Sacramento’s offense has looked lost without De’Aaron Fox

Nov 7, 2023, 6:46 PM | Updated: 6:47 pm

De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings looks on from the bench during the game against the Houston...

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 04: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings looks on from the bench during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on November 04, 2023 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

Barring outliers, every team in the NBA becomes notably worse after losing an All-Star player to injury. Some rosters are better equipped to deal with availability adversity than others, but the Sacramento Kings scarcely faced that issue last season. De’Aaron Fox played 73 games, while Domantas Sabonis participated in 79.

Through six games of the 2023-24 season, Fox has missed the latter half with a right ankle sprain and watched his team lose from the sideline three in three consecutive competitions. Most recently, they fell to the Houston Rockets twice, with the Kings’ final tally ending in double-digits twice, half as many times as the entirety of last season.

Unpsirisingly, Sacramento’s offensive stagnation causes issues considering their defensive shortcomings. They’ve greatly missed the ability Fox has to generate paint touches and make plays from there, maintain a consistent pace, orchestrate the offense, and get his own when needed.

Let’s start with the pace. Fox, widely viewed as the fastest player in the league, is exceptional at changing speeds and managing the flow of an offense. Head coach Mike Brown has made it clear since taking the job over a year ago that he wants his team to be one of the league’s fastest. When Fox was active, it almost seemed to come naturally, with an average pace of 104.05 in those games, per NBA Stats.

Yet, in their three most recent showings, for which De’Aaron Fox was unavailable, that number fell to 95.17 — a difference of more than nine possessions per 48 minutes. It’s showed in their field-goal attempts as well, with 88 shots being the most accumulated without their star guard, a number that was notably surpassed each time he played (102, 94, 104).

Pace is not restricted to the open court, either. Their coaching staff has emphasized the importance of moving with purpose and urgency during half-court sets to create and capitalize on advantages. Care to guess who does that well? Yup, De’Aaron Fox.

Making his way into the paint seemingly at will is one of the Kentucky guard’s greatest strengths. After scoring 50+ points in the paint in two of their first three games, they have consistently fallen below that number since. With Fox, they ranked 1st in the NBA with 29.3 paint touches per game but only generated 20.3 per night (18th) without him, per’s tracking data.

Paint touches are one of the Kings’ five offensive staples due to the variety of quality looks they can produce. When there, Fox can finish with the best of them, but finding shooters after penetrating is also crucial. Sacramento values “spray threes” when a shooter is found following paint touches.

In the first three games, the Kings averaged 27.0 “wide-open” three-point attempts per game, which defines as a shot that came without a defender within six feet. It’s dipped to 21.0 per game when Fox is unavailable. While the team hasn’t converted those looks exceptionally during either stint, it’s a shot that teams will be happy to create every single possession.

I don’t mean to go through every notable offensive statistic and highlight its drop, but the numbers are staggering.

  • Three games with De’Aaron Fox: 119.9 offensive rating, 108.3 defensive rating, and +11.6 net rating
  • Three games without De’Aaron Fox: 100.5 offensive rating, 116.4 defensive rating, and -15.9 net rating

Those differences speak for themselves. Beyond the metrics, Fox has an advanced understanding of Sacramento’s free-flowing offense and how to orchestrate his teammates before plays begin. He’s constantly seen directing traffic, relocating shooters, and manipulating defenses. There were moments in Sunday’s matchup against Houston where Davion Mitchell seemed unsure what play he was being asked to run, and the same could be said for Keegan Murray.

Fox is a game manager. Ideally, Sabonis should be able to pick up the slack in his absence, but it’s simpler to break down defenses and see the floor as a guard. Or think about the moments when the opposition is on a run. Sometimes, you only need someone who can reset the momentum and get a timely bucket.

Malik Monk and Harrison Barnes need to be better in that aspect, particularly with getting to the line, but neither is Fox’s caliber. It’s impossible to duplicate what De’Aaron Fox does for the Sacramento Kings, but their entire offensive identity has disappeared in the three games he’s been unavailable.

They’ve got to maintain their pace in the full and half court, find ways to get paint touches, run their actions cohesively, and understand the momentum of games. The good news is it’s still early. Sacramento sat at 2-4 through six games last season, just as they do now.

KZ Okpala was starting at the season’s apex, and Richaun Holmes was still part of the rotation before Coach Brown settled into what worked. Give it time.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

The Sacramento Kings will return home for a three-game homestand that tips off on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Keegan Murray will come face-to-face with his twin brother and rookie forward Kris Murray for the first time as NBA players when Portland arrives at Golden 1 Center.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Blazers coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

Upcoming Sacramento Kings Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 8th – Sacramento Kings vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 7 PM PST
  • Friday, November 10th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder** – 7 PM PST
  • Monday, November 13th – Sacramento Kings vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 15th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, November 17th – Sacramento Kings @ San Antonio Spurs** – 4:30 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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Sacramento’s offense has looked lost without De’Aaron Fox