(First posted at RealGM)
De’Aaron Fox is now perceived as the third best point guard in this draft class — ranked fifth overall in Draft Express’ top 100, after leading Kentucky to 32 wins in 38 games and within two points of a Final Four appearance.
Malik Monk will be a lottery pick as well and Endrice Adebayo still has some chance of ending up a first round choice but the six-foot-three point guard was the undisputed best player on that team, the engine of the Wildcats’ 12th-ranked offense and the top playmaker on their seventh-ranked defense.
As we will go through later, how highly regarded a defender the 19-year-old should be is up for debate but Fox’s performance on offense was no doubt impressive, especially when you consider spacing the floor to create clear driving lanes for his point guards has never been much of a priority for John Calipari, who prefers size at all positions instead.
The Wildcats had seven players logging over 600 minutes last season but only two of them (Monk and stretch big Derek Willis) took over 100 three pointers. Mychal Mulder shot 96 of those for a superb average of 11.4 attempts per 40 minutes but he only logged 338 minutes, a good chunk of them in garbage time.
ATTACKING THE LANE
So, the fact Fox showed his top skill to be attacking the lane offers some superstar potential. The logic is, if he was that good at getting to the basket despite some of the lineups he was part of, imagine what he could do when he gets to a league where opening up the floor is becoming more and more emphasized by the day.
The lefty averaged 0.94 points per play, despite the fact he posted a .498 effective field goal percentage. That’s the case because he took 48.1% of his live ball attempts at the basket and averaged 7.9 foul shots per 40 minutes.
Fox is not perfect; he has shown a strong preference for driving left and still drives into crowds a fair amount.
But the pros far outweigh the concerns in this department; Fox has an explosive first step to just blow by his man one-on-one or attacking downhill on middle high pick-and-roll, a lot of quickness to turn the corner out of side pick-and-roll and a tight handle to maneuver his way around those defenders who can stick with him side-to-side initially – as he is able to cross them over, stop-and-start, dribble in-and-out to shake them off balance, pivot his way into a well-coordinated spin move or euro-step to beat the traffic.
At the basket, Fox is explosive enough to leap out of one foot and finish strong when he gets a head of steam but for the most part is a below the basket level finisher in a crowd, showcasing some jaw dropping athletic ability to hang or adjust his body in the air in order to deal with rim protectors contesting his layups.
Fox finished his 215 shots at the rim at a 64.2% clip and 108 of his 138 makes at the basket were a result of unassisted drives (unassisted makes discounting putbacks), though it should be mentioned a good chunk of them came on fast breaks, as he averaged almost six points per game in transition.
He’s shown a natural inclination for speeding up the pace of the game — passing ahead off of defensive rebounds or turning on the jets to go end-to-end himself. TV broadcasters always mentioned how under his control Kentucky was posting one of the five shortest times of possession in the country and according to our stats database the Wildcats ranked 18th in the nation in pace after ranking 224th the season prior.
But aside from being a prolific scorer himself and getting the team into its offense before the opponent had a chance to set itself up, Fox also added value with the opportunities he created for his teammates, while simultaneously managing to limit the cost of them.
He is not one of those magicians who can anticipate passing lanes a split second before they come open and his court vision has been questionable at times. But Fox has shown he can consistently get good looks for others, assisting on 28.1% of Kentucky’s scores in his 1,064 minutes on the floor and turning it over on just 13.1% of his possessions, which is pretty good when you put it into the context of his 27.4% usage rate.
He’s constantly aware of the big becoming open in the pick-and-pop, can play with pace patiently waiting for a passing lane when the opposing big shows hard or hedges-and-recovers to prevent him from turning the corner, looks to suck in the help defender up until the last split second before hitting his big men on the dunker spot on drop-off passes, can make a pocket pass and has decent timing on pre-arranged lobs – as his passing out of the pick-and-roll led to an average of 1.24 points per possession.
The other area where Fox excels at is creating events on defense.
There’s some uncertainty regarding his length. The measurements of his wingspan are all over the place on Draft Express’ database. He’s most recently been measured with a six-foot-four wingspan at the Kentucky combine but the measurements in that event have been consistently different than how Kentucky’s players measured elsewhere. Most people say they do that to inflate the kids’ vertical leaps.
Regardless, Fox has put his arms, however long they are, to good use pressing opposing ball-handlers full court with active hands and making plays in the passing lanes, as he averaged two steals per 40 minutes last season.
His athleticism also translated into contributions on the defensive glass, where he collected 12% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
As a result of these plays that can be easily quantified, Fox led this draft in defensive rating among point guards, according to our stats’ database.
His individual defense was more of a mixed bag, though.
He arrived at Kentucky known for his technique and anticipation skills in pick-and-roll defense, proving himself able to navigate over screens and beat his man to the spot on the other end, but wasn’t as consistent doing that at the collegiate level.
In isolation defense, Fox has adequate quickness to stay in front of position peers and keep himself in between his man and the basket but lacks strength in his thin 185-pound frame to contain dribble penetration through contact.
The hope is that Fox can eventually become a defender who offers flexibility, switching onto taller wings from time to time and offering enough resistance with his length but up until the point where he grows into his body and no longer is an open invitation for someone to drive at him or post him up, that’s only wishful thinking, so he’ll be someone who needs to be matched up on the opposing point on a full time basis for the foreseeable future.
If that point ever arrives, though, Fox has already shown he can be a good off ball defender thanks to his speed out of a standstill position closing out to spot-up shooters and running them off the three-point line and his balance to staying in front and preventing an easy path to the basket.
Fox isn’t physically developed yet but given his age, that’s not any type of a deal breaker. He is not necessarily the prototype defender teams are looking for these days but he can make meaningful contributions on that end. And he is a sick close range scorer who puts pressure on the defense and it’s been consistently proven that the best way to get three-point shots still is through a guy who can collapse the opponent with a dribble drive or at least the threat of it.
So, how come Fox is not in the conversation for the number one pick?
That’s because he hasn’t yet developed an outside shot, struggling badly to score away from the basket in his one year at Lexington.
Fox does have a floater to score from the in-between area and has flashed a pull-up jumper from about 10-to-15 feet he can unleash after snaking the pick-and-roll and putting his defender in jail. That’s why his shooting percentage on two-point jumpers (36.2% on 163 attempts) doesn’t look that bad.
However, Fox posed no real threat to opponents when they successfully managed to shell his path to the basket by going under screens or sagging a couple of feet off him on his drives, nailing just 31% of his attempts off the bounce, though perhaps more concerning is the fact that his percentages were worse off the catch, as he shot just 20% on spot-ups and hit just 24.6% of his three-point shots overall, while only feeling confident enough to take just 2.6 such attempts per 40 minutes.
The team that drafts him in the top 10, perhaps as high the third pick, will do so holding on to hope that it is picking an eventual star because Fox’s shot doesn’t look particularly broken and because he converted 73.9% of his 211 foul shots, suggesting a substantial improvement in his percentages might just one tweak away in terms of form in his follow through or simply gaining more strength in his legs to sustain rising up to the same point on every attempt.
 According to the metrics adjusted for pace researched at kenpom.com
 Researched at Draft Express’ stats database
 Researched at hoop-math
 Researched at sports-reference
 According to research by Draft Express on Synergy Sports
 According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara