De’Aaron Fox Is Most Improved Player And It’s Not Close

My namesake in Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox, came into the league fifth overall in the 2017 NBA draft, and at the time, I told anyone who would listen that he’d be the steal of the draft class, taking more than a few digs at the Lakers in the process for drafting the guy Fox clowned in college, Lonzo Ball.

Well, Ball still sucks (although he’s evolving as a defender, all that makes him is a cross between Russell Westbrook and Tony Allen, but nowhere near as good as either at Westbrook’s stat sheet stuffing or Allen’s ability to lock down his man on defense.)

Fox, meanwhile, had one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory, posting insanely bad numbers.

He shot 41.2 percent from the field, 30.7 percent from long range, had negative Win Shares (-0.014 per 48), a massively negative Box Plus/Minus (-2.8 offensive, -1.5 defensive, -4.4 overall), and a negative VORP that wasn’t just below replacement level, it was below “this guy would be good if he played in the G-League” level. His -1.2 VORP was so bad that his play cost the Kings four wins compared to a G-League player.

On the bright side, the Kings have Marvin Bagley now.

But this year? Fox has been a revelation.

Let’s take all those stats just mentioned.

He’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three. His Win Shares are above the Starter’s Mendoza Line, averaging .119 per 48 minutes.

His BPM, while roughly neutral on defense (-0.1), has risen to plus-1.9 offensively.

And his VORP? 1.3 to the good in 44 games, where 2.0 is a solid starter over 82 games.

He’s gone from a good-not-great finisher at the rim (64.7 percent inside three feet as a rookie) to a fantastic finisher for a guard (73.8 percent this year.)

His on-court Net Rating has risen from -10.4 to +1.2, and his on-off split from -5.8 to +3.9. That, roughly, means the Kings are a 34-win team with him off the floor and a 44-win team with him on it.

And yet people are talking about a “race” for Most Improved Player. Get right out of here with that.

I understand the love for Domantas Sabonis, but Sabonis was this good last year! Or at least he was reasonably close.

Derrick Rose has brought his career back from the dead, and I can see that argument, but it would be unusual for award voters to give Most Improved to a past MVP; the award has, in recent years, been about rewarding the young player making “the leap” and making his star debut if he didn’t as a rookie.

Pascal Siakam is an excellent choice, but he wasn’t as bad last year as Fox, and this is about an award for a guy who went from “complete garbage” to “borderline All-Star” in a single year, with no clear sign toward the end of last season that he was ever going to figure it out.

Last year, quite simply, De’Aaron Fox looked like one of the biggest busts in the draft not named Markelle Fultz.

It’s “Most” Improved Player.

And while Siakam is a Highly Improved Player, and Rose embodies this award’s former name, the “Comeback Player of the Year”, they haven’t improved like this.

Plus, Minnesota is a worse team this year than last year. Toronto’s as good; whether they’re going to get past 59 wins is a bit of an open question just because of how much has to go right to win 60.

Fox is the point guard anchor for a franchise that has been hot garbage since Chris Webber retired and might just sneak into the playoffs.

And on the highlight reel, the Namesake makes a guy who shares a name with him (indirectly, of course) proud.

This was the guy I expected to get when I touted him like crazy out of college. And he deserves an award for getting to that point in Year 2.