Before we begin, let me preface this by saying I know that the West is unbelievably loaded with great backcourt players.
With early returns in, it looks like early vote-leaders Steph Curry and Luka Doncic will be the starting guards for the West. Right behind them in the top 10 are other legends and young stars like Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, CJ McCollum, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Klay Thompson closes out the top 10 even though he’s not even playing this year.
Minus Thompson, you would be hard-pressed to argue with that list.
However, another player that’s been making a case for the All-Star Game this season is Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox.
Fox has been superb this season, averaging 22.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.3 steals a game.
He’s stepped it up as the season’s progressed too. In their last six games, the Kings have a 5-1 record, and Fox has averaged 26 points, four rebounds, 8.3 assists, and a steal. He’s shooting 45.8% from the field and 34.9% from three while making 2.5 treys a game. The run has propelled them to a 10-11 record and back into the playoff hunt.
As a Kings fan, it’s been great to watch his growth, especially considering how he looks to fit well with Tyrese Haliburton, who looks like the steal of the 2020 NBA draft.
Fox is the undoubted leader of this young Kings squad, and he clearly has All-Star potential.
However, being good is not enough to become an All-Star in the West. You’ve got to be great, and your team has to win.
The good thing is Fox is playing like he wants to prove himself worthy of his $163 million max contract extension, which kicks in next year.
He’s got the tools to reach another couple of levels. He’s already shown that this year with his improved decision making, far-improved body control in the air when he draws contact, and an evolving understanding of how to use his elite speed to create separation between him and his defender.
However, there are still some areas in his game that need improvement. If he manages to fix these, he’ll not only make it easier make a case as an All-Star, he’ll also help win the Kings more games.
Let’s take at the two main areas that he can realistically improve on to make a strong case for next year’s All-Star game.
His clearest weakness at the moment is his free throw shooting. Over the last three seasons, he’s actually dipped from 72.7% from the charity stripe to 70.3% this year.
This isn’t good enough a point guard who makes a living drawing fouls in the paint thanks to his blistering drives. If he’s going to have the ball in his hand at the end of close games, he needs to be a threat from the line.
The most recent example of Fox’s poor free throw shooting costing the Kings a game was in their nail-biting 105-104 loss to the Miami Heat. He shot 3 of 8 free throws then, and you can’t blame bad calls or anything else for a loss if you shoot less than 50% from the line.
Fox must improve his free throw shooting to at least 80% so that he can better impose his will in close games.
If the two current MVP front-runners, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, can shoot over 80% as big men, a point guard has no excuse for not reaching that milestone.
Fox is never going to be a Curry or Lillard type of shooter, but that doesn’t mean he can’t improve his game from beyond the arc.
His current 35.2% average on 6.2 attempts per game is good enough to keep defenses honest, and he’s shown the ability to make threes in big moments.
He’s got a good shooting form, so there’s ample room for him to aim to reach somewhere around 38-40% as his career progresses, which will make it even harder to guard him on the perimeter. Defenders will be left between a rock and a hard place when choosing to either let him take the long ball, or get in his face and risk getting blown by.
An improved long range shot will also be important to his career as he gets older and loses his athleticism. It will also help him stave off a sudden drop in efficiency, like what Russell Westbrook is going through in this stage of his career.
Fox has a long career ahead of him, and at the age of 23, it looks like he’s really starting to put the pieces together. If he can start to make strides in his free throws and his three point shooting while continuing to refine the strong parts of his game, he’s going to be a special player.