25-under-25: De’Aaron Fox at No. 12

25-under-25, Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings just gave De’Aaron Fox a max contract extension and he’s earned every penny. This season is his chance to make the leap to a superstar.

The Sacramento Kings have not been a successful NBA franchise for quite some time now. Despite routinely finding themselves in the lottery, they have yet to really build anything capable of providing their franchise with sustained success.  Still, in the midst of utter dysfunction, De’Aaron Fox has managed to navigate from promising rookie to potential All-Star to star player fairly quickly.

Fox came to the league from John Calipari’s professional basketball player factory; Kentucky. During his one season in Lexington, Fox went toe-to-toe with every point guard he faced off against. His peak coming in a 39-point performance where he undeniably bested Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16.

Despite outplaying Ball, Fox was passed over by California’s glamor team and fell to the team in the state’s capital instead.

With the Rick Adelman glory days in the rearview, Fox joined a franchise that wasted away the first six and a half seasons of another former Wildcat, DeMarcus Cousins. Yet, with Fox at the controls, the Kings quickly rose from the Western Conference’s basement. By year two, the team was able to shock the basketball world and steal the 8th seed in 2018-19.

Ultimately, the team would fall nine games short of the postseason as they could not put together a winning streak late to keep them in the hunt.

Not to worry, after an unexpected climb to decency, surely management would keep all the necessary pieces intact to try the following season again, right? Wrong. This is the Kings we’re talking about, remember.

They fired Dave Joerger and spent big money on Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker in the offseason. Needless to say, they returned to the doldrums of the Western Conference a season ago — to their credit, they did receive an invite to the bubble.

All drama aside, Fox was able to put together his best year as a pro. He raised his point per game average over 20 (21.1), and despite seeing a drastic drop off in 3-point percentage (from 37.1 to 29.2 percent), he managed to raise his effective field goal percentage above 50 percent (51.3 percent).

Unbeknownst to the general NBA viewing public, Fox had become an All-Star caliber player.

He singlehandedly orchestrated the entire Kings offense with Luke Walton incorporating some of the actions and principles that helped make Golden State into an offensive juggernaut during his time on staff there.

Fox’s breakneck speed and upper-tier athleticism for the point guard position made him a terror for opponents to try and defend, especially in the open court where the guard was at his best.

What’s the next step in De’Aaron Fox’s development?

The Kings know how important he was and rewarded him handsomely with a max contract extension this offseason. Fox is locked in now for the next six seasons. Some might balk at his contract numbers, but he’s more than deserving of his new money. The next step for him is to show everyone why.

All it takes is another leap from the speedster, and he’ll surely put the rest of the world on notice to just how talented of a player he is. He has all the important parts of the franchise behind him to really put his stamp on Sacramento.

However, the offseason has once again brought change to Sacramento. After supplanting Buddy Hield in the starting lineup, the team was unable to retain Bogdan Bogdanovic. First, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, which was nixed in the name of tampering, and then he signed an offer sheet with the Atlanta Hawks that the Kings opted not to match.

Why would they let a starter walk when they had the right to match any contract? Well, because there was also a change in the front office. Out went Vlade Divac, and in came Monte McNair — the latest branch from the Daryl Morey executive tree.

This new regime’s task is to adequately surround the dynamic Fox with complementary pieces to help this team get back into the postseason. It doesn’t hurt that the NBA has adopted a new play-in tournament policy that now gives teams that finish ninth or 10th in their respective conferences an opportunity to make it into the first round.

If — and this is a big if — Sacramento builds a worthy roster, then it will fall onto Fox’s shoulders to find a way to take his game to the next level to the point that it helps elevate the Kings into a winning franchise.

It’s one thing to put up quality stats on a bad team. It’s a completely different task to be a driving force on a good team. Fox has the talent to do it, but the biggest question is whether or not he’s on a team that will help him get the most out of that talent.

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