Malik Monk has gotten most of the attention due to his scoring prowess but De’Aaron Fox is Kentucky’s best all around player.
The just-turned 19-year-old is the engine of their fifth-ranked offense and the sparkplug of their seventh-ranked defense, according to adjusted metrics at kenpom.com.
Kentucky doesn’t run a well-spaced offense or a switching defense, so it’s entirely up to Fox to control the pace of the game, get enough shots for the other two first-round picks on the team, keep his turnovers down despite driving in traffic often and press opposing ball-handlers at the point of attack.
Fox still has gaps in his skill-set but has produced very well against a tough schedule in order to support his status as a projected top 10 pick, according to Draft Express.
Fox has impressed the most with his defense up until this point.
He has above average height (six-foot-three) and length (six-foot-six wingspan) for a point guard combined with adequate lateral quickness among position peers. Fox has not always gone over screens at the college level but arrived at Kentucky known for his technique and anticipation skills in pick-and-roll defense, so it’s likely he’s been coached to go under screens consistently due to specific matchups.
Fox is a really good asset to build an elite defense around. He’s proven himself willing to pick up opposing ball-handlers 35 feet away from the rim and can press them with active hands that often generate turnovers. According to basketball-reference, Fox is averaging 2.3 steals per 40 minutes.
He tries using his body to contain penetration but often gets knocked back by opponents with lower centers of gravity due to his lean 185-pound frame. Fox still manages to contest mid-range or close-range attempts fairly well due to his length but that lack of strength probably prevents him from having much positional versatility at this point of his development, which is unfortunate because Fox has also proven himself a good off-ball defender.
He has the speed to closeout to spot-up shooters and run them off the three-point line and then the balance to stay in front and prevent an easy path to the basket. Fox has also used his length to make plays in the passing lanes and he’s an elite defensive rebounder for his position, collecting 14% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor.
Fox naturally speeds up the pace of the game transitioning from defense to offense, passing ahead or flying up the court with the ball. TV broadcasts always mention how under his control Kentucky has posted one of the five shortest times of possession in the country, while getting good shots in the break or the secondary break.
In the half-court, the Wildcats try to get Monk open off screens about half the time and when they can’t, they rely heavily on Fox to create something off a high ball-screen.
Kentucky does not space the court adequately. For all the expectation of Derek Willis becoming a bigger part of the rotation this season, he’s only sixth in the team in minutes. It often plays two centers together, resulting in a lot of traffic for Fox to deal with in dribble penetration.
But he’s navigated this challenge quite well for the most part. Fox is a very polished ball handler for someone his age, turning it over on just 13.6% of his possessions. He can play with pace in the pick-and-roll, showcasing several dribble moves to manipulate his defender and get to the lane. Fox can stop-and-start in a pinch to wait for driving lanes to clear and turn the corner when he’s iced and has an in-and-out dribble to get by the big on his way to the basket when he’s attacking downhill. In isolation, he’s shown a nifty crossover to shake his defender off balance and get to where he wants to go.
At the basket, Fox has flashed some explosiveness elevating out of one foot to finish strong when he’s attacking downhill. But for the most part, he’s been a below the rim finisher in traffic – though a damn good one. Fox can adjust his body in the air and use his length for reverse finishes to score around rim protectors. According to hoop-math, he’s converted 65.8% of his 73 shots at the basket, which account for 47.4% of his shots. He is also averaging 8.2 foul shots per 40 minutes.
As a passer off the bounce, Fox has shown nice court vision in order to create for others in a regular basis, assisting on a third of Kentucky’s scores when he’s been on the floor. He’s constantly aware of the big becoming open in the pick-and-pop, looks to suck in the defense then hit his big men on the dunker spot on drop-off passes and has great timing on his lobs. Due to the nature of Kentucky’s poor spacing, it’s unclear how well he can hit his big man on the pocket pass or if he can make passes across his body to the opposite side of the court, though.
That said, the biggest gaps in Fox’s skill-set at this point of his development regard his shot selection and his shooting in general.
Maybe it’s because there’s often too much of a crowd on his path to the goal or simply because he has an inflated perception of his jumper, Fox takes a lot of pull-up shots for someone who doesn’t have the production to support his decisions. He’s taking more than a third of his shots from mid-range despite the fact he’s missed 71% of those attempts. Fox elevates with nice balance and his release doesn’t appear to be completely broken or anything but the ball rarely goes in, which has led to opponents consistently going under ball screens, which has compounded the issue.
He has also struggled on catch-and-shoot attempts from three-point range, missing 22 of his 26 shots from beyond the arc. With that as the case, Fox limits how diverse his offense can be because he is not a viable participant away from the ball.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara