is significant. Shooting is still a struggle (41.2 percent in January, 32.3 percent from 3-point range), but he’s being more aggressive and attacking more.
His improved play has come from what he saw from the bench after Towns kneed him.
“For me, what’s more gratifying is my assists numbers are going up,” Fox said. “I’ve been able to score but I feel I’ve been able to get my teammates involved. Just that time away showed me what I needed to do and what I needed to accomplish when I got back on the court.”
Though the Kings aren’t a good defensive team, they no longer have the worst defensive rating in the NBA. Entering Saturday, the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers had dropped to 30th with a defensive rating of 109.8, slightly worse than the Kings’ 109.6 rating.
The Kings won consecutive games and no longer have the worst record in the NBA, but they’re still last in the Western Conference at 15-33 entering Saturday, behind only Orlando (14-33) and Atlanta (14-34) of the Eastern Conference.
The Kings host the Golden State Warriors on Friday. The Kings beat the Warriors Nov. 27 in Oakland, 110-106, thanks to a late jumper from Bogdan Bogdanovic.