Depending on the week, the Kings are either an upstart or the same fledgling franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since Barack Obama was still a senator.
After an Inauguration Day loss to the Clippers, Sacramento was a disheartening 5–10. Then the team quickly reeled off seven wins in eight games, including victories over the Nuggets and Celtics. And now, headed into the last 10 days of February, the Kings are losers of four in a row, stuck at 12–16 and three games back of the No. 8 seed in the West.
The one constant during this time has been the play of fourth-year point guard De’Aaron Fox, who has made an All-Star case in a loaded conference by continuing his year-over-year improvement since being selected with the No. 5 pick in 2017.
“A lot of times it could just be minor things,” Fox told Sports Illustrated of the recent struggles. “Our attention to detail has to be sharper. Those little things can stack up. When we were playing well, our attention was great, and that’s what we have to get back to.”
Despite the rollercoaster ride, Fox has certainly been earning his own attention due to his impactful performance. SI recently caught up with Fox to discuss Sacramento’s up-and-down season, the growing respect for him around the league and more.
SI: You mentioned on Zach Lowe’s podcast how in college, you really wanted an opportunity to prove yourself against the other point guards in your class. Do you still feel that way as a pro? Do you still feel like you have something to prove against the Stephs or Russes?
Fox: I’m not really looking at specifics, because playing this position, no, you don’t have a night off at all. So you go into every game kind of thinking the same thing. Obviously, you know, the guys play extremely different. But you’re going into every game like, you know you have to prove yourself, that you belong in this league and that you can compete at a high level every night. Because, like I said, me being a guy that actually guards the other guard, there’s no night off.
SI: Something else you mentioned was you’re noticing how teams are starting to respect your shot more, and switching coverages on you. When you think back to your rookie year, do you get a sense that teams are starting to respect you more on offense?
Fox: Yeah, for sure. I mean, a lot of times now, I’m probably drawing another defender or, you know, seeing that guys will now load up my side of the floor when I have the ball. I definitely think that teams are respecting the offensive game a little bit more. I think that helps me bring my facilitating game up. I know at all times I have three guys’ attention on me. And I'm able to get somebody on my team an open shot.
SI: Does that give you any satisfaction on a personal level that you’re getting more respect? Or does it not really register with you?
Fox: Not necessarily, I wouldn’t say that it’s a satisfaction. It’s a compliment to the type of player you are but at the end of the day I’m moreso focused on winning and trying to impact the game.
SI: People like me are sometimes left scratching our heads at the decisions the Kings have made the last few years. What’s been the most frustrating part for you trying to break through to become a winner? What’s been the biggest hurdle?
Fox: I think it's been inconsistency, I would say on my part, and part of what we as a team have done. There are times when we show we’re good, and times we kind of go downhill, like the stretch that we're at right now in the season. And obviously being in the West, that doesn't help you at all. So just how kind of inconsistent we've been throughout my years here.
SI: A week ago you guys were a really hot team, now you’ve had a couple tough losses. Can you point to something that feels different, or is it the nature of the league?
Fox: It’s definitely the nature of the league, but I feel like we’ve fallen into that way, way too much. Sometimes we are losing three or four games, it’s like we don’t look good at all as a team. That’s kind of where I stand on it. Sometimes shots are going in or the other team is making everything, but as a team, we just didn’t look the same way we did the previous eight games.
SI: What would it mean for you personally to be the guy that helped lead this team back into the playoffs?
Fox: It would mean the world, it would be great. To be able to bring a team that hasn’t been there for almost two decades back to the playoffs. That’s a personal goal of mine, and then to be a contender. It takes time and it takes some steps to get there, but I don’t think it’s very far-fetched for us to do that.
SI: Do you have guys in the league you feel like you have to measure yourself against? Are there guys you feel like you’re trying to approach impact wise?
Fox: I wouldn’t say I’m chasing anybody. But what you see of the star guards night in and night out, when I talked about being consistent, it’s being able to do that type of stuff every night and put your team in the best position to win. That’s what the elite players in this league are able to do for 82 games. They show up and they’re ready to perform every night.
SI: With that being said, what would the recognition of being an All-Star mean to you? Is that a way of saying you belong in that elite class?
Fox: I think it's definitely a confidence booster. You know, I don't think you take too much out of it. But for me, it's like, if you're able to win, if your team is able to be on top a lot, then a lot of those individual things just become normal. So if we’re winning, then I know that I'm putting in the right work and I'm doing what I’m needed to do. If we’re winning, being an All-Star or All-NBA just comes.
The way I look at it is if we’re winning, then people will have no choice but to talk about us. If we’re playing well, then everything speaks for itself.