De’Aaron Fox isn’t the first dynamic point guard to dress like a King. Reggie Theus and Jason Williams were magicians of their generations. Mike Bibby was a smooth-shooting, stutter-stepping genius. Isaiah Thomas remains a 5-foot-9 marvel, who unfortunately slipped out of town before becoming a phenomenon.
But locating an elite lead guard has been a struggle, a sort of extended Sacramento recession.
Since Bibby last tormented defenders in old Arco Arena a decade ago, the Kings have experimented with Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Pooh Jeter, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas, Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison and Ty Lawson. For various reasons – age, injury, ability, coaching, politics – the search continued until a sticky hot Thursday evening, when a speedy, charismatic freshman from Kentucky slid to No. 5 and into the waiting arms of the Kings. Finally.
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During an NBA draft night that was as eventful as anticipated, the Kings also swapped the No. 10 pick to Portland (Zach Collins) for the rights to North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson (No. 15) and Duke power forward Harry Giles (No. 20), then selected Kansas point guard Frank Mason III in the second round (34th).
While members of the Kings front office had spoken favorably of Jackson, Giles and Mason, all of whom visited in recent weeks, Fox is clearly the prize. In a point guard centric era, he is the critical piece of the massive rebuild, both because of his enormous talents and because he wanted the job. During his visit. At the draft combine. On social media. In interview after interview. His message was consistent; he wanted the responsibility and was willing to withstand the heat.
“I just want to help a city turn a franchise around,” Fox said later Thursday. “I’m finally where I want to be.”
For Kings general manager Vlade Divac and his staff, the fun began in earnest right after the Celtics chose Tatum, ensuring that Kansas forward Josh Jackson or Fox would drop to the Kings. Privately, the Kings were crossing their fingers for a certain point guard.
“Screaming,” said an exhausted Divac, describing the reaction in the conference room when it became clear Fox was available. “He was a guy we all loved. If we had the No. 1 pick, in some way, he would be our guy. De’Aaron is a winner. He has that ... like Lonzo (Ball). Make everybody better. He is a true point guard, has good size.”
In his only season at John Calipari’s hoops factory in Lexington, the lithe, 6-foot-3, 170-pound Fox averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists. A natural right-hander, he passes and shoots with his left, is an excellent on-ball defender and a blur in the open court. Fastbreaks will be frequent occurrences, not a rarity inside the Golden 1 Center. His only weakness is an erratic jump shot, particularly from 3-point range.
Fox readily acknowledged the need to improve his jumper, but said he is eager to start practicing with old friends and new teammates. He has known known Jackson, Giles, Mason and fellow Wildcat Skal Labissiere for years. During his pre-draft trip to Sacramento, he said, he was impressed by the activity and “family atmosphere” in the practice facility.
“Just the vibe I got when I was out there,” the rookie continued. “I feel like they really wanted me. The chemistry is up when you really like who you’re playing with, and I feel like I’m able to turn a franchise around. They (Kings players) were in the gym when I was working out, and I can feel that they really want to get better. (And) the fan support. It’s really like Lexington. They really take pride in their basketball.”